Letters to the editor for week of June 29

Vote ‘yes’ to referendum, supporting public schools

To the editor:

I read the letter from Jim Hahn in last week’s Democrat with interest. As the “previous administration” who led the successful Brown County Schools’ referendum campaign, I have some different views and recollections.

First, I will comment that the very concept of asking local public school districts to organize a political campaign centered on the theme of asking the local community to support a vote on increasing their property taxes is an annoying breach of responsibility by our state representatives and senators. It is the Indiana Constitutional responsibility of the elected General Assembly to adequately fund our public schools. My administration as well as those of Laura Hammack and Emily Tracy have all had to make significant reductions in staffing and programs for our boys and girls because the Republican super majority has refused to recognize in its funding formulas that countywide rural schools — and urban schools for that matter — have unique situations which require adequate funding. We all pay too much in taxation and to ask education administrators and school boards to shoulder the duty of the General Assembly is offensive to me.

My recollection as to using students at the polls to support the 2016 referendum is quite different than Mr. Hahn’s recollection. The May 3, 2016 referendum law prohibited the use of students in the campaign in any manner. We asked school board members, retired teachers and our political action committee to man the various polling precincts. Students were in school that day, with the exception of those allowed to distribute campaign literature on behalf of individual candidates seeking office. Perhaps those were the students observed by Mr. Hahn and incorrectly interpreted as being there to support the referendum campaign. There were no students designated by our campaign to be present on behalf of the referendum campaign.

The stated intention of the 2016 referendum was to increase teacher salaries for the purpose of retaining effective teachers in Brown County Schools and to make us competitive with area school corporations with whom we compete for talented teachers. Teacher salaries had not been raised for approximately four years and we had fallen behind other area schools. From the first day of the campaign we publicized that the purpose of the operations referendum was to increase the salaries of our teachers. The current campaign is necessary to maintain and increase further those levels of compensation for our teachers. I would suggest that adequate funding for teacher salaries directly impacts our boys and girls in school by keeping us competitive with the hiring and retention of quality teachers to oversee the daily instruction of our boys and girls.

I agree with Mr. Hahn’s assessment of the difficult situation taxpayers are facing throughout our country as well as locally. Inflation, higher utility costs, higher fuel costs and higher costs of virtually all of our goods and services is negatively impacting all of us. It is also negatively impacting all of the public schools in Indiana and throughout the nation. Unfortunately, additional money given to the public schools by the federal government is very specific and, generally, cannot be used to pay salaries. This referendum is a necessity if we want to maintain and improve our local Brown County Schools.

Let me close by adding that the quality of the local school district is the most important factor in maintaining and increasing property values in any locale. We will lose quality teachers and ultimately quality programs without the referendum. Let us remember when we go to the polls in November that one of the main responsibilities of the General Assembly is to adequately fund public education. Since this is not happening, we must vote “yes” to the referendum to support the excellence of Brown County Schools and our children.

David Shaffer, former superintendent, Brown County Schools