Whitko turns to students for referendum polling

By CHRIS MEYERSStaff WriterWhitko Community Schools is turning to its own government students to get a feel for how the community feels about a referendum this fall to give the district an option to raise its property tax rate during the next seven years.Students will be calling residents in Whitley and Kosciusko counties during the next few weeks to see what they think about the referendum.Superintendent Steve Clason said most of the feedback he and others have heard so far about the referendum is on the negative side, but he hopes the survey will help get more opinions than just coffee shop talk.If the referendum passes, Whitko has the option to raise property taxes up to 20 cents per $100 of assessed value.“We’re not saying we’re going to take 20 cents … we’re saying it could go up to that. We may take no tax at all,” Clason said.If the full 20-cent increase would be put in place, the district would raise an additional $800,000 a year, but it could not put the money in a savings account and “bank” it, according to Clason.“The purpose for this is only to cover shortfalls in the approved budget,” he said.The referendum is being used to cover shortfalls in the budget expected after 2011.The district has a balanced budget for next year, and possibly 2012, but it’s the five years after that about which the district is worried.The federal government recently awarded Whitko $500,000 for next year that is on hold at the state level. As long as the state releases the funds to Whitko, it should not need to increase taxes in the next year or two.Aside from expected shortfalls, the district is already operating on a bare-bones budget that the district had to cut by about $1.2 million for this school year.As a result, the district cut 13 certified and 13 non-certified staff and changed from trimesters to semesters at Whitko High School.“It allowed us to continue to offer programs if we were on a semester (schedule),” Clason said.Chris@thepostandmail.com