3 Marion County school districts ask voters for extra funding

May 5, 2015

Three Marion County school districts say they need extra money to pay teachers, fix school buildings and continue to ensure children have a bus ride to school.

Wayne Township and Perry Township will ask voters to approve new tax increases on the ballot for Tuesday’s primary election.

For Beech Grove, one referendum would continue to raise money to support its busing system, which could be scaled back or even discontinued if it fails, and a second would pay for building repairs.

Superintendent Paul Kaiser said the building fixes must be made. The only question is how long they’ll take and how much they will cost. Ideally, the district would complete its construction this summer.

“If we don’t do it with the referendum, it will take us 10 years to replace it all,” he said. “The cost of equipment and materials will go up a lot over the 10 years. This is more efficient.”

Here’s a breakdown of each district’s ballot requests:

Beech Grove Schools

Proposed tax increases: Two referendums will be up for a vote: A 35-cent continuation of existing taxes and a 15-cent increase per $100 of a property’s assessed value.

What the increase will support: busing, updated band and choir rooms, heating and air conditioning systems.

Potential new cost to the average homeowner: Less than $36 per year for the 15-cent tax increase.

Perry Township

Proposed tax increases: Two referendums will be up for a vote: A 42-cent increase and a 13-cent increase per $100 of a property’s assessed value.

What the increase will support: hiring of bus drivers and janitors and building more classrooms for the growing student population.

Potential new cost to the average homeowner: About $118 per year if both pass.

Wayne Township

Proposed Tax increases: A 35-cent increase per $100 of a property’s assessed value.

What the increase will support: teacher and staff salaries.

Potential new cost to the average homeowner: Less than $100 per year.

Kaiser said his district needs the 15-cent tax increase to update heating and air conditioning in four of its five buildings, and the high school needs updated band and choir rooms for a program that has seen the number of participants more than triple.

Tom Little, superintendent in Perry Township, said his district is struggling to keep up with enrollment growth—the district is already using 26 portable classroom “trailers” as a temporary fix, and it's bringing in 14 more for next year.

“Whenever you add kids and are growing like we are, you need more bus drivers to transport kids,” Little said. “And whenever you add more classrooms and more areas, you have to have custodians to clean them.”

Districts have been dealing with since the state decided to put in place caps on property taxes that limited what schools could collect.

In 2010, the Indiana Legislature passed a bill to stabilize homeowners’ property taxes. Homeowners now can’t pay more than one percent of the total assessed value of their property in property taxes. If a home is assessed at 150,000, residents won’t pay more than $1,500 in taxes.

Those caps meant schools lost a primary source of money, so the state allowed school districts to go to local taxpayers to seek voter approval for extra money if they fell? short.

Wayne Township lost 37 percent of its property tax revenue when the tax caps went in place, Superintendent Jeff Butts said at a meeting earlier this year. Only Beech Grove’s 39 percent loss was bigger in Marion County, he said. Wayne Township is the second-largest district in the county behind Indianapolis Public Schools.

Supporters of the tax caps believe they offer much-needed relief to homeowners who have seen property values vary widely in the past. But critics argue they cut off a viable way for districts to pay for services for students.

Kaiser said he is confident his community will support the ballot proposals because even with the changes, taxes would still be lower than they were in 2007.

“Our community, they care about the living environment for kids with the heating and cooling, and they care about the performing arts,” Kaiser said. “We think they’ll support it.”

But he has a back-up plan. If the referendum should not pass, Kaiser said, the district would cancel busing or reduce it significantly.

If Perry Township’s referendums don’t pass, Little said the district would continue using portable classrooms and would convert art and music space, the library and even gyms into classrooms for elementary school students. And Wayne Township would almost certainly see layoffs if the tax increases aren’t approved, officials said.

At this point, it’s up to voters, Little said, and he’s cautiously optimistic.

“We need to go to the community, and we need to express to the community the issues we’re having and the concerns we’ve got,” Little said. “This really places the entire future of the school corporation in the hands of the taxpayer, who foots the bill, and that’s more than fair.”

Chalkbeat Indiana
is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.


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