FORTVILLE — The Mt. Vernon School Board voted Monday night to move forward with the school’s third referendum, which will seek an additional $2.5 million over the next three years to help eliminate the district’s remaining debt.
The district has an outstanding debt of about $4.5 million with about $2 million in cash reserves, creating a real debt of approximately $2.5 million.
Voters will have their chance to decide whether or not to support the cash infusion for Mt. Vernon in the primary election on Tuesday, May 6. Before then, school officials and the GraduateMVCSC group will work to persuade people that voting in favor of the referendum is in the best interest of the community.
GraduateMVCSC (Growing Resources to Alleviate the Deficit and Unify Area Taxpayers for Education at MVCSC) was formed with the intentions of unifying people and helping them better understand what a successful referendum could do for the community. Now that the school board has chosen to put the issue on the May ballot, GraduateMVCSC leaders are set to hit the ground running.
“We look at the school as a beacon for our community,” GraduateMVCSC leader Jeff Mull said at the school board meeting on Monday.
He and fellow GraduateMVCSC leader Larry Longman will work to educate the community about the referendum now that it will be placed on the May ballot. Together, they felt the call to action when the state agency set up to loan money to distressed school districts failed to see Mt. Vernon as a viable candidate for assistance. School officials were stunned when the anticipated $2.5 million loan from the state’s Distressed Unit Appeals Board was unanimously denied last year. If the money had come in, it would have completed the district’s financial recovery, according to Superintendent Bill Riggs.
Mull pointed to the board’s statements regarding why they denied the loan as a real problem, since the board members used the district’s two previous failed referendums as an indictment on the community.
“They wouldn’t assist us if our own taxpayers couldn’t assist us,” Mull said.
The school board considered the $2.5 million referendum over a period of one, three or five years before settling on the three-year plan. A $5 million referendum over the same time period was also a possibility. School board member Michael McCarty said it was important to find the right balance between the needs of the school and the plan that would have the smallest impact on taxpayers. Local taxpayers will be required to fund an additional $833,000 per year for three years if voters support the referendum in May.
“Can we help them just get over the hump? All they need is this extra push,” Longman said.
In 2010, Mt. Vernon sought a referendum that would have supplied an additional $1 million per year for seven years. It failed. In 2012, the second referendum that also failed sought $650,000 per year for three years from taxpayers. School officials, teachers and GraduateMVCSC are all hoping for a successful vote in May.
“We’ve got to save ourselves,” school board President Tony May said.
Few opponents of the past referendums attended Monday night’s meeting, and no one spoke out against it as the school board unanimously voted to put it on the ballot.
A campaign against the referendum, however, seems assured. Jim Metcalfe, a vocal critic of the 2010 and 2012 measures and an unsuccessful candidate for the school board in 2012, told the Daily Reporter for a story published Saturday that he fears a successful referendum this year would encourage the school board to seek additional tax increases in the future.
“Definitely, there’s going to be an anti-referendum group,” Metcalfe said. “There will definitely be an opposition to it.”