Operating levy to maintain class sizes and academic programs

On February 10, the Benton Community School Corporation Board of Education approved a resolution to place an operating levy question on the May 5 primary election ballot. 

“We have a significant financial challenge to overcome, with no easy answers,” said Superintendent Gregg Hoover. “Strong community involvement, through an opinion survey, a financial advisory committee, and a series of community meetings helped shape what we think is the best proposal to continue to offer a competitive education for our kids.”


Benton schools has an annual structural deficit approaching $2 million due to state aid not keeping pace with inflation and declining enrollment. Without additional revenue, the Benton school corporation will have to make $2 million in budget cuts over the next two years.


The operating levy referendum is an opportunity for voters to decide if the school corporation should have access to additional property tax revenue for use in its education and operating funds. Additional revenue would help the district retain teachers and support staff; maintain class sizes and academic, agricultural, vocational, and fine arts programs; and enhance student safety and security. 


“Benton schools is not alone in facing financial challenges,” Hoover said. “Jennifer McCormick, Indiana Schools Superintendent, says school referendums are becoming a way of life for districts across the state.” Voters in neighboring West Lafayette, Tri-County and Frontier school corporations have recently approved referendums.


The board also proposes to continue to monitor expenses and increase efficiency, and to create a long-range planning committee to proactively address continued declining enrollment, including evaluating facilities.


The referendum would give the school board the ability to levy up to $0.31 per $100 of property tax valuation in addition to the current levy of $0.61 per $100. Each year the board can determine to levy the full amount or some lesser amount. If the referendum is approved, the owner of an average value home will see taxes increase by less than $8 per month. 


“We’ve been careful to keep property taxes in check,” said Gabe Widmer, Benton school board vice president. “We currently have the 6th lowest school tax rate in the state (2019 certified tax rates). We want to maintain our education system, and we can do that while still having comparable tax rates to our neighbors.”


If the referendum is approved, the BCSC school tax rate will be 16 cents lower per hundred dollars of property valuation than the state average, and will be less than the Benton school tax rate was in 2010. 


“We care greatly about our farm families,” Widmer said. “State assessments are providing property tax relief to farm families. The base rate value is decreasing, meaning the tax increase if the referendum is approved drops from $4.84 an acre to $3.97.”  


If the referendum is not approved, budget reductions would include increasing class sizes by reducing staff, eliminating many academic and after-school programs, and closing a school. 


The board vote was three in favor, one opposed (Ed Schroeder, board president) and one absent (Robert Sondgeroth). 


More information is available at www.benton.k12.in.us.