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Hammond School Board hasn't ruled out another referendum attempt, but cuts still needed

School City of Hammond

Hammond School Board members may look at making another attempt at renewing the district's operating referendum, but they also wonder how much good it would do to fix its financial problems. Currently, Hammond property owners pay 44 cents per $100 of assessed value, which School City of Hammond can use on operational expenses. But that's set to go away at the end of the year, after residents overwhelmingly voted against renewing it last November.

"This is a loss of $15 million annually in school funding that begins immediately in . . . 2025 that there's really no replacement revenue for this," School City of Hammond Chief Financial Officer Eric Kurtz recently told the school board.

He said the district could try to put the referendum on the November 5 ballot, but that would require school officials to gather petitions in the coming months.

Even if the referendum were to pass, Kurtz said the district would still have to have some sort of corrective action plan, due to the end of federal COVID-19 funding, higher-than-expected insurance costs and declining enrollment. "You can't make up a loss of enrollment just through a referendum," Kurtz said. "So you need to adjust the capacity, the number of classrooms, the schools, based upon the enrollment that we actually have."

As it stands, Kurtz says School City of Hammond has to cut $27.5 million dollars from its annual budget.

Board member Cindy Murphy stressed that passing a referendum wouldn't eliminate the need for cuts in 2025. "We can get together as a community," Murphy said. "We can go and renew this referendum and maybe the cuts won't be as bad for next year, but we still have all the rest of this."

Board members asked Kurtz to give more details about how to put another operating referendum on the ballot, during an upcoming meeting.