SPECIAL REPORT: The stakes surrounding the Vigo County Schools operational referendum


Why are they seven million dollars in the hole?

Ed Kesler, Vigo County resident

VIGO COUNTY, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — The Nov. 5 election is less than a month away, and this year’s special election allows Vigo County residents to vote on two referendums: one concerning a casino coming to Terre Haute, and one concerning property tax increases to help fund financial needs of the Vigo County School Corporation.

The latter referendum will affect everyone in Vigo County; taxpayers, educators, families. And as Nov. 5 approaches, the stakes surrounding the referendum become more and more tangible.

How did VCSC get to this point?

Data shows VCSC’s cash balance has declined for the last three years, and is projected to be exhausted by 2021. Superintendent Rob Haworth says declining enrollment is the main cause of VCSC’s need for $7 million each year for eight years, with 1,292 students lost to other school districts and alternative forms of schooling over the last 10 years.

“What used to be a school corporation of 17,000 is now a school corporation of 14,000,” said Haworth.

Haworth also points to per-student funding from the state, and how that funding has not kept pace with inflation. Data from VCSC shows that funding was at $6,362 in the 2018-19 school year.

COURTESY: Vigo County School Corporation

VCSC says this isn’t just a local issue, and that the latest population estimates from the US Census Bureau show an estimated 81,075 births in Indiana in 2018, which is the lowest annual tally since 1987. This lowering tally has a ripple effect on enrollment.

How will the tax affect me?

According to VCSC’s website, the median home in Vigo County, which is at $90,700, will pay an additional $3.61 per month in property taxes. A $200,000 home, which is the most expensive home shown on the website, will pay an additional $13.21 a month.

Farmers will pay an additional $.21 per acre of farmland, making their increase among the largest in the county. Businesses are not exempt either, with an additional cost of $13.52 for a $100,000 commercial property.

What will the $7 million fund?

The $7 million will be divided up into several categories of educational services. The largest portion, $3 million, will go toward teacher compensation. Vigo County schools is currently considered to not be competitive with other school districts in the area when it comes to minimum teacher salary.

COURTESY: Vigo County School Corporation (the yes/no column answers the question of whether experience is factored into pay)
COURTESY: Vigo County School Corporation

Teacher jobs remain a concern for some locals.

“My concern is that every time we talk about cutting something, we always go to teachers, and of course that pulls on our heartstrings because none of us want less teachers for our kids,” said Vigo County resident Jeff Gormong.

Haworth says that’s where the referendum comes into play.

“We hope that in winning the referendum, we’re able to discuss teacher’s salary with the bargaining team and have a healthy impact on compensation,” said Haworth.

Here’s how the remaining $4 million will be split up:

  • $1.4 million – safety, such as student protection officers
  • $1 million – transportation
  • $588,000 – school counselors
  • $300,000 – behavior interventionists
  • $260,000 – health, such as school nurses

Haworh says these staffing needs are important for student development.

“Last year, in Vigo County alone, between the start of school and before January 1, we had referred over 200 students to Hamilton Center that had difficult issues that they were dealing with and that’s with behavior interventionists, that’s with guidance counselors,” said Haworth.

Will VCSC be making budget cuts?

Along with the $7 million in property taxes per year, VCSC is looking at $4 million in cuts. Although VCSC has not announced where those cuts will come from, officials have been taking into account the responses from locals at the community meetings, where attendees can list some budget cut options.

Here are some of the cuts that have been suggested by locals:

COURTESY: Vigo County School Corporation

Haworth says the cuts would double if the referendum doesn’t pass.

“At $8 million, that will speed things up. Instead of having some time to talk about redistricting or school closure, the district will have to answer those in a short time period,” said Haworth.

And school consolidation is a major point of Haworth’s community meetings, as data shows over a third of Vigo County schools operate at less than 75% of their capacity.

One local parent says he supports consolidation.

“Right now, we’ve got schools that are under 50% capacity, that we’re paying loans on that were remodeled 15 years ago, and we’re paying a loan on it, and it’s not being fully utilized. We’ve got five kids in the corporation right now, and I want the best schools, the strongest schools for them, so if that’s consolidating, I’m all for it,” said VCSC parent Matt Nickel.

What’s next?

VCSC is already proposing a capital projects referendum for 2021. This referendum would stay in place for 20 years and would also be funded by property taxes.

COURTESY: Vigo County School Corporation

The idea of an additional referendum in two years leaves some locals frustrated.

“They just continue to ask for money, there’s no accountability,” said Vigo County resident Ed Kesler.

But Haworth says the referendum, specifically the operational referendum up for a vote on November 5, allows for accountability as it gives VCSC some time to right size the district, but puts them on a deadline to do so before the tax expires in eight years.

“The referendum is not the answer, the referendum is a bridge from where we’re at right now to where we’ll be in two or three years,” said Haworth.

Haworth will have three more community meetings to discuss the referendum with locals. Here are the dates and locations for those meetings, which all begin at 6:30 p.m.:

  • Oct. 15: West Vigo Elementary
  • Oct. 16: Franklin
  • Oct. 17: Meadows

The VCSC operational referendum can be voted on by any registered voter in Vigo County. Early voting is currently open at two voting centers; Honey Creek Mall and the Vigo County Annex Building. Applications for absentee ballots must be received by the Vigo County Clerk’s Office by Oct.24.

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