Purdue prof looks at factors in school tax referendums success, failure

2013-10-27T17:45:00Z Purdue prof looks at factors in school tax referendums success, failureBy Susan Erler susan.erler@nwi.com, (219) 662-5336 nwitimes.com

CROWN POINT | Three area school systems asked voters in May for a property tax increase to help with funding schools.

The tax increases passed in the Munster and Union Township school districts, but not in the Boone Township district.

The reasons some school tax referendums pass and others don't are the subject of research by Larry DeBoer, Purdue University professor of agricultural economics.

Of 88 Indiana school tax increase proposals put to voters between 2008 and 2013, 42 passed and 46 were defeated, DeBoer said in a presentation to the Crown Point Rotary Club.

To help learn why, DeBoer took a closer look at influences such as election timing, enrollment size, the size of the proposed tax increase, and the school district's per capita income.

Of votes held in communities with mean income greater than $35,000, 63.9 percent passed, compared to 37.1 percent in those with less than $35,000 per capita income, DeBoer said.

"Wealth makes a difference," he said. "In communities with lower income, the burden feels greater. It hinders the ability to pay."

That trend eventually could lead to an equity problem, with wealthier communities having nicer facilities and higher pay to offer teachers, DeBoer said. "Poorer areas would be just the opposite."

Whether the school system was in a farm-centered community made a difference.

Of votes held in districts whose agricultural share of assessed valuation was less than 10 percent, 53 percent passed, compared to 33.3 percent passing in school systems where the agricultural share was greater than 10 percent.

Again, the trend could lead to inequity, DeBoer said, as school systems in urban and suburban areas find referendums easier to pass than those in farm-centered areas.

Overall, success rates in getting school tax increases passed grew as the economy improved, with 64.3 percent passing since May 2011, compared to 40 percent before then, DeBoer said.

Spring elections produced better results than fall elections: 60.5 percent for May votes, compared to 39.4 percent for November votes. 

Voters were more favorable to increasing taxes to shore up a school system general fund than to funding capital projects. The rate was 52.3 percent for a tax increase to benefit the general fund, compared to 48.1 percent for capital projects.

Where the tax-increase sought was under 15 cents, 69 percent of referendums passed since November 2009, compared to 45.5 percent if the rate was greater than 15 cents.

Success  favored smaller school systems, where it appears voters were willing to pay a property tax increase if it meant keeping their schools from from being consolidated into a bigger school system, DeBoer said.

Of votes held in school districts with enrollment of less than 1,000, 83.3 percent passed, compared to 47.7 percent in districts with enrollment greater than 1,000.

Munster and Union Township school systems chalked up their wins at the polls on referendum votes held in May. A Boone Township school system referendum  that same month failed to pass, though by a tight margin of 50.2 percent against and 49.8 percent in favor.

The Duneland School Corp. a year earlier in May won a property tax increase with 50 percent in favor and 49 percent opposed.

A May 2011 referendum vote was favorable to the Crown Point Community School Corp. by a vote of 4,936 in favor, and 3,333 opposed.

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