Elkhart PACs spend money to get out the school vote


Voters in some parts of Elkhart County will face big questions about school referenda on their ballots in Tuesday's primary election. But convincing people to get to the polls hasn't been easy.

Political Action Committees for both Elkhart Community Schools and Concord Community Schools spent the last several months raising money then spending it on advertising to try and spread the word.

"Yes4Elkhart" signs and messages are everywhere - on billboards, TV commercials, local radio stations, mailers, door hangers and on social media.

Elkhart's PAC leader, Mark Mow, estimates the committee's spent about $25,000 in advertising so far.

"I haven't heard about it at all," said John Taig, while standing next to a "Yes4Elkhart" yard sign downtown.

Ray Habic said he has grandchildren and great grandchildren in the Elkhart school district, but doesn't know much about the referenda.

"We pretty well have watched that and read about it in the paper but not paid full attention because it's not at the top of our list," he told WSBT.

"I've encountered that myself, going door-to-door, knocking on every door," said Elkhart Community Schools superintendent Robert Haworth. "You think you've done a good job in communicating and you've just got to work that much harder."

The district's one of dozens in the state that have lost millions of dollars since 2008 because of property tax caps, Haworth said.

It's already cut more than 20 buses from its fleet - forcing some students to walk up to 2 miles to get to school. Others, he said, ride a bus more than 1 hour each way. One referendum is asking for money to take care of that.

The other is asking for money to make buildings safer.

The school corporation is asking taxpayers for roughly $47 million to be paid over 19 and 7 years, respective to the referenda. If both pass, it would cost taxpayers $0.18 per $100 of property value.

"We're going to work all the way through to election day and on election day, just trying to reach one more person that hasn't heard the story of why our children need this," Haworth said. "They're definitely worth this."

Meanwhile, Concord Community Schools is asking taxpayers for $28 million over the next 7 years. If it passes, it would cost taxpayers $0.40 per $100 of property value during that time.

Concord superintendent Wayne Stubbs said the corporation's also lost money because of property tax caps. That lost revenue forced Concord to cut staff, making class sizes larger and to forgo necessary upgrades - including technology.

The corporation used to replace computers every 5 years, Stubbs said, but is now doing that every 8 or 10 - meaning students can't use them to learn and take standardized tests as much as they should be.

The Political Action Committee for Concord told WSBT it raised about $11,000 and spent around $10,000 so far on advertising. But several voters in Concord Township told WSBT they hadn't heard about it.

"I have no idea what [the yard signs] mean. I've seen them all over town and I'm puzzled," said Charles Rodgers.

"I haven't had the chance to ask," added Nancy Masterson.

Superintendent Wayne Stubbs said he knows the vote can go either way.

"My number one concern [if it doesn't pass] is we have to continue to make cuts in areas that are going to potentially affect students," he said. "That's something we work very hard to not have happen and we'll continue to do that."

Casting a ballot in next week's primary should be more convenient for most voters in Elkhart County with the debut of vote centers. Instead of being able to vote at just one of 117 precincts, there are now 25 vote centers across the county. Anyone can vote at any one of those centers.