Meeting set to address school referendum questions

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Residents of the Western Wayne Schools district are encouraged to attend a community meeting to hear facts and ask questions about a potential referendum on the May ballot.

Without that additional property tax revenue, school leaders say students could face higher class sizes and fewer services. The district could be out of payroll money as soon as 2023.

The meeting will take place from 5-6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11, at Lincoln High School cafeteria, 215 E. Parkway Drive, Cambridge City. Visitors should enter the cafeteria from the rear of the school.

Superintendent George Philhower said there will be no official presentation, so individuals can come and go as needed. That flexibility will help those planning to attend he boys junior varsity and varsity basketball games starting at 6 p.m. in Hagerstown.

Philhower said the meeting will be driven by what participants ask. He said he will answer questions and provide as much information as he can.
School leaders wanted to offer a community meeting the night before the district’s board takes a vote as to whether to approve placing a referendum on the May 5 primary election ballot.

School officials are proposing an increase of 19 cents on every $100 of net assessed value for the next eight years. That would lead to approximately an additional $500,000 in the district’s annual budget to balance it for those eight years.

Property owners interested in finding out how much the referendum would cost them if approved can go to the school district’s website to get help in making the calculation through a link to the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance at https://wwayne.k12.in.us/referendum/ Residents also may contact Philhower directly for assistance in doing the calculation.

To calculate an increase, residents are to find their property’s total assessed value, and then subtract any deductions such as standard homestead deduction and supplemental homestead deduction, to find their net assessed value. The net assessed value is to be divided by 100, then multiplied by .19, which is 19 cents.

“Unfortunately, in the near future we will be forced to make cuts if we are not able to increase our annual revenue, and (again unfortunately) our only reliable option for increasing our annual revenue is through an operating referendum,” Philhower said. “I am happy to explain our financial need as well as well as the potential impact of a successful referendum (on an individual’s taxes or on the schools’ annual revenue) with everyone.”

The Q&A says that a failed referendum would result in immediate cuts leading to higher class sizes and fewer services for students.
The next opportunity to try for a referendum without a petition from the community or a special election would be May 2022, and cuts would be needed before that date.

“We believe this is enough to maintain our current programs, have the ability to consider restoring programs we have cut in the past, maintain manageable class sizes, and adequately compensate our employees,” according to a Q&A about the referendum posted on the district’s website at https://wwayne.k12.in.us/referendum/https://wwayne.k12.in.us/referendum/https://wwayne.k12.in.us/referendum/ “We believe that this amount of funding will allow us to continue to provide the education that our students deserve.”

Philhower became superintendent in the summer of 2019 after serving in the assistant role for several years.

Over time, Western Wayne Schools has seen a significant decrease in annual funding. Over the past 12 years, funding to the district has decreased by $1.8 million.

Several factors have caused the district’s funding loss, according to the Q&A. Changes made in 2009 and 2010 eliminated small/rural schools and restoration grants and the state took over the general fund, which district officials called a more stable source of revenue.

The biggest issue for Western Wayne is declining enrollment. Since the district’s decline started in the 1996-97 school year, the district has 355 fewer students.

Indiana now provides funding to schools based on the number of students they have, and if a student transfers to another district or homeschooling, the district stops receiving that money.

Officials have analyzed future graduating classes and anticipate small kindergarten numbers. Thus, they expect enrollment to continue declining for the next several years.

Philhower said that while district officials have made cuts to try to adjust to these changes, they have had to rely upon WWS’ Rainy Day Fund for several years to balance the budget at the end of the year.

Over the past five years, $1 million of WWS Rainy Day funds have been used.

With this fund balance currently at $804,908, officials know they aren’t going to be able to sustainably rely on these funds as they move forward. Philhower said the choice is to “either make cuts to find a balanced budget (eventually cutting programs that our students deserve) or ask for a referendum.”

The vote will take place during the school board meeting at 6 p.m. Feb. 12 in the Western Wayne Administration Building, 519 Queen St., in Pershing’s former elementary school.

Questions or comments about the referendum should be brought to the attention of Philhower or to school board members before the Feb. 12 meeting begins. That’s because all requests for public comment at board meetings are to be submitted to the superintendent seven calendar days before the meeting to give officials a chance to research concerns and provide accurate information. Questions may be submitted through a link on the district’s website or a form available at the administration building.

Voters who do not want to declare a political party during the primary to vote for county, state and/or national candidates may request a ballot only containing the school referendum issue when they go to the polls.

Those who are not able to attend the community meeting are welcome to contact Philhower via phone at (765) 478-5375 or via email at gphilhower@wwayne.k12.in.us.

He said he’s glad to talk on the phone with or meet with anyone in person to answer questions or address concerns, and he returns 100 percent of messages.

Philhower also recently started a weekly coffee chat from 7-8 a.m. Tuesdays at King’s Café, 109 W. Main St., when residents are invited to drop in for a few minutes and ask questions, say hello or share ideas for the schools.

Western Wayne residents who want to vote in the May election who are new to the area or need to update their address must do so by April 6 to be eligible to cast a ballot. They can register to vote online by visiting http://www.indianavoters.com/.

Indiana residents with a valid Indiana driver’s license or Indiana state-issued identification card will be able to use this tool to submit a new voter registration application or to update an existing voter registration record.

Prospective voters also may visit a public assistance office, the Wayne County voter registration office inside the courthouse or the Bureau of Motor Vehicles branch in Richmond to obtain a voter registration form.

– By Millicent Martin Emery