UPDATE: Voters in Indiana reject 4 of 8 school funding referendums

Four of the eight Indiana school districts with ballot questions to approve property-tax levies for operational funds failed to receive voter approval Tuesday in the midterm election.

That was not case in Westfield, where voters approved a property-tax change to help fund operations at the fast-growing Westfield Washington Schools district. According to the district, property owners will actually see a decrease in their property tax rate starting next year under the new referendum.

Leaders at Brown County Schools, Delphi Community School Corp. in Carroll County, Medora Community School Corp. in Jackson County, and MSD of Wabash County could not convince their communities to support the extra cost to property bills.

Three of the rural districts warned of staffing and programs cuts, and an increase of students in classrooms if the funding was not approved. Brown County Superintendent Emily Tracy has also said salaries and wages would be frozen across the district.

MSD of Wabash County Schools asked voters for $115 million in new property-taxes as part of a plan to construct a new 165,000-square-foot high school and renovate other buildings. The referendum was rejected by 78 precent of voters.

Prior to the election, education leaders and advocates also expressed concern that new language required on the ballot could give voters the wrong idea of how much property tax they could face. Last year, a law was enacted that requires the ballot question to include the estimated average percentage of property tax increase paid to the school district if the levy is approved.

On Wednesday, Brown County’s Tracy said the outcome of the $15.1 million referendum was disheartening and thinks voters may not have understood the ballot language. The operations referendum failed, with 52.9 percent voting “no.”

“It was an extremely close vote and we appreciate everyone who came out to support our educators,” Tracy said in a statement. “I believe the language on the ballot is confusing and misleading for voters and it is our effort to continue to educate and inform our community.”

The district has one year remaining on a current operating referendum before it expires.

“We will get back out there and do what we need to do moving forward,” she said.

Here are unofficial results reported by county election offices:

Westfield Washington Schools, Hamilton County: 67.76% voted yes on operations referendum for property tax rate of $0.17 per $100 assessed value for eight years. The new referendum will lower the current rate under the previous referendum from 20¢ to 17¢, or 15%. The estimated total tax amount to be raised: $61,038,144.00.

Westfield Washington officials said the funding will be used to maintain lower class sizes, retain staff and start an orchestra program and an agriculture science program.

Superintendent Paul Kaiser, in a statement to WFYI, thanked the community for “overwhelming numbers” of support.

“This result tells us that our community believes in our staff and most importantly, their kids,” Kaiser said in the statement, adding school leaders are happy they won’t need another campaign for eight years. “… and we’re ready to continue providing our students and our community with the high-quality educational experience that they have come to expect and deserve.”

Wabash County School Corp.– FAILED: 78.1 percent voted “no” on an capital referendum for property tax rate of $0.8300 cents per $100 of assessed value for eight years. The estimated total tax amount levy would have funded a $115,000,000 construction and renovation project.

Brown County SchoolsBrown County – FAILED: 52.9 percent voted “no” on an operations referendum for property tax rate of $0.1200 per $100 of assessed value for eight years. The estimated total tax amount levy would have raised: $15,140,096

Delphi Community School Corp., Carroll County – FAILED: 55 percent voted “no” on an operations referendum for property tax rate of  $0.2032 per $100 of assessed value for eight years. The estimated total tax amount levy would have raised: $9,598,120

Medora Community School Corp. Jackson County – FAILED: 74.49 percent voted “no” on operations referendum for property tax rate of  $0.50 per $100 of assessed value for eight years. The estimated total tax amount levy would have raised: $1,554,000

Monroe County Community School Corp., Monroe County – PASSED: 67 percent voted “yes” on an operations referendum for property tax rate of $0.1850 per $100 of assessed value for eight years. The estimated total tax amount to be raised: $139,017,904

MSD of Southwest Allen County, Allen County – PASSED: 69.1 percent voted “yes” on an operations referendum for property tax rate of $0.15 per $100 of assessed value for eight years. The estimated total tax amount to be raised: $51,245,496.

Southern Wells Community Schools, Wells County – PASSED: 71 percent voted “yes” on an operations referendum for property tax rate of $0.127 per $100 of assessed value for eight years. The estimated total tax amount to be raised: $4,241,584.

Correction: A previous version of this story said MSD of Wabash County staffing would be impacted due to its referendum not passing. That was incorrect. MSD of Wabash County does not plan to reduce its staff.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.

11 thoughts on “UPDATE: Voters in Indiana reject 4 of 8 school funding referendums

    1. I feel sorry for all of the districts where these failed. If you feel good that people are left less educated and our already underpaid teachers are left less supported, not sure what to say to you.

      We spend a lot of money on unnecessary projects/programs. Education is not one of them. It is a failing of our society when we do not invest in it.

      While we are busy fighting culture wars over education, the rest of the world is making investments in it. Our competition in this world is not each other in this case, it is other countries.

    2. Wow the rate they were proposing in Wabash was ridiculous. Maybe dial it back to 0.15 for every 100 in assessed value. Stop spending so much on sports and elaborate stadiums.

    3. If you ever wonder why folks around Indiana move to the Indianapolis area, go tour the facilities of schools in the donut counties. Go look at Plainfield or Franklin or Center Grove or Noblesville or any number of other schools.

      They’ve invested in facilities and they’re reaping the benefits as a community with people wanting to live in their school districts.

      You’re simply not going to keep residents around if you don’t play the game.

  1. HC property values have jumped over 50% the last several years. This raises property taxes, which go to schools. How can a community like Westfield need to raise an additional $61 million on top of it? Mind boggling… other peoples money…

    1. There’s a lot going on here and I’m only making one post…not looking for an argument. First, you are correct about home values increasing which helps the schools keep up with their own costs increasing. Westfield, in particular, is also growing rapidly, which means the district’s total assessed value is increasing. However, that growth means tons of new students are moving in, and both the state funds allocated to each student as well as property taxes run in arrears (from a few months to 2+ years on a new build) while the costs to educate those new students are immediate. It is also very misleading how the value of these referendums is presented. Schools have to set a max amount they are allowed to pull each year for the next 8 years which becomes the referendum amount. But they don’t actually have to take that amount and many will take considerably less. Again, Westfield lowered their max from the existing referendum (which hasn’t even expired yet) and have gone on record stating they will still only take a portion of the allowable amount in the next few years. Lastly, these referendums could likely be avoided statewide if not for Mitch Daniels’ 1-2-3 tax limitations. Districts lose a ton of money (as do local gov’t) from the 1% property tax limit on primary residences. As a taxpayer, I’m glad we have the 1% limit and I will happily pay an extra couple hundred dollars to support the school district knowing they will be better stewards of the funds since they will have to get it reapproved every few years.

  2. The General Assembly has again abdicated its responsibility by making schools grovel for funding through referenda. Indiana regularly lags the rest of the country in educational achievement but we just won’t adequately fund schools.

  3. Yes, more funds is ALWAYS the answer. That’s why, with the increased funding over many years, test scores have similarly improved. Wait…that hasn’t happened?

    1. Funding got cut 15 years ago and never restored. Keep up.

      “From 2010 to 2020, during the longest economic expansion in Indiana history, inflation-adjusted spending on K-12 education declined, both as a share of our economy and on a per-student basis. The study shows the funding cuts to K-12 education from 2010 to 2020 were the steepest in state history.

      As Indiana’s economy grew, funding for schools declined. Indiana wasn’t the only state to do so, but educational attainment in Indiana lags the nation. Even with the benefits of school choice, Indiana’s cuts to education and growing educational gap clearly have slowed our economic growth.”

      https://www.greenfieldreporter.com/2021/07/08/michael_hicks_a_look_at_our_spending_on_education/

{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining
{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining Article limit resets on
{{ count_down }}