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Bill would limit school referendum campaigns

February 6, 2011

Indiana school districts would face restrictions on how they campaign for referendums that would raise property taxes under a bill proposed by an Indianapolis lawmaker.

State Rep. Cindy Noe, R-Indianapolis, wants to stop schools from using public money and bar school employees from campaigning for the measures during school hours.

Noe says it's a matter of fairness, noting that opponents of such increases don't have access to contact information or tax dollars they can use to fight the proposals.

"Schools have phone lists of all the parents, while opponents might have to just pull names from the phone book," she said. "It's important to create a level playing field."

State law currently limits how school districts and other local governments can promote building projects that are up for referendum. Those seeking tax increases to pay teacher salaries and other operating expenses face fewer limitations, said Mary Jane Michalak, a spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance.

Noe told the Daily Journal the same rules should apply no matter how the money will be used.

She said her bill would prevent schools from using taxpayer-funded resources, such as newsletters or automated phone systems, unless they gave opponents equal access to those facilities. Signs favoring a referendum campaign could not be placed on school property unless opponents also were allowed to put their signs at schools, Noe said.

Indiana University education center researcher Terry Spradlin, who helped lead a referendum in Johnson County's Center Grove schools, said he thinks the legislation is reasonable. Center Grove's $3.2 million referendum, which was intended to take the edge off of school funding shortfalls, was one of nine that voters rejected in November.

Noe noted that school administrators could still talk about why the district needs more tax funding while meeting with organized community groups or at speaking engagements.

Noe's bill has passed out of a committee and awaits consideration by the full House.

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