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School districts developing appetite for referendums
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School districts developing appetite for referendums

Three local school corporations are joining a growing number of school districts asking for a property tax increase as they wrestle with state budget cuts to education.

On May 7, the School Town of Munster, and the Metropolitan School District of Boone Township and the Union Township School Corp., both in Porter County, will be asking for a tax increase in voter referendums.

After a law was changed in 2008, the state assumed funding for each school corporation’s general fund through an increase in the sales tax. Before that, schools were supported by property taxes.

But the Great Recession that began in 2008 hindered sales tax revenue -- which in turn reduced funding for schools.

Educators also said their budget problems were caused as a result of statewide cuts to education during former Gov. Mitch Daniels' administration.

Superintendents and school boards have thought "long and hard" the past few years about the benefits and consequences of a referendum, said Terry Spradlin, associate director of the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University at Bloomington.

The chances for a general fund referendum passing are about 50-50 in Indiana, Spradlin said, while a construction referendum has a 40 percent passage rate among Indiana schools.

A general fund referendum asks for money to support the general fund budget, which mostly pays for salaries and benefits along with classroom programs. A construction referendum pays for new construction and renovations.

Spradlin said voter appetite for referendums, which peaked in 2010, is mixed as districts watch the new makeup of the Statehouse.

"Right now, school corporations are trying to see what's going to happen with funding from the Indiana General Assembly," he said.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence presented legislators with a two-year budget plan that reduces the personal income tax rate and increases funding for education by 3 percent. However, local school superintendents say of that 3 percent, less than half a percent goes toward K-through-12 education, and that includes funding for full-day kindergarten, vouchers and charter schools.

Indiana Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, disagrees.

He said legislators were doing their "level best" to adequately fund students. However, Kenley said superintendents and school districts are selling general fund referendums as a way to assist the budget shortfall.

"We believed school districts would go to their communities and ask for more money to provide for additional programs," he said. "If the community wanted more, they could vote for more programs through a referendum. The question they (school districts) will have to face eventually with the public is whether it's an issue of money, or how that money is used."

Kenley said construction referendum are working just as they should.

"There have been many instances where school buildings were lavish in nature. We felt the taxpayers needed to have a say in that, providing a check-and-balance system on construction," he said.

Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, said it becomes about community involvement.

"When you have the local voters involved in decisions about construction or the general fund, it's an education process," he said.

 

Not every community can pass a referendum

Valparaiso Community Schools Superintendent Mike Berta said there is a lot of variety among communities, and the state has an obligation to provide children with a quality education.

"That's a state responsibility that requires leadership and decision-making at the state level, so that it's fair and equitable across all school districts in Indiana," Berta said.

Berta the district is not looking at a referendum right now. He said administrators study every vacancy -- retirement or resignation -- to determine whether to replace with a new hire or redistribute those duties and responsibilities.

"Those actions have assisted us in keeping our general fund under control," Berta said. "We are very attentive to what's happening in the General Assembly. We may have to do a construction referendum, and that's just another reason to proceed cautiously."

Echoing Berta's observations, Union Township Superintendent John Hunter said the state's requiring local taxpayers to vote on a referendum allowed Daniels to "wash his hands of it, saying he didn't raise taxes, you did it to yourself."

Only school systems in wealthier communities will go after general fund referendum, Merrillville Community Schools Superintendent Tony Lux said.

"That's a horrible future for low-income areas, urban areas and communities where disadvantaged kids go to school," he said.

School City of Hammond Superintendent Walter Watkins said it puts districts like Gary, Hammond and East Chicago "behind the eight ball."

Watkins said those communities simply don't have the tax base to support a referendum.

"If we did that, we'd be asking people who are already struggling to take more money out of their pocket and help the school district to survive. It would be hard for us to do, but if the state continues to reduce funding, it may be something we'd have to pursue," Watkins said.

Referenda

Field 1 Field 2 Field 3 Field 4 Field 5 Field 6 Field 7 Field 8
Type of Referenda Date School Corporation Amount per $100 Total Amount* Outcome % For % Against
"Construction" 2008 "Indianapolis Public Schools" $0.2025 278000000.00 "PASSED"
"Construction" 2008 "Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corp." $0.1400 149000000.00 "PASSED"
"Construction" 2008 "Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp." $0.1700 89000000.00 "PASSED"
"Construction" 2008 "Flat Rock-Howcreek School Corp." $0.7800 18750000.00 "PASSED"
"Construction" 2008 "Richland-Bean Blossom Community School Corp." 35000000.00 "FAILED"
"General Fund" 4/21/2009 "MSD Southwest Allen County" $0.1700 24500000.00 "PASSED" 70.5% 29.5%
"General Fund" 11/3/2009 "Southern Wells Comm. Schools" $0.1270 2100000.00 "PASSED" 52.1% 47.9%
"General Fund" 11/3/2009 "Franklin Township Comm. School Corp." $0.3333 42000000.00 "FAILED" 30.8% 69.2%
"General Fund" 11/3/2009 "Franklin Township Comm. School Corp." $0.1667 21000000.00 "FAILED" 31.5% 68.5%
"General Fund" 11/3/2009 "Beech Grove City Schools" $0.3500 10500000.00 "PASSED" 62.7% 37.3%
"General Fund" 11/10/2009 "Hamilton Southeastern Schools" $0.1000 38500000.00 "PASSED" 81.9% 18.1%
"Construction" 1/9/2009 "Noblesville Schools" $0.1506 59900000.00 "FAILED" 48.9% 51.1%
"Construction" 1/13/2009 "Kankakee Valley School Corp." $0.3000 60000000.00 "PASSED" 70.7% 29.3%
"Construction" 2/3/2009 "Clinton Central School Corp." $0.6500 22500000.00 "FAILED" 14.2% 85.8%
"Construction" 5/19/2009 "Delphi Comm. School Corp." $0.2800 21760000.00 "FAILED" 40.0% 60.0%
"Construction" 5/19/2009 "Michigan City Area Schools" $0.1320 39500000.00 "FAILED" 32.2% 67.8%
"Construction" 5/19/2009 "Mooresville Cons. School Corp." $0.3140 46000000.00 "FAILED" 38.4% 61.6%
"Construction" 5/19/2009 "Mooresville Cons. School Corp." $0.2325 50000000.00 "FAILED" 41.0% 59.0%
"Construction" 5/19/2009 "Ninevah-Hensley-Jackson United School Corp." $0.2800 26000000.00 "FAILED" 28.5% 71.5%
"Construction" 5/19/2009 "Porter Township School Corp." $0.6102 34850000.00 "FAILED" 25.6% 74.4%
"Construction" 6/16/2009 "Lake Central School Corp" $0.1230 95000000.00 "FAILED" 41.4% 58.6%
"Construction" 6/20/2009 "Maconaquah School Corp." $0.2390 19000000.00 "FAILED" 43.3% 56.7%
"Construction" 11/3/2009 "Batesville Comm. School Corp." $0.4400 28000000.00 "FAILED" 43.4% 56.6%
"Construction" 11/3/2009 "MSD of Perry Township" $0.2641 98885000.00 "FAILED" 47.9% 52.1%
"Construction" 11/3/2009 "Southwest DuBois County School Corp." $0.5900 22500000.00 "PASSED" 55.2% 44.8%
"Construction" 11/3/2009 "Tell City-Troy Township School Corp." $0.2800 10000000.00 "FAILED" 49.2% 50.8%
"General Fund" 5/4/2010 "Western Boone School Corp." $0.1900 7000000.00 "FAILED" 31.0% 69.0%
"General Fund" 5/4/2010 "Carmel Clay School Corp." $0.1600 84000000.00 "PASSED" 58.0% 42.0%
"General Fund" 5/4/2010 "Noblesville School Corp." $0.2115 35000000.00 "PASSED" 63.0% 37.0%
"General Fund" 5/4/2010 "West Lafayette Comm. School Corp." $0.4300 25900000.00 "PASSED" 66.0% 34.0%
"General Fund" 5/4/2010 "MSD of Washington Township" $0.0800 28000000.00 "PASSED" 72.0% 28.0%
"General Fund" 5/4/2010 "School Town of Speedway" $0.5900 24500000.00 "PASSED" 86.0% 14.0%
"General Fund" 5/4/2010 "Clarksville Community School Corp." $0.2400 7000000.00 "FAILED" 45.0% 55.0%
"General Fund" 5/4/2010 "Eastern Hancock County Comm. School Corp." $0.1657 2800000.00 "FAILED" 32.0% 68.0%
"General Fund" 5/4/2010 "MSD of Mt. Vernon" $0.2510 21000000.00 "FAILED" 34.0% 66.0%
"Construction" 5/4/2010 "Decatur County Comm. Schools" $0.5330 36140000.00 "FAILED" 43.0% 57.0%
"Construction" 5/4/2010 "Decatur County Comm. Schools" $0.1960 14360000.00 "FAILED" 37.0% 63.0%
"Construction" 5/4/2010 "Noblesville School Corp." $0.1900 63600000.00 "PASSED" 60.0% 40.0%
"Construction" 5/4/2010 "Northern Wells Comm. Schools" $0.2200 15845000.00 "FAILED" 49.0% 51.0%
"Construction" 5/4/2010 "Rossville Consolidated School District" $0.5900 13455000.00 "FAILED" 40.0% 60.0%
"Construction" 5/4/2010 "MSD of Pike Township" $0.2375 21475000.00 "PASSED" 69.0% 31.0%
"Construction" 5/4/2010 "Rensselaer Central Schools Corp." $0.2278 14835000.00 "PASSED" 53.0% 47.0%
"General Fund" 11/2/2010 "Brown County School Corporation" $0.0100 875000.00 "PASSED" 56% 44%
"General Fund" 11/2/2010 "Westfield-Washington Schools" $0.2300 32200000.00 "PASSED" 54% 46%
"General Fund" 11/2/2010 "Monroe County Community School Corp." $0.1402 45000000.00 "PASSED" 61% 39%
"General Fund" 11/2/2010 "Cannelton City Schools" $0.4100 798000.00 "PASSED" 53% 47%
"General Fund" 11/2/2010 "East Allen County Schools" $0.3709 57400000.00 "FAILED" 30% 70%
"General Fund" 11/2/2010 "Mt. Vernon Community School Corp." $0.1233 7000525.00 "FAILED" 41% 59%
"General Fund" 11/2/2010 "Whitko Community School Corporation" $0.2000 6048000.00 "FAILED" 28% 72%
"General Fund" 11/2/2010 "Center Grove Community School Corp." $0.1500 22050000.00 "FAILED" 43% 57%
"General Fund" 11/2/2010 "Community School Corp. of Southern Hancock County" $0.2400 10500000.00 "FAILED" 39% 61%
"General Fund" 11/2/2010 "Zionsville Community Schools" $0.2950 40600000.00 "FAILED" 39% 61%
"General Fund" 11/2/2010 "Anderson Community School Corporation" $0.5500 49000000.00 "FAILED" 30% 70%
"General Fund" 11/2/2010 "Elwood Community School Corporation" $0.5000 7000000.00 "FAILED" 27% 73%
"General Fund" 11/2/2010 "Northwest Shelby Schools" $0.1160 3500000.00 "FAILED" 49% 51%
"Construction" 11/2/2010 "Lebanon Community School Corporation" $0.6674 40000000.00 "PASSED" 50.3% 49.7%
"Construction" 11/2/2010 "Hamilton Southeastern School District" $0.0944 62000000.00 "PASSED" 72% 28%
"Construction" 11/2/2010 "Randolph Central School Corporation" $0.2600 19800000.00 "FAILED" 46% 54%
"Construction" 11/2/2010 "Randolph Central School Corporation" $0.0798 3190000.00 "FAILED" 38% 62%
"Construction" 11/2/2010 "Tell City-Troy Township School Corp." $0.1600 6000000.00 "FAILED" 43% 57%
"General Fund" 5/3/2011 "North Adams Community Schools" $0.2045 8750000.00 "FAILED" 14.0% 86.0%
"General Fund" 5/4/2011 "Crown Point Community School Corp." $0.2100 35000000.00 "PASSED" 60.0% 40.0%
"General Fund" 5/5/2011 "Franklin Township Community School Corp." $0.7500 91000000.00 "FAILED" 36.0% 64.0%
"General Fund" 5/6/2011 "Avon Community School Corp." $0.1705 23800000.00 "FAILED" 37.0% 63.0%
"General Fund" 5/7/2011 "MSD of Perry Township" $0.3078 70000000.00 "PASSED" 58.0% 42.0%
"Construction" 5/8/2011 "MSD of Perry Township" $0.1371 50000000.00 "PASSED" 57.0% 43.0%
"Construction" 5/9/2011 "Oak Hill United School Corp." $0.8723 28400000.00 "FAILED" 18.0% 82.0%
"General Fund" 11/8/2011 "Sheridan Community Schools" $0.1900 665000.00 "PASSED" 72.0% "28%%"
"Construction" 11/8/2011 "Lake Central School Corp" $0.4838 160000000.00 "PASSED" 55.0% 45.0%
"Construction" 11/8/2011 "Randolph Central School Corporation" $0.4816 18900000.00 "FAILED"
"Debt Refinancing" 11/8/2011 "Zionsville Community Schools" "Refinanced 10% of bond debt" "PASSED" 75.0% 25.0%
"General Fund" 5/8/2012 "Zionsville Community Schools" $0.2444 14100000.00 "PASSED" 57.0% 43.0%
"General Fund" 5/8/2012 "Duneland School Corp." $0.2200 39900000.00 "PASSED" 51.0% 49.0%
"General Fund" 5/8/2012 "Oregon-Davis School Corp." $0.1900 2800000.00 "PASSED" 64.6% 35.4%
"Construction" 5/8/2012 "Crawfordsville Community School Corp." $0.6584 35000000.00 "PASSED" 79.6% 20.4%
"Construction" 5/8/2012 "Northern Wells Comm. Schools" $0.1772 14980000.00 "PASSED" 64.7% 35.3%
"Construction" 5/8/2012 "Fort Wayne Comm. Schools" $0.1428 119346000.00 "PASSED" 66.0% 34.0%
"Construction" 5/8/2012 "East Allen County Schools" $0.3950 88750000.00 "FAILED" 36.0% 64.0%
"General Fund" 11/6/2012 "Mt.Vernon Comm. School Corp." $0.0850 1950000.00 "FAILED" 43.0% 57.0%
"General Fund" 11/6/2012 "Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp." $0.0500 12600000.00 "FAILED" 46.0% 54.0%
"General Fund" 11/6/2012 "Hamilton Community School Corp." $0.4400 10500000.00 "PASSED" 74.0% 26.0%
"Source: The Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at IU Bloomington"
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Southlake County Reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.

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