By Nicole Minier
CHURUBUSCO — A former Smith-Green school board member is taking the reins on a political campaign — not for himself, but to encourage Churubusco-area voters to support the school’s referendum, which will be on the May 8 primary election ballot.
Pat McGuire is chairing the recently formed political action committee called “Taxpayers for Busco Schools.” The group held its first meeting last week at Sheets & Childs Funeral Home to discuss the plans and challenges the committee faces in the coming months.
“I didn’t think there would be politics involved or campaigning necessary because of the seriousness of the issue,” McGuire said. “I can’t imagine why anyone would be against this for the good of the community. What we have in front of us is probably the most important decision that will ever have to be made regarding this school and this community.”
About 25 people attended the meeting, which was opened by discussion from SGCS Superintendent Dan Hile.
Hile’s most important goal is to make sure all voters are provided with factual information.
“There is a lot of information being shared and not all of it is accurate,” Hile said. “I want people to have the facts in their minds when they make the decision. I want to make sure voters are making their decision not from rumors.”
One volunteer for the PAC is Pat Terrell, of the Winston Terrell Group in Indianapolis. Winston Terrell is a company that assists with public outreach. Terrill has assisted with 30 school referendums in the past and worked with SGCS to develop a strategy leading up to the referendum decision.
“My role for you is to be your cheerleader and tutor,” Terrell said.
Terrell suggested PAC members focus on registered voters. The deadline to register to vote is April 8.
“Try to gathers as many friends and family who support the referendum, and get them registered to vote,” Terrell said. “Come April 10, if they’re not registered, they can’t help or hurt us in the election.”
Smith Township in Whitley County and Green Township in Noble County have about 4,400 registered voters in total. In most elections, a 50 percent voter turnout is considered high, Terrell said.
“That means 2,000 people could determine the future of Smith-Green,” Terrell said. “Two-thousand people can determine the direction of this community.”
About 1,800 people in Smith and Green townships are considered “high-fidelity,” meaning they vote every time. There is also a large portion of voters who are over 60 years old, and likely don’t have connections to the school.
“Looking at these numbers, you have plenty to worry about,” Terrell said. “But we have a plan that we think is effective, and roles and pieces of the puzzle we hope you will fill. This is a winnable referendum.”
Future plans for the PAC include creating yard signs and going door-to-door to spread the word.
Teachers and school staff members are not permitted to discuss the referendum or send home any information about it with students, per Indiana law. Additionally, nothing about the referendum can be posted on the school’s website or social media accounts. But outside of school hours and school property, staff can participate in the campaign.
The PAC is registered in both Noble and Whitley counties.
McGuire, among others, were present at Wednesday night’s Town Council meeting and spoke to the council regarding the upcoming referendum and how the council should take a more active role.
“The approval of the referendum would not solve all the problems at the school,” McGuire told the council. “We need to grow the community and increase enrollment. If we don’t do something after this referendum is approved, then we’re in a recurring cycle of doing this time after time, and people aren’t going to agree to that.”
McGuire said some community members have the perception that the town council is not interested in increasing housing or industry in Churubusco.
“I’m not sure where that’s coming from,” said Councilman Mark Pepple. “We’re 100 percent supportive of building the town up. We’re probably more aggressive than any council sitting here previously.”
Pepple encourages the public to attend Town Council meetings, which are held at 6:30 p.m. on the first and third Wednesdays each month.
Miles Wilson also spoke to the Town Council, asking what the town is doing to encourage builders to come to Churubusco.
“Do we have a plan or a person on staff who will be able to move us forward?,” Wilson asked.
Councilman Frank Kessler said the town is prepared to provide the infrastructure for growth when developers choose to build in Churubusco.
As of press time, no opposing PAC had filed with the Whitley County Clerk’s Office.