Why is a referendum needed now?
An investment in our schools, students, and community
Following years of systemic underfunding, continued strains are placed on public schools to do more with less. While Elkhart Community Schools has years of responsible budget management (see below: Budget Management), the climate of school funding in Indiana necessitates the district secure additional funding sources to provide a superior education to Elkhart students and the best investment for our taxpayers.
Elkhart Community Schools: A Proven Investment
Students at Elkhart Community Schools are better prepared for the real world than ever before.
- 95% graduation rate – the highest in Elkhart County. In 2008, this number was 62.7%.
- Over 14,000 college credits earned annually, saving Elkhart families over $1.5 million.
- Over $4.4 million in scholarships awarded to ECS graduates in 2018.
- Over 2,000 students enrolled in Career Technical Education (CTE) and Dual College Credit programs.
- Over 30 industry-specific CTE programs through a nationally-recognized career center. Areas of study focus on Art & Communication; Engineering, Manufacturing & Technology; Health & Public Safety; Hospitality & Human Services; and Transportation.
- The area’s only fully-endorsed Early College Program.
- Over 250 high school students have walked in the Ivy Tech Community College graduation prior to their high school graduation.
Why is a referendum needed?
In 2016, the ECS Board of School Trustees passed a strategic plan that outlines a five-year pathway for the district. The plan outlines three major objectives:
- Educate, Retain and Attract Students
- Ensure a Highly Effective Staff
- Create Vibrant Relationships to Ensure Successful Students, Schools and Community
All three of these objectives rely on quality instructional staff.
Elkhart Community Schools is losing teachers, as well as support staff, to neighboring districts. Neighboring districts have taken steps to increase staff pay and benefits through referenda, supported by their taxpayers (WaNee Community Schools, 2018; Goshen Community Schools, 2018; School City of Mishawaka, 2016). To stay competitive and retain excellent, effective staff, to keep class sizes down, and to continue offering a rich and varied education for Elkhart students, Elkhart Community Schools must do the same.
Starting pay for an entry-level teacher in surrounding districts:
- Penn-Harris-Madison: $40,350
- Concord: $39,000
- Mishawaka: $38,000
- Goshen: $36,900
- South Bend: $36,838
- Baugo: $36,500
- Elkhart: $36,350
- WaNee: $35,800
- Middlebury: $34,827
The proposed referendum will specifically address funding for academic and educationally related programs, managing class sizes, school safety initiatives, and attracting and retaining teachers.
One major area where the district recognizes a competitive deficiency is insurance benefits. With successful passage of this referendum, all staff can benefit from improved medical plan contributions from the district. Currently only approximately half of ECS employees choose coverage through the ECS medical plan due to the high cost. At other school districts, approximately ⅔ of employees choose the district plan. Of the ECS employees who chose ECS insurance, the majority select the “single” plan due to the cost of the family plan. During staff exit interviews, insurance is often cited as a reason for leaving. To be competitive, ECS must be able to provide a quality, cost-effective insurance plan that allows our staff to cover their family’s insurance needs. Employees share that the problem is not plan design; it is simply cost.
Budget Management: Why can’t Elkhart Community Schools pay teachers more?
A snapshot of the ECS budget in areas that can impact teacher pay:
- General Fund: $89,667,237 (plus an additional $926,850 for preschool special education that is now included in the General Fund = $90,594,087)
- Debt Service/Pension Debt: $18,401,394
- General Fund: $89,648,959
- Debt Service/Pension/Referendum Debt: $13,689,000
The State of Indiana regulates which areas of the budget can pay teachers. For example, a teacher cannot be paid from the Transportation fund.
State General Fund (now called the Education Fund as of 2019) dollars provided to ECS have gone up an average of one-fifth of one percent each year.
- Economic Inflation over the last nine years: 19.77%
- Rate of increase for General Fund over the last nine years: 1.67%
The pay for teachers is not keeping up with the inflation of the economy, driven by lack of funding for the Education Fund from the state.
What about compensation for support staff?
ECS places a high value on support staff, including food service, transportation, building services, paraprofessionals, secretaries, nurses, and other support staff, as critical members of the ECS team. Like teachers, the district loses support staff to other local employers and industries, in large part due to the low level of unemployment in Elkhart County, and the pay rate of jobs in Elkhart. In order to provide the quality and quantity of employees needed to work for the district, we must offer wage rates which are competitive with the private sector. The following are wage comparisons of ECS employees versus private sector.
- Food Service
- Starting hourly wage at ECS = $8.44
- Starting hourly wage for an Aldi’s associate = $12.70 (A)
- Hourly range at ECS = $22.66—25.57
- Hourly range at Beacon = $24.16—41.11 (B)
- Social Worker (with Master’s Degree)
- Hourly range at ECS = $21.55—28.89
- Hourly range at Beacon = $23.51—37.64 (B)
- Driver with CDL endorsement
- Hourly range at ECS = $18.51—21.72
- Hourly range at Great Lakes Forest Products = $18.00—25.00 (C)
- Student Services Secretary hourly range at ECS = $12.30—16.06
- Support Services Assistant hourly range at Beacon = $13.86—22.20 (B)
(A) Per Aldi website, accessed 2/12/2019
(B) Per Beacon Health Services website, accessed 2/12/2019
(C) Per LinkedIn job posting, accessed 2/12/2019
What has the district done to reduce the size and overhead cost of administration?
In December 2018, a recommendation was made by the interim superintendent and approved by the Board of School Trustees to reduce the number of district administrators, as well as make other administrative adjustments to reduce the overhead cost of administration, totaling a reduction in $1,100,000 in administrative costs. Additional adjustments to personnel and schedules resulted in total savings of $2.5 million.
As district and building administrators resign or retire, the district has evaluated each position to see if responsibilities can be absorbed, positions eliminated, and costs reduced.
At the end of 2018, the Board of School Trustees approved a one-time pay stipend to staff, excluding administrators, as the district could not provide pay raises for employees in 2018-2019.
Didn’t we just vote for a referendum?
The community supported two referenda in 2014, with one supporting transportation needs, and the other addressing safety/security and building needs. The passage of the 2014 transportation referendum resulted in reduced one-mile walk zones for all students, and brought back important educational field trips for students. Additionally, the transportation referendum has allowed the district to maintain near-competitive wage rates for bus drivers. The safety/security and building referendum allowed the district to install roughly 1,000 quick lock classroom door hardware on classroom doors, install shatter-resistant film on doors and windows, install over 800 cameras with monitoring systems, improve exterior lighting, and replace PA systems in the high schools. The safety/security and building referendum also provided critical building renovations at Beardsley Elementary, Pinewood Elementary, Woodland Elementary, and West Side Middle School, in which open-concept classrooms were enclosed and offices were moved to the front of the building. Additionally, the safety/security and building referendum provided needed funding for roof replacements at eight schools (plus three partial replacements), masonry repairs, asphalt repairs, and chiller replacement.
Successful passage of the 2019 referendum will allow the district to absorb (repeal and replace) the levy from the previous operating referendum.
Is this to pay for the merging of Elkhart Central and Elkhart Memorial high schools?
No. The unification of Elkhart Central and Elkhart Memorial is due to a number of reasons, one being cost savings to the district. While there are construction costs related to the unification, these costs are tax neutral to Elkhart taxpayers.
How will this impact my taxes?
With a successful passage of the 2019 referendum, the average Elkhart home valued at $106,400 will see an increase of $13.80 in their monthly tax bill. As mentioned above, the previous referendum levy will become part of the new levy. Below is a chart demonstrating the tax impact, including the absorption of the levy from the 2014 operating referendum.