Voters on Tuesday night appeared well on their way to approving property-tax hikes in order to raise money for teacher salaries and construction projects for Washington Township Schools and Beech Grove City Schools.
The Metropolitan School District of Washington Township proposed two referendums during this year’s primary to raise $301 million.
An operating referendum asked voters to allow the school district to impose a property tax rate of 25 cents (up from 11 cents) for every $100 of assessed value for the next eight years to provide funding intended to improve student safety, increase student support services, expand academic support programs and retain teachers and staff. The increase is expected to raise $16 million.
The second referendum asked voters to allow the school district to issue bonds to finance $285 million in construction projects. The bonds are estimated to increase the property tax rate for debt service by 31.72 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The construction referendum is the largest in state history.
With about 91% of precincts reporting Tuesday night, 65% had voted for the operating referendum, while the construction referendum had garnered 60% of the vote.
According to the district, the construction money would be used to build a new $72 million middle school, renovate aging buildings, and finish projects where construction costs have run higher than anticipated. Opponents, however, have called the ask “obscene” and “tone deaf,” in part because voters in the district approved two referendums in 2016.
Meanwhile, the final results of Beech Grove City Schools’ referendums were still being counted, but voters looked to be on the way to approving the $22.4 million funding requests. District leaders said the money would be used to build a new early childhood center, hire additional school safety officers, and give teachers $2,000 raises. About 60% of voters were favoring the tax hikes with 82% of the results counted.
Beech Grove’s construction referendum calls for a tax-rate increase of 25 cents per $100 of assessed value to raise $17.5 million to renovate existing schools, including Beech Grove High School, and build the Hornet Park Early Childhood Learning Center.
The operating referendum seeks a tax-rate increase of 55 cents per $100 of assessed value for eight years, replacing a 2015 referendum. It would give $2,000 raises to teachers and $1,000 raises to support staff, and add three school resource officers and three counselors.
Washington Township, which serves 11,000 students in the northern part of Marion County, is among 14 districts across the state pushing referendums to fund more pay for staff, construction projects and safety initiatives. A referendum is a public question to voters that allows school districts to collect property tax funding above the state’s property tax caps.
A homeowner in the district with a house assessed at $200,000 is expected to pay about $37 more per month, or $444 a year, in additional property taxes.
The referendums had met opposition from two local businessmen who previously told IBJ the district was asking for too much.
GOP heavyweight Al Hubbard—who co-founded E&A Industries, served in the White House under the George H.W. Bush and the George W. Bush administrations, and was once the Indiana Republican Party chairman—and Devin Anderson, CEO for E&A Industries, self-funded a digital opposition to the referendums.
Proponents of the referendum said the tax increase is necessary because the state does not provide funding for capital construction or renovation projects for public schools. A referendum is the only option for coming up with the funding that is necessary to update district buildings, many of which were built in the 1950s and 1960s, they say. Additionally, they said, Washington Township Schools has been hurt by changes to education funding over the past decade, leaving it with more expenses but less state funding.
Anderson and Hubbard, who both reside in Washington Township, said they did not hear about the referendums until just a few weeks before the primary. They argued the proposals hadn’t been well publicized, especially during a time when many voters have been more concerned with the pandemic than other issues.
And they took issue with the timing of the referendums. The measures come 3-1/2 years after the district passed similar referendums in 2016.
At that time, the district asked to impose a tax rate of 11 cents for every $100 of assessed value for operating expenses. It also asked to issue $185 million in debt for construction projects.
Chalkbeat Indiana contributed to this report.