Several school districts seek passage of referendums

May 3, 2010

At least five school districts in the Indianapolis area will have referendums on primary ballots Tuesday that seek to raise millions of dollars to prevent teacher cuts or support building projects.

The school districts say the additional funds are necessary to compensate for a change in the state's school-funding formula. Schools that until last year used property tax dollars for general fund expenses such as teacher salaries and utility bills now must rely on state tax revenue.

That revenue has been declining for several months, due to the poor economy, prompting Gov. Mitch Daniels to cut state funding for public schools by $297 million.

Washington and Pike townships, as well as Speedway, Carmel and Noblesville, are among area school districts staging referendums Tuesday.

"It's more important than ever, because you see this big trend at the state level where the revenues are reduced," said Ellen Miller, spokeswoman for the campaign supporting the Washington Township referendum.

Passage of the Washington Township referendum would, in effect, be tax-neutral. Though it would raise the general fund tax rate by 8 cents per $100 of a property's assessed valuation, that increase would be offset by a corresponding decrease in the capital projects fund. The school board passed a resulution in October requiring the corresponding reduction.

The referendum would prevent $4 million in general fund cuts. Without the money, the district would experience additional staff layoffs, more crowded classrooms, a loss of summer school and reduced resources, referendum supporters contend.

Washington Township resident Penny Bigelow, who opposes the referendum, isn't buying it. "They are advertising it as a no-tax increase but the wording on the referendum ballot says that it is a tax increase," she said. "This is not what it appears to be."

Supporters of the referendum say the state-mandated ballot language could mislead because it doesn't mention the school board's tax-neutrality resolution.

Proponents of the Pike Township referendum also are billing it as tax-neutral, because the new tax, which starts in 2012, will replace a previous one used to fund renovations to Pike High School. The referendum would raise taxes by 23 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to build a new Guion Creek Elementary.

In other other referendums:

— Speedway Schools is asking for a maximum tax rate of 59 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to raise its general fund by $3.4 million in 2001, the first year it would go into effect.

— Carmel Clay Schools is requesting a $12 million annual tax levy to keep the district from having to make drastic cuts and increase class sizes dramatically, school officials have said.

— Noblesville Schools wants residents to support two referendums, one for $5 million to cover operational expenses and another for $63 million to fund school building projects. The district wants to build two middle schools and one elementary school, in addition to expanding five schools.




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