By Tim Ashley
SYRACUSE — Voters both for and against the proposed referendum for the Wawasee Community School Corporation were contacted to provide input. Two in support of and two against the referendum shared their opinions.
Dr. Erick Leffler said he can see both sides of the issue, “but at the end of the day it comes down to what is best for kids and the community.” He supports the referendum and has also shared extensive comments on social media.
He cited a 2018 John Hopkins study showing high school graduates on average make above $9,000 per year more than those who don’t graduate. “They would have a better life in general” and would be more likely to stay in the local area if they already have a job secured after graduation.
Leffler added “hopefully we can bring more jobs to town” and noted not every student is made for college and college is expensive too.
He said at some point more thorough research into the school corporation finances probably needs to be done, such as what is the cost per student for Wawasee. “We need to trust the administration to handle that money correctly,” he said.
Eric Speicher, principal at Syracuse Elementary School and who grew up in the Wawasee school district and graduated from Wawasee High School, also supports the referendum. He said as a principal, it is important to him teachers have a high-quality curriculum to teach to their students and he is concerned if the referendum does not pass, classroom sizes will increase.
Also, Speicher noted a counselor comes to the school two days each week to work with students who have been in extremely difficult and traumatic situations. “We have a long waiting list and could easily keep her busy five days a week,” he said. The Lilly grant that has funded this counseling will expire soon.
And, he said speaking as a community member, “I see how good the CTE program is and it is opening doors that would not have otherwise been opened” for students.
Ed Clayton is not in support of the referendum though he emphasized “I don’t tell anyone how to vote.” He said he has done quite a bit of research on the Indiana Gateway website (gateway.ifionline.org) where budgets and salaries of school corporations statewide can be found.
He said based on his research, Wawasee has one of the highest dollars spent per student ratios in the area at more than $18,000 per student. “The referendum would add another $1,200 per student,” he said. “Why do they need so much more?”
Clayton said he did speak with a school corporation administrator about the referendum and feels “they are not being transparent enough” and he wants to see a more specific breakdown of where the funds will be used.
“What kind of programs are getting money?” he said. “They talk about safety, but how much further can we go with this? We already have police officers” in school buildings.
He noted every cent the school corporation would spend if the referendum passes equates to more than $200,000. “The bottom line is this, what is this costing the community?”
Dave Berry does not support the referendum and said he wants assurances the school corporation will not spend more than the 14.5 cents requested even if there are state budget cuts. “They said trust us, but human nature being what it is, they would probably find a way to spend that money,” he said.
Berry has also done research on the Indiana Gateway website and said he believes “there is a lot of overhead,” noting, for example, there are six Wawasee administrators making more than $100,000 per year and nine make in excess of $85,000. These are the correct numbers listed on the website as of Friday, Oct. 23, but 2019 data is being used and since then, two administrators have retired (and one was not replaced), one no longer works for the school corporation and another was transferred to a different administrative position.
Berry also pointed out the school corporation hired a professional company, the Winston Terrell Group based in Indianapolis, “to run this campaign and this seems one sided and the process doesn’t seem right.”