Future funding for Fremont schools dependent on voter’s decision

Education referendum on ballot for Fremont School District

FREMONT, Ind. (WANE) – With just days until the election, Fremont school leaders are urging voters to say yes to a funding referendum. Unlike many other districts wanting referendums for large and extensive projects, Fremont Community Schools said it’s needed just to fund the basics.

“This is an operating referendum. It will include funds to pay for our utility costs, our vocational costs, our special ed costs, try to add some programs back that were cut three or four years ago in a RIF situation and just kind of kind of get us right as far as our financial picture,” Fremont Community Schools Business Manager Brandon Penrod said.

The programs the district would like to add back include the family consumer science program in the middle school, project-based learning program, and industrial technology or “shop.”

Here’s what the question will look like on Tuesday’s ballot:

SCHOOL REFERENDUM FOR FREMONT SCHOOL DISTRICT IN PRECINCTS CLEAR LAKE, FREMONT 1, FREMONT 2, FREMONT 3, JAMESTOWN 1, JAMESTOWN 2

“For the seven (7) calendar years immediately following the holding of the referendum, shall the Fremont Community Schools impose a property tax rate that does not exceed nineteen and sixty-three hundredths cents ($0.1963) on each one hundred dollars (100.00) of assessed valuation and that is in addition to all other property taxes imposed by the school corporation for the purpose of funding and maintaining current educational programs and class sizes, being able to restore programs that have been cut, and retaining and compensating employees?”

Around 925 students call Fremont Schools home, making it a smaller district, but one that still needs support. The district said it’s lost an average 26 students a year over the last ten years. Since money follows the student in the state of Indiana, funding has become a growing problem for Fremont.

“Schools that have growing enrollment do get more money. In this funding formula, it seems to be more of the affluent-type schools, suburban schools, but the rural and the urban schools didn’t necessarily get that same amount of money,” Penrod said. “Our corporation has been an A-rated school in the past. We’ve had four star schools. We’ve had a lot of different accolades. We feel like we have a good thing going here. We have the same needs. We have the same great teachers. We have the same great programs, and if we do have to cut, we’ll lose more programs and our class sizes will go up,” Penrod said.

The district said the money from the referendum would also be used to give teachers a raise, which they haven’t had since 2011.

“When you couple that with increased insurance costs and just the cost of living increase, they’ve actually gone backwards in their take-home pay, and so while we don’t want to make that the focus of our referendum, it’s certainly part of it,” Penrod said. “Part of the referendum would also allow us to attract new talent when teachers do retire, resign, or move on. We want the best people to work here, and in order to do that, we need to make sure our pay aligns with some of the other schools to make sure that they want to come to Fremont and we can entice that talent to stay here,” Penrod said.

Without the referendum, leaders said the schools could eventually be forced to close and consolidate with another district.

“There were some rumors that we were going to close immediately, and that’s not true. But, ultimately, yes, that’s kind of the purpose of the referendum is to make sure not only we keep our doors open, but to make sure we continue to give our students and our community a quality product. If we don’t get additional revenue and we can’t pay teachers to stay and we need to cut our expenses, at some point in time our programs get cut to the point where it’s not feasible to have a quality high school here in which case we would ask that we could move to a neighboring district. I think this is a new area for Fremont Community Schools. The superintendent likes to say we’re in the fight for our live as far as public education,” Penrod said.

To better inform voters about what the referendum includes, the district has held around a dozen or so meetings since July. Penrod said those meetings have been very well-attended and feels confident the voters are well-educated on the issue.

“We realize this is about kids and we just ask that the voters show up and vote. Whether they’re for or against, we just need to make sure people show up and vote and make sure they do their duty and represent their community,” Penrod said.

If it passes, the property tax rate would increase 19.63 cents on each a hundred dollars a home is assessed.  Right now, it’s 39.24 cents. Adding the 20 or so cents to the current rate would make it 58.87 cents. That still keeps the total school tax rate under 60 cents, which Penrod said is one of the lowest in the state.

“The closest school district to us is 55 cents, and so we’re barely over that even if we do pass the referendum,” Penrod said. “To say that our taxes are low, I think, would be an understatement. They’re extremely low. “I think they’re voting yes to the quality programs and the quality staff that we have at Fremont. I think they’re voting yes to maintain the path that we’re on and then create new paths as well as far as the future of education and some innovative ideas that the board has to move forward and to make sure that Fremont gets the best quality education for the graduates,” Penrod said.

To put that into perspective, a home with the assessed value of $150,000 would pay about $128 more a year. According to Penrod, that applies when a home is “an owner occupied residence and receives a homestead deduction, a supplemental homestead deduction, and a mortgage deduction.” A $150,000 home would pay around $295 more if that home is a “second home or a rental property.”

To help taxpayers better determine what they might pay, click this link.

That would give the schools about 2.1 million dollars a year for the next seven years. However, not everyone in the community is buying that price tag.

“I don’t know a lot about it. I just know that it’s a lot of money. They’re asking for too much money. They should’ve put it lower. They don’t need all of that money, I don’t think. It kind of doubles everybody’s taxes if you look at it, and people on a fixed income don’t have that kind of money. It’s too high. I can’t see where they need $2 million, and that’s what they’re going to have every year. I just don’t see where they need that much.”

Others said they’ll help foot the bill. Rosalie Baker has lived in Fremont for 76 years and wants to see the schools stay in the community.

“I don’t know a whole lot. I just know that they need money to help with school system and help our teachers and keep our students here in town here instead of sending them some place else. It’s very important because if we lose them here, we’re liable to lose our residents because they’ll go somewhere else. I’m going to vote yes. I just feel from what little bit I’ve heard that we need to help our schools here, help our kids and our teachers and all of the other programs needs to be returned. We’ve had a loss of programs, and I’m hoping that they can work out so they can get them back and get our students a going again. Of course, I guess it will raise our taxes a little bit, but it happens every place,” Baker said.

If the community votes no to the referendum, the district said it has a contingency plan, but will probably have to make cuts immediately and then more after the school year. If the referendum passes, the tax increase will go into effect next year.

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