Hamilton Southeastern Schools considering spring referendum

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Voters in the Hamilton Southeastern School District won't face a referendum over school funding in the November general election, but they could see one as early as spring 2016.

The HSE School Board, which oversees the state's fourth largest school system, has been discussing the possibility of putting a referendum on general election ballots in November and had been expected to vote Tuesday morning on the size of the property tax increase it would be requesting.

However, Superintendent Allen Bourff recommended the board delay any referendum until the spring election to allow more time to engage the community and refine what the dollars would be spent on.

The delay won't matter much, he said. If approved on the ballot in the spring, the funds would still be built into the budget for the 2016-2017 school year.

“It would almost make no difference,” Bourff said.

In 2009, 82 percent of voters supported a property tax increase to provide the HSE school district with an extra $5.5 million each year for seven years. It allowed the school corporation to collect an extra 10 cents on each $100 of a home’s assessed value.

That tax rate will expire in 2016, which is why the school board is considering another referendum.

“I still feel very strongly that it’s something we’re going to need to do,” school board president John DeLucia said, mentioning he supported postponing the referendum until May.

To place the referendum on May ballots, the school board must make a decision by Jan. 26, Bourff said.

The board had considered three tax-increase options in previous meetings this summer—keeping the same 10-cent rate or raising it to either 16 cents or 21 cents. With a median home value of about $234,000 in Fishers, the 10-cent rate costs a property owner $234 annually; a 16-cent rate costs $375; and the 21-cent rate would be $491.

The additional funds could help pay for staff, eliminate sports-participation fees and buy more supplies. The district enacted a steep hike in sports-participation fees last year.

According to a recent survey that the school corporation hired Noblesville-based Practical Insights to conduct, 69 percent of voters would support continuing the 10- cent rate. If the referendum addressed class sizes and teacher compensation, 59 percent of voters said they would support a 20-cent rate increase, according to the survey. 

The school district had more than 20,000 students enrolled last year, and nearly 30,000 registered voters live in the district.

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