In the coming weeks, officials in the School City of East Chicago will take stock of what cuts they have to make after voters rejected an operating referendum earlier this week.
Superintendent Paige McNulty said on Thursday that she and the school board plan to meet in executive session in the next few weeks to “regroup and see where we go moving forward,” she said.
The goal is to keep “cuts as far away from kids as possible,” McNulty said.
While referendums in Munster and Lake Station passed Tuesday, East Chicago voters rejected its operating referendum by a nearly 4-1 margin: 78.18 percent to 21.82 percent.
East Chicago had proposed an increase of 30 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to raise about $41 million over a seven-year period. It’s estimated a home valued at $80,000 would be assessed an additional $68 a year in property taxes.
Prior to the vote, officials listed potential cuts that could result from failure to pass the referendum, including closing two elementary schools and cutting up to 70 jobs, including teaching positions, security, support positions and maintenance, increasing class sizes, cutting college-level classes, athletic programs and after-school tutoring and reducing transportation.
McNulty said no firm decisions had yet been made on any cuts. No decision had been made on whether it will seek another referendum at a future date.
In Indiana, there is a one-year waiting period before a school district can seek an additional referendum.
The East Chicago district faces twin financial challenges heading toward 2020: How to cope long term with its enrollment drop due to the city’s lead crisis and the end of exemptions to state-mandated property tax caps.
That year, Lake County will feel the full impact of the tax caps approved by voters in 2010. Because the debt load was so high in Lake and St. Joseph counties, the state allowed the caps to be phased in over 10 years.
Since last year, the school district has absorbed a nearly $4 million loss since the city ordered the relocation of residents from the West Calumet housing complex. School officials shuttered the neighborhood’s Carrie Gosch Elementary School and took out a $2.8 million state loan to renovate a former middle school and relocate students there.
The district is scheduled to begin repaying that loan in January 2018, McNulty said in a prior interview. It still owes $2.2 million on the shuttered building and has drawn interest but no buyers on the building yet.