A politically influential group representing real estate agents is taking the rare step of opposing Indianapolis Public Schools’ $725 million proposal to raise property taxes to increase school funding.
The opposition deals a harsh blow to the referendums, which the district downsized earlier this week in the face of criticism and little public support.
“Most importantly, we are concerned that property owners have not been given enough detail or clarity on the individual impact,” said the statement from the MIBOR Realtor Association. “The recent change to the proposed dollar amount only elicits more concern with IPS moving forward with their short timeline.”
The association opposes the request because it would be burdensome for Indianapolis residents, CEO Shelley Specchio said. She also criticized the district for not providing clear enough information on how the tax increase would affect individual property owners and how it would be used in schools.
“It was a difficult decision—not something that we took lightly, because of course, we really value strong quality schools,” Specchio said. But “we felt that the tax increase would be burdensome to homeowners.”
In a statement, chief of staff Ahmed Young said the district will continue working with the community.
“IPS is committed to being a good steward of taxpayer resources,” Young said. “We lowered the operating referendum ask on Tuesday as part of this commitment. We look forward to further collaboration with the community to advocate for our schools.”
The real estate agents group has about 8,000 members in central Indiana. It has been one of the largest local contributors to campaigns for seats on the IPS board, giving thousands of dollars in recent years to support at least four of the current board members.
This is the first time the group has opposed an appeal for more money from a school district, said Chris Pryor, vice president of government and community relations. It has not taken a position on any Marion County school funding referendums, he said. But it has supported raising taxes for schools in other places, such as Anderson, and donated money to the campaigns.
Other influential groups, such as the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, have not yet taken positions on the referendums. Many community leaders agree that the district needs more funding, but they have raised concerns about the size of the request.
The opposition from the real estate industry group is a significant blow for the district because there has been virtually no campaign in support of the measures so far, said Ed Delaney, a Democratic state representative who lives in the district. The association is the first civic organization to take a position.
“I’m sorry that an organization like that, which has shown an interest in our community, would feel that they had to take this position,” Delaney said. “I’m saddened that we’ve come to this.”
Just two days ago, the school board responded to community concern by cutting its request from nearly $1 billion to about $725 million over eight years in a bid to win political support. The two measures, which will go before voters in May, would raise money for expenses such as teacher pay, special education services and building improvements.
If the referendums pass, the tax increase for homeowners would be 58 cents per $100 of assessed value. For taxpayers with houses at the district’s median value—$123,500—the new plan would increase property taxes by $23.24 per month.
Chalkbeat is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.