Letter To The Editor


Dear Editor,

Disclaimer: As a dedicated employee of the Warsaw R-IX School District for over 16 years who left the district on good terms only to move out of state to be closer to family, I still only want what is best for the district. In regards to Proposition KIDS, I have nothing against the district and am only writing this article to make sure that other aspects of the upcoming bond proposal are considered and to voice my deep concern of the potential consequences. I will also share my personal opinion on what might be one better solution. (There are several other alternatives, but I don’t want to make this too lengthy.)

The Warsaw R-IX School District is proposing a no-tax increase bond issue on this April’s ballot, but is it the right thing for our school district? The proposed benefits are great on the surface: new blacktop instead of gravel, new classrooms, renovated bathrooms, etc. Yet, the question of all voters should be this. How will this financially impact the district long-term?

Right now, district finances look great. Last year’s ending fund balance was probably the highest in at least 20 years, but why is that? That is easy to answer. The district received well over $6M in ESSER federal funding (due to the Covid pandemic) over the last few years, and those dollars have boosted numbers considerably. Prior to that blessing, though, the district was struggling and even had to shut the doors on an elementary school and reduce staffing in order to reverse the downtrend. It was an incredibly tough, but at the time necessary, thing to do.

The concern with the proposed proposition on April’s ballot are two-fold (at least). First and foremost, if the district was to proceed with these changes, would the district have the money to maintain and sustain them long-term? More facilities mean more energy costs, more maintenance/upkeep costs, and more personnel costs (such as administrators, secretaries, custodians, teachers, etc.) to support them. Does the district have a way to pay for these additional expenses once the Covid money runs dry, or will its fund balance continue to decline until drastic measures have to be taken again? Renovations are one thing to use bond money for, as they can help the district pay for needed upgrades and repairs, but additions such as those proposed will only accrue additional costs that we need to know for sure we can afford ten years down the road before approving through a vote. Given the district’s past, some serious financial forecasting needs to be considered by outside entities before carrying on with these projects, because we can’t walk away from these add-ons like we did RME. A three-year ballpark estimate isn’t good enough for such an impact to a budget.

In addition to the facilities expenses, personnel costs should be considered. Last year the district completely restructured the certified salary schedule to help financially long-term sustain its budget. This, again, was another tough decision that the district/board had to make to protect its finances in the future. However, adding more personnel to put in these new additions will only negate that change. The district should be careful to not let the currently high fund balance cloud the fact that a major change was made for its certified staff less than a year ago to safeguard its future.

Now that the district has nearly reached the “Covid cliff” and won’t have those extra federal dollars coming in, can it long-term sustain extra energy, maintenance, and personnel costs? What areas of funding will need to be cut in the future to sustain the extra costs associated with the additions: textbooks, personnel benefits, sports, technology, curriculum resources. . . ? Those are questions for which voters need an honest answer before voting yes this April.

Furthermore, where would the district be right now without those ESSER funds? The leaking walls/windows at the HS that just got replaced would probably still be leaking, HVAC units at North/South would still be in desperate need of repair/replacement, and the district’s fund balance would not be nearly as high as it is currently. That $6M financial injection saved the district in many respects.

In other words, the district was struggling to maintain prior to Covid. Can the district continue to thrive without those extra funds? More importantly, can the district even survive if this bond passes and additional costs are added? Granted, the district’s enrollment (which is a major driver of its revenues) has increased the last two years, but why is that? Is the county experiencing a large increase in new industry/jobs resulting in more people moving within district boundaries, or is it a fluke that will slowly fade away again? Does the district have solid evidence that enrollment will stay steady or increase? If so, then voters should probably approve Proposition KIDS as space will be needed, but the future is hard to predict without sure signs of new industry/jobs coming to the area, and caution should be taken to safeguard long-term finances.

The second concern is gleamed from data taken from the DESE website concerning the district’s total adjusted operating tax (i.e., the amount collected that the district can use to fund its operations) in comparison to other districts in the state. In over 20 years, it hasn’t changed from $2.75, and the state average is now over $3.60. That’s a big difference, and less than 15% of the state’s school districts are at the minimum like Warsaw. Yes, Warsaw R-IX is operating at the bottom 15% of the state’s districts.

Have we seen drastic inflation in the last 20+ years? Absolutely! Then how can a school district continue to operate without an increase somewhere as well? The issue at hand is once again long-term sustainment. The district has had to make major changes (like retirement incentives, salary restructures, and even a school closure) in the past, partially because voters have not been asked to vote for an increase.

Why is this? No one likes to pay more taxes, and it’s much easier to sell a no tax increase rate bond. That’s why you see it bolded on the district’s website and mentioned in every newspaper article. However, this just kicks the proverbial can down the road further and doesn’t solve any long-term problems. In the case of additions, it even adds long-term problems. Additionally, just because a district has the capacity of an $18M no tax increase bond, doesn’t necessarily mean it should all be pursued. Now, it’s hard to know whether or not those past tough choices would have needed to have been made if we had “kept up with the times” and increased taxes, but one thing is for sure. The district would be in better financial shape overall.

No one likes to pay more taxes, but in reality a change like this has minimal impact on households and can add up to make a long-term positive impact for our students’ education and the district’s under-paid staff. Rather than ask for a no tax increase, it may be (past) time for the district to ask for a tax increase. . .and it’s definitely time for the voters to approve it. The district’s students, faculty, and staff deserve it.

In summary, voters should vote yes on the April ballot ***IF*** the district has weighed out all the long-term costs associated with these proposed changes and has a solid financial plan to accommodate the increased financial burden. However, if voters cannot see proof of that, then they should vote no for now and instead perhaps even ask the district to request an increase of taxes on the next ballot to get us more in line with the rest of the state. Let’s start by stabilizing long-term funding and then revisit the topic of additions and niceties after we are sure we can afford them. Let’s learn from history and practice some caution going forward.

-Shawn Crouch