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Numerous school referendums face decision time

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Voters in several central Indiana school districts on Tuesday are considering education-related referendums, including one that would provide Hamilton Southeastern Schools with funding to build more facilities.

The proposed $62 million project calls for a $2.5 million conversion of Hamilton Southeastern Junior High into a freshman center, and the construction of a $37.5 million junior high and $22 million elementary school.

School officials estimate the district's property tax rate for debt service will increase by 9 cents per $100 of a property’s assessed valuation. Officials say the new debt will not result in a tax increase because the district will be retiring older debt obligations.

The Hamilton Southeastern district serves about 17,000 students and has been growing at a rate of about 1,200 students annually since 2000, school officials said.
 
The freshman campus would occupy the junior high school facility on Olio Road beginning in the fall of 2012. The new junior high would be constructed at Cyntheanne Road and Greenfield Avenue on land already owned by the school district. The new elementary school likely would be constructed on district-owned land on the east side of Fishers between 136th and 141st streets.

HSE voters last year overwhelmingly passed a $38.5 million referendum to shore up the distict's budget.  

School officials undoubtedly are hoping for a similar outcome enjoyed earlier this year by another Hamilton County school district.

Noblesville voters in May easily approved two referendums, one for $5 million to cover operational expenses and another for $63 million to fund school building projects. The district is building two middle schools and one elementary school, in addition to expanding five schools.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Boone County, the Lebanon Community School Corp. also is seeking a referendum to fund a building project, which includes $40 million in renovations to its high school, middle school and four elementary schools.

Approval of the referendum would increase the property tax rate for debt service by a maximum of 66 cents per $100 of a property’s assessed valuation.

In May, voters in the nearby Western Boone County Community School Corp. shot down a proposal that would have resulted in a 19-cent hike per $100 in assessed valuation for six years, starting in 2011. That referendum addressed an $850,000 budget shortfall and not a capital project.

Elsewhere in Boone County, voters in the Zionsville School Corp. district go to the polls on Tuesday to vote on a referendum to fund operating expenses.

The referendum would add 29.5 cents per $100 of a property’s assessed valuation, resulting in an additional $5.8 million to avoid a shortfall in the district’s $64.9 million budget.

Administrators have warned of teacher layoffs and program cuts, if the referendum fails.

School districts seeking General Fund referendums are attributing their shortfalls to property-tax caps and dwindling tax revenue taken in by the state due to the recession.

A state law passed in 2008 requires a referendum to give voters the opportunity to approve a district’s request for additional money or to raise property taxes beyond established caps.

Other districts in central Indiana seeking General Fund referendums include:

— Anderson Community School Corp., 55 cents per $100 of assessed valuation

— Center Grove Community School Corp., 15 cents per $100 of assessed valuation

— Elwood Community School Corp., 50 cents per $100 of assessed valuation

— Northwestern Consolidated Schools in Shelby County, 11.6 cents per $100 of assessed valuation

— Community School Corp. of Southern Hancock County, 24 cents per $100 of assessed valuation

— Westfield Washington Schools, 23 cents per $100 of assessed valuation

Statewide, 17 school districts on Tuesday are seeking referendums. If history is any indication, only about half of them will pass.

Since 2008, voters have approved only 43 percent of all school-funding proposals, according to a study by Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy. Of the 42 referendums that have appeared on ballots since state law changed in 2008, 24 have failed and 18 have passed.
 

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