G5-06 poll worker Jennifer Taylor signs in Elder Jeffrey D. Barham, Sr.

Voters give approval to Gary schools referendum

Contributed By:The 411 News

Approval rode the coattails of presidential race

A tsunami of voters was needed to make the third time a charm for the Gary school district’s property tax increase referendum.

Lake County’s preliminary election total shows the referendum was approved 13,828 to 9,112, making the 4,700 vote margin the largest of the three contests. In 2016, the referendum failed by 300 votes. The school referendum was on the ballot in 2015, losing by 1,300 votes.

Whereas the choice for Gary voters in the presidential race was clear, the outcome of the referendum was up for grabs making it the hottest contest in the city.

A sophisticated appeal to the public that rode the coattails of a record breaking voter turnout in the presidential election brought success in Gary.

To counter the low esteem held by much of Gary’s public towards the school district, state elected officials, city council members, teachers, and the clergy were enlisted to support the property tax increase.

In mid-September, GlenEva Dunham, president of the local Gary Teachers Union and State President of the American Federation of Teachers, compared the campaign with the one in 2016.

"It was only about 7 of us and we started the campaign late. The district didn't communicate what it would do with the money," Dunham said. “Today is the exact opposite. There is a 20-person committee that meets twice a week. We started early. And the public knows how the district will spend the money."

This time, social media and radio played a big part.

Dunham said the union brought in an Indianapolis marketing firm that had worked with 16 other Indiana school districts to gain approval of school referendums.

"We've developed a quick response team to reply to negative comments and criticisms," Dunham said.

Gary teachers will get a raise; their first in 12 years. Funds will go to programs for students in pre-schools, the arts, and athletics. Schools will see more support for security and safety issues, like mental health and counseling.

Gary voters approved a $71.2 million tax increase over the next 8 years.

Story Posted:11/04/2020

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