Residents of Washington Township will have a property-tax increase to mull over on November's ballot as the school district seeks to increase its funding for facilities and basic day-to-day operations.
The Washington Township school board on Wednesday unanimously approved putting two referendums—$185 million for construction projects and $6.5 million for extra general-fund expenses—on the ballot. The tax increase for both would equate to an extra $26 or so a month for taxpayers with a home assessed at Washington Township’s median price of $173,200. That would be about $312 extra per year.
"Funding will enable us to meet the needs for technology and security upgrades, build classrooms that will provide educational opportunities needed for the 21st Century and make our facilities energy efficient to protect the environment and save tax dollars,” the district’s website says.
The district has about 11,250 students, with more than 57 percent coming from low-income households that qualify for free- and reduced-priced meals.
Currently, Washington Township has the lowest effective tax rate among the 11 Marion County school districts. If the referendums are approved, it would still have the third-lowest tax rate among Marion County districts. The effective tax rate, if approved, would be 90 cents per $100 of assessed value, up from 51 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Tony Dzwonar, school board president, said the tax rate has been relatively low because “we have not done many of the renovations that 40- or 50-year old buildings need at this time and that other districts have done.”
Kristina Frey, president of the district’s Parent Council and parent of a second-grader, said she believed the tax increase was a “very reasonable request."
“I see every day how overcrowded our elementary schools are, and the impact that has on learning,” Frey said in an email. “Our children deserve basic modern school amenities and safety features, such as secured entries and classrooms that are appropriate for 21st century learning—not trailers and retrofitted spaces.”'
Shelley Clark, another Parent Council member who has two children in Washington Township schools, said the state legislature was to blame for “putting communities through these divisive referendums in the first place.” She supports the referendums.
Washington Township says its per-student funding amount from the state decreased by $545 per student from 2009 to 2012. It received $4,967 per student this school year, but it said that would be lower than the 2009 amount if adjusted for inflation.
“If our public schools had been adequately funded and made a priority, we might not have had to put the community through this process,” Clark said.
The Democratic and Republican candidates for state representative in Democrat Christina Hale’s seat—District 87, which covers Washington Township—also weighed in. Hale is running on the Democratic gubernatorial ticket with John Gregg.
Democratic candidate Carey Hamilton has two children who attend Washington Township schools.
"People move to Washington Township for the wonderful diversity of students and first-class education the schools provide," Hamilton said. "But we have to stay competitive with surrounding school districts by keeping our facilities up to date and ensuring we have the funding to keep our wonderful educators and programming. And any Realtor will tell you that having quality schools translates to higher property values."
But Republican state representative candidate Connie Eckert, whose 15-year-old child attends a Washington Township school, said she was skeptical of the tax increase.
“Maybe we need to take a look at the budget more closely and reallocate and prioritize before we hit taxpayers with more taxes,” Eckert said. “I don’t see how (a tax increase) helps families pay for prescriptions, and things that kids need."