Indiana

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Argos School Officials Say They Will Seek Second Referendum

Officials in a small northern Indiana school district say the battle to fund their struggling school system isn’t over.

Argos Community School officials say they plan to present a ballot referendum in a May 2017 special election. Ballot referenda directly ask voters to choose whether to support a particular proposal — in this case, higher taxes to fund schools.

It will be the district’s second attempt to convince residents to give money directly to the district.

“You could either do the referendum again or continue to make cuts every time your revenue dropped,” said Michele Riise, Argos Community Schools superintendent. “That’s nothing we want to do.”

This past May’s referendum on the primary ballot asked for an increase of up to 61 cents on each $100 of assessed property value. For a home valued at $100,000 that would have been about $200 extra each year.

That referendum failed. Fifty-nine percent of voters said no.

Don Thompson is one of the residents who voted no. He is a former school board member and farmland owner. He says farmers already pay high property taxes and responsibility lies with the state, since the state funds public schools.

“Rather than just let us sit out here and fight it out and see who comes out of that battle alive and bleeding to survive, that is not public policy, that is not doing your job,” Thompson said.

Money troubles are nothing new in this rural, one-school-building district. Changes to the state’s school funding formula, dropping enrollment and maintenance costs have already required cuts.

After May’s referendum was voted down, the district laid off eight staff, cut a science program and trimmed cafeteria workers.

Superintendent Riise is also working as the elementary school principal.

“We are past wanting to cut any more people,” Riise said.

After the cuts, the district decided to appeal to their tax base, again, before looking into consolidation with a larger district.

“The board decided that they want to give it one more shot,”Riise said. “Are we going to go to the extent we did? All the meetings we had? All the time we put into it? No, we won’t.”

Argos school officials haven’t yet revealed how much of a tax increase they will seek.

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