CROWN POINT, Ind. (AP) - Lake County school officials are defending their spending on new schools, saying fixing problems with crowded classrooms is worth the $1.8 billion in debt its districts are carrying.
The Times in Munster reported that county taxpayers will be tapped this year to pay $155 million toward principal, interest and fees on long-term debt.
The figures stem from the Indiana Gateway database, which is operated by state government and provides information on public spending in local government.
School officials said the need for the spending is obvious.
"We needed more space," Merrillville Community School Corp. Superintendent Tony Lux said, noting that enrollment has jumped from fewer than 5,500 students to nearly 7,000.
"We had a requirement to keep class sizes in the primary grades below 20 kids, so you needed more classrooms. We anticipated and provided more classrooms for all-day kindergarten, too," Lux said.
Rob James, Lake Central School District's director of business services, noted that his district has seen rapid housing growth.
"The district built a new middle school in 2005. The greatest complaint we heard about the high school was the overcrowding," James said.
School City of Hobart Superintendent Peggy Buffington said the majority of the $127.1 million in debt her district has undertaken is to build a new high school, which opened in 2009, and convert the old high school into a middle school.
She said the last major construction project before that occurred in the 1950s, when the old high school was built.
School construction represented 11 cents of every property tax dollar in 2005 when then-Gov. Mitch Daniels implemented strict school construction guidelines. Three years later, the General Assembly passed a law requiring that major projects be put before voters.
William Strying, a conservative Indiana economist who has opposed Indiana school construction practices in the past, said the required referendums can be daunting for school officials.
"The referendum does scare them off a little bit," Strying said. "Not necessarily because the referendum fails, but the mere fact school officials know they have to sell this to the voters."
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