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Editorial: Slimmed-down IPS referendums deserve the support of voters

September 28, 2018

Indianapolis Public Schools initially bungled its property-tax-referendum request—seeking way too much money, $936 million over eight years—then failing to make a compelling case for why residents in the district should support it.

Since then, IPS has rebooted the effort, scaling back its request to a much more reasonable $272 million and shifting the planned vote from May to November. The district also won the backing of the Indy Chamber after the business group issued an efficiency report in July that will help pave the way for $400 million in cost savings over eight years.

IPS’ initial hiccups should not obscure the reality that the district desperately needs the additional funds to maintain the momentum it’s demonstrated in recent years. The progress—driven in part by the proliferation of new and popular programs such as the IPS/Butler University Lab School—is reflected in higher enrollment, higher graduation rates and other metrics. Last year’s enrollment was 31,820, the highest in three years, and the district’s graduation rate stands at 83 percent, up from 47 percent 10 years ago.

Voters in IPS will face two separate ballot questions. The first seeks $220 million over eight years for operating revenue—all of which the district plans to steer into employee raises. The district rightfully believes its compensation must be competitive, and that hiring and retaining the best teachers and principals possible is the foundation of providing a quality education.

The other ballot question would raise $52 million over eight years for capital projects. That includes $40 million related to projects that bolster safety and security and $11.2 million for construction and renovation projects.

Even the slimmed-down request is a big ask for a district where poverty is high and many residents are scraping to get by. But we believe those higher taxes—which would cost the owner of a home with a market value of $150,000 about $150 more a year—will pay off in the form of a stronger school district.

That’s important for IPS and its families, of course, but the implications are far broader than that.

The entire region’s vitality hinges on having a strong urban core. Fortunately, many parts of that core are on the upswing—from downtown, where apartment development has boomed, to neighborhoods like Fall Creek Place and Cottage Home, which have experienced revivals. But efforts to make neighborhoods attractive to families can go only so far without the underpinning of a desirable school district.

For some families, IPS is that today. But more work lies ahead. The $272 million infusion IPS is seeking would help make the city’s largest school district better and the whole region stronger.•

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