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Zionsville voters approve school funding referendum

November 4, 2015

Zionsville voters approved a six-year school funding referendum Tuesday with 67 percent of those who voted supporting it.

The proposal allows Zionsville Community Schools to impose a maximum 24.44-cent tax rate per $100 of assessed value for the next six years. It is the same maximum rate put in place in a 2012 referendum that is set to expire at the end of the year. When the referendum passed in 2012, it was estimated that imposing the maximum rate would add about $239 to the annual tax bill for a $200,000 home.

Zionsville homeowners are now paying less than the maximum allowed, 22.64 cents per $100 of assessed value, an amount set by the state's Department of Local Government finance. ZCS Chief Financial Officer Mike Shafer said if the DLGF decides to allow implementation of the maximum rate in the future, it could mean an increase of $15 to $25 per year for homes in the range of $350,000 to $500,000.

School leaders say the funding is needed to avoid future cuts to programs and teachers. In 2010, a seven-year funding referendum for the school district failed to receive enough public support, which led to budget cuts in 2011. At that time, the district was requesting a 29.5-cent tax rate per $100 of assessed value.

After it failed, the district said it had to lay off 29 teachers, reduce the number of school counselors, eliminate 125 support staff members, reduce kindergarten hours, and initiate athletic and club fees.

The district said if voters had failed to approve Tuesday's referendum asking that the rate be continued, the resulting cuts would likely have been even bigger than in 2011. The district estimated it would have had to eliminate120 staff positions by 2017, increasing classroom sizes in all grades, and cutting sports and clubs or doubling their fees.

The referendum that passed in 2012 pays for nearly 87 full-time teachers, district officials said.

Shafer told the Zionsville Town Council earlier this year that the district, which has nearly 6,500 students, is near the bottom in Indiana for per-student state funding. By 2017, the district is scheduled to receive $745 less than than the state average in per-pupil funding.

“Renewing the referendum allows us to restore key academic services for our students, protect class sizes and property values, and operate ZCS with financial stability once again,” Shari Alexander Richey, president of the school board, said in an email Tuesday night. “...Thank you to area voters for supporting our excellent public schools.”

Richey told IBJ last week that extending the current arrangement by six years would give the district enough time to lobby for additional state funds.

“What we’re asking for is a more equitable solution,” Richey said. “We’re still going to be working very hard at the state level to continue to try and improve the funding formula.”

The Zionsville Town Council, Whitestown Town Council and Zionsville Chamber of Commerce publicly endorsed the referendum before Election Day.

The Zionsville referendum was one of seven in the state this year, which is the most for a general election since 2010, when 13 were on ballots. The Zionsville referendum was the only one to take place in central Indiana this year.

In 2011, the last city election cycle, only one school funding referendum was proposed to voters.

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