Washington Township Schools referendums meet opposition from GOP heavyweight

Two local businessmen are funding an effort to defeat Washington Township Schools referendums that seek to raise $285 million for construction projects and $16 million for operating expenses.

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, are self-funding a digital opposition to the referendums.

Two public questions will appear on the ballots of voters in Washington Township for the June 2 primary election.

The operating referendum asks 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 second question asks 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 $0.3172 per $100 of assessed valuation.

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.

If the referendums in Washington Township are approved, a homeowner with a house assessed at $200,000 would pay about $37 more per month, or $444 a year, in additional property taxes.

The measures come 3-1/2 years 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.

The new operating referendum would replace the 2016 operating referendum, which is set to expire in 2023. The district has said if the 2016 operating referendum is not renewed, the district will be forced to cut funding for 50 to 60 teachers, two to four administrators and 15 to 20 classified staff members over the next two years.

The new construction referendum would allow the district to complete $47 million of facility updates originally identified for the 2016 campaign that were never completed because of rising construction costs. Another $238 million would go to new construction projects that include expanding student learning spaces, adding student safety improvements, replacing building systems and constructing a new Northview Middle School.

Proponents of the referendum say 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 say, 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 both reside in Washington Township and say they did not hear about the referendums until recently. They contend the proposals haven’t been publicized well, especially during a time when many voters have been more concerned with the pandemic than other issues.

Anderson said the proposals are “massively too large,” especially since the district raised taxes less than four years ago for similar reasons. Should the 2020 construction referendum be approved, the district will have issued roughly $470 million in new debt over a four-year period, raising property taxes to pay for it and the $16 million operating referendum.

Anderson said that is a “shocking number.”

“What we feel our job is is to raise awareness of this referendum,” Anderson said. “For the last three months, people have been occupied elsewhere. We’re all worried about jobs, families … very few people are aware of it.”

Hubbard said he already voted by mail. When he got his ballot, he became concerned because the question does not provide the percentage property taxes will increase because of the referendum. If his own math is correct, he said, property taxes will increase by 56%.

Joe Licata, chief business officer for Washington Township Schools, said that figure likely looks at only the school portion of a property owner’s tax bill. Washington Township has a relatively low tax rate compared with the surrounding area, in part because of high assessed valuations, he said.

Anderson and Hubbard launched their “say no” campaign last week, running digital ads on social media sites, such as Facebook, and in local newspapers.

The Washington Township School Board in December passed resolutions to place the referendums on this year’s ballot. Since then, the district has held a few public informational sessions on the proposals.

T. Ray Phillips, a parent of two Washington Township students and a member of the VoteYes4WTS campaign, said many of the school district’s buildings are old and in need of repair, and the only way to fund those projects is to ask the voters to foot the bill.

“This is meant to bring all the buildings up to where they should be so they can last another 20 or 30 years,” he said.

The campaign says the referendum objectives are to improve student safety and achievement, provide better pay to attract and retain “outstanding” teachers and staff, make continued investments in schools and athletic facilities and protect property values.

Because of changes to public school funding, Washington Township Schools has seen its state funding reduced by $42 million while enrollment, and operational costs, have increased, the school says.

Phillips said the district is more diverse than some of its northern neighbors and has unique challenges it always meets. The operating referendum will continue to ensure the school can meet the needs of all of its students, he said.

Licata said the tax rates included in the referendum question are based on bond interest rates of 5%. Rates on recent bonds have been lower.

“If we aren’t successful, we still need to do the work at some point in time. … It’s going to get more expensive. … That’s just going to make this problem even more insurmountable,” Licata said. “Support this referendum because it’s what the district needs right now. I understand the climate we’re in. It’s a very difficult time to ask people to vote to increase their tax rate. I understand that.”

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40 thoughts on “Washington Township Schools referendums meet opposition from GOP heavyweight

  1. While I’m generally against additional tax burdens, it is hard to say no to better facilities for educating the next generation as well as jobs and pay for one of the most noble professions. Please vote yes.

    1. When we chose to Cap Property tax, we chose to make schools ask for money every so often to be able to continue educating our children. It is now a fact of life in Indiana and we need to support public education for a variety of reasons, if nothing else to protect your property values. I have already voted yes was proud to put my absentee ballot in the Mail.

    2. I support public education but I also support being fiscally responsible. They keep asking for more money is going to price us right out of the neighborhood.

  2. More money is not always the answer. Better use of the available funds now available need to be the priority.

    http://www.qualityeducationfirst.com

    Vote NO to more administration staff
    Vote NO to uncontrolled construction consultants
    Vote NO to administrators who destroy other people’s property due their poor decisions
    Vote NO to tax rates that will cause businesses to fail

    VOTE NO

  3. My wife and both supported the Washington Township Schools request when we voted by mail. It is time for Republicans to stop reflexively saying no to tax increases, particularly when they are for education. The least we can do is provide a good education for our children and grandchildren. If we had been doing this for the last several decades across the country, there is a good chance we would not be in the fix we are currently in. With 40% of the population nationally still blindly supporting everything our current president says and does, how much more proof does one need to support education and the badly needed improvements in school infrastructure? Note, that we are both in our 70’s and we will likely not reap any personal benefit from this, but future generation will.

    1. I haven’t seen this a Republican/Democratic vote. In the discussions I have had, they have been more about the economy and how the landscape has changed in the past three months. 30 million unemployed (my wife one of them), the economy shrinking, businesses closing, and people worried about what will happen next is the bigger issue here. For many it is just too much.

  4. My wife and both supported the Washington Township Schools request when we voted by mail. It is time for Republicans to stop reflexively saying no to tax increases, particularly when they are for education. The least we can do is provide a good education for our children and grandchildren. If we had been doing this for the last several decades across the country, there is a good chance we would not be in the fix we are currently in. With 40% of the population nationally still blindly supporting everything our current president says and does, how much more proof does one need to support education and the badly needed improvements in school infrastructure? Note, that we are both in our 70’s and we will likely not reap any personal benefit from this, but future generations will.

  5. I’m not sure how the math in the article was calculated.

    .

    An increase of $0.14 per $100 on one levy, plus an increase of $0.3172 per $100 on another equals a total increase of $0.4572 per $100. That works out to $914.40 per year in increased taxes on a house assessed at $200,000. ($0.4572 x 2000).

    1. The math in the article works because it includes the deductions most property owners receive: Homestead Deduction and Mortgage Deduction.

    2. Jennifer, the two deductions you refer to are unaffected by the aditonal levies proposed. Thus, I think Chris B is correct that the math is wrong.

    3. You can find your Gross Assessed Value here:
      http://maps.indy.gov/AssessorPropertyCards/
      You can see the impact on your taxes here, assuming you have the Homestead Deduction, Homestead Supplemental Deduction and a Mortgage Deduction:
      https://www.msdwt.k12.in.us/referendum-calc.html
      This will show you the school tax portion of your bill if the referenda pass. The full impact of the increases will not be felt for 4 to 5 years when the bonds are sold for the new construction.

  6. If you want parents to hate your political party, by all means, please turn their children into pawns in your ideological agendas.

    My kids have been suffering in outdated Washington Township facilities for years, some worse than I endured in IPS and Warren Township in the ’70s. We have cut public school funding to the bone for years; now the argument against fixing this self-imposed hardship and catching up seems to be, “But it would cost money!” We need better leadership on so many levels.

  7. This comment is posted by John Robinson, NCHS Class of 85 and Washington Township resident.
    We live in the best location in Central Indiana by far. Our residential real estate has not seen the growth that in value that the surrounding areas have because our schools need help. Don’t compare this tax increase to the opportunity to have no cost at all. That isn’t the option. If we have continued flight to surrounding areas and private schools our Washington Township real estate values will suffer. That’s just the selfish way to look at it. More importantly, by expanding your mind and stretching to help others who don’t have as much, we will even further improve our quality of life in this emerging diversity we get to live in. Thanks for your consideration and looking at all the facts.

  8. I normally support these things and in fact, believe I’ve never voted no on one. But by my calculations I’d pay at least 25% more in property tax and that is significant. Big ask right now.

  9. We voted YES and urge everyone to vote YES. To not support it is just silly and reks of misundertsnading what is needed for WT schools and to maination quality edcuation and continuemakling WT a desireable place for families. We have the NC grad kids and my wife is an NC grad.

  10. I’ve read the comments so far… considering the demographics of the IBJ i’m actually pleased with all of the support for the WTSD…. John Robinson especially said it best, but Jason G and Rob B were spot on as well.

    We really have a choice, cut funding and teachers will flee for better districts that will pay them what they’re worth AND the WTSD will have no choice but to further cut beyond the bone and let go of over 50 new Teachers and support staff.

    Parents with young kids will see that the already OLD/DILAPIDATED buildings that have suffered w/ minimal to no maintenance (b/c the STATE does NOT fund improvements/replacements/facilities) will choose to go across township to other districts with better facilities (broken window theory)….

    Worse… Parents will MOVE out of the township as the school system will no longer be what it was and the death spiral will occur…. say goodbye to property values as well.

    We can choose to protect and support our community or not…. the ballot box will tell us how we feel – simple as that.

    1. Sorry, but I didn’t buy my house for an investment. I bought it to live in since it was cheaper then renting.

  11. NO and NO to a HUGE increase in property taxes.

    The amount requested is absurd, and I don’t appreciate the obscure method of presenting the increase as presented by Washington Township. There should be a law against requesting funds in this manner.

    1. The problem isn’t with the schools – it’s how the school funding has been changed over the years, with less going to public education. Don’t worry about your property taxes, they will fall fast when your property values fall due to lack of investment in the schools – and nobody wants to buy your house.

  12. I don’t disagree with the need to update or replace outdated facilities but the school district is definitely trying to sneak this one past a lot of WT residents. It’s a 20% property tax increase for all homeowners in the district (and of course to renters, since their landlords will price this into their rent) – they cloak with with x number of cents per $100 per month, but the reality is that it’s not an insignificant ask. Secondly, they totally blew their renovation budgeting last time around and are coming back for a lot more – rising construction costs are not a full explanation for the massive gap in financing. Who feels confident they nailed it this time? Much more likely they come back in 4 years for another increase because of other unforeseen expenses. The entire process for this was under publicized and as recently as December had a completely different plan for the location of Northview and its school bus depot, which they hastily changed after being threatened with legal action. Now rather than replace Northview where it currently stands, they want to move it to the Dynamo soccer fields, a location totally inaccessible on foot to anyone, and out of the heart of Nora where it belongs. The new plan also will eliminate acres of existing sports fields on campus for a massive bus parking lot. That is not a great solution and it’s green space contiguous to the high school that is lost forever.

    I hope this referendum goes down, and that the school district comes back in a few years with a well-thought out plan and attempts to engage the entire community in a public and high profile way. I would support that, and lot of my neighbors who are in opposition would as well. Right now the district is just hoping low turnout and low-information voters look at the ridiculous wording and the deliberately deceptive price tag and wave it on through. It’s for the kids, right?!

    1. Well said. They keep trying to guilt us into voting yes by saying it is for the kids.

  13. Continue to hallow out the township with families moving to Hamilton County if you like but education is what is needed and investment is warranted.

  14. It is a 56% increase in property taxes for schools and only a very small fraction will go to the teachers. If you include the tax increase in 2016, it is a 79% increase in taxes for schools. Teachers have by far the biggest impact on a child’s education.

    1. The percentage increase in one’s property tax bill will vary greatly depending on the value of one’s home due to the impact of the various deductions a homeowner may take (Homestead, Mortgage, etc.). Those who own a $1,000,000 home could have a 56% increase in property taxes ($250/mo increase for a total of $3,000/year increase on a current bill of $5,357/year).

      The monthly increase for the median assessed value home in WT ($180,500) is estimated to be $32 per month.

      As voters consider making this investment in their community, they will need to consider the facts of their specific situation.

      https://www.msdwt.k12.in.us/referendum-calc.html

    2. And for those retired, with no mortgage and on a relatively fixed income, it’s a pretty big hit.

    3. The biggest his is going to be for commercial and rental properties as they have no deductions. The increase is against the full gross assessment of the property. My son owns 5 properties. Each one is going to see more that $500.00 per year increase or $2,500 per year. Who is going to pay the increase? My son? NOT. He will have to pass it on to the renters.

  15. Interesting that someone who serves on the board of a prominent education foundation and on the state commission for higher education would oppose the referenda… period, let alone so actively campaign for its failure.

    Per the article, Mr. Hubbard is opposing the referenda because he didn’t feel properly notified and during the pandemic, no less? This feels petty. During this pandemic, our schools have pulled off an incredible about-face, almost literally overnight, to continue serving our community’s children in myriad ways, not limited in any way to “just” education. The pandemic has crystallized for so many of us that our schools play far more roles for our kids AND our communities than simply the wonderful educators we know them to be.

    How would Mr. Hubbard have felt if the township had done a huge marketing blitz for this referenda? I wonder if then he’d publicly oppose the referenda because the township wasn’t spending those dollars on educational activities.

    I have a better idea for Mr. Hubbard: donate the money to the township that you plan to spend opposing the referenda, and then the schools can use that for the marketing blitz the next time the state cuts funding to our valued public schools.

    Or better yet – given your leadership positions across the city and state, you could effectively advocate for a much-needed change in the state funding structure for schools, so that our schools would actually get the money they need. Washington Township educators do an amazing job of educating our kids – and that’s just the beginning of the value they add to our community. VoteYes4WTS!

    1. Please. K-12 schools already consume more than 50% of our property tax dollars. Our schools are not being short-changed, not in the least.

  16. Washington Township has faced declining enrollment for some time. Nonetheless, every election the Washington Township Schools are back demanding more money from taxpayers to educate less and less students. Please stop the “it’s for the children” nonsense. It is about the adults – always.

    1. The enrollment has actually gone up. But now it is leveling off. Immigration and refugees have increased the population. Under the current administration these numbers will go down.
      This has caused other problems, 70 different first languages are spoken in the district. ESL and other courses are needed to help these students catch up. It is one of the reasons NC cannot compare with the schools to the north. Imagine if students in Carmel had to take the state tests in Spanish.

  17. This issue has been bantered about on NextDoor since December. There has been good discussion on both sides of the issue, and for the most part, it has been very civil.
    There have been multiple mailings, postings, e-mails, and signs promoting the Referenda. It is hard for me to believe that this ‘snuck up’ on these two individuals.
    To say it is political and unfair for them to jump into the fray is not right, the Pro Referenda committee has had the full support financially and politically of the Indiana Teachers Association which donated $10,000 to the Vote Yes PAC. At one point the PAC had a war chest of over $21,000.00.
    Too much is left out of the discussion. So much of the plea for yes has been to pull the on the heart-strings and say how bad off our school district is at this time. There are still several projects unfinished from the 2016 Referenda that have already been budgeted for.
    If the School district had asked for money to fulfill the promises in 2016, it would be more palatable, but they threw in a New Gym, New Bus Terminal, a New Early Childhood Center, New football stadium, and a New Middle School (Which by the way only became an issue when the public rose up against the bus terminal being built at 91st & College. Before that renovations in the amount of approximately $50 million left over from the 2016 Construction budget was going to be used, which is still unspent.)
    Unfortunately, the Operations Referendum on the heels of the 2016 was poorly planned and even more poorly presented. If people had known the expiration date of the 2016 Operations Referendum up front as being 2023, people might have been more apt to accept the increases.
    The problem for many is that just 4 years after promising the Referenda would take care of everything, they come back for more, and a lot more.

  18. Well said John Robinson. Our additional outlay- to go up by $89 – is just fine in order to help our aging schools. It appears Mr Hubbard’s math is terribly wrong and by the way, he can probably afford the adjustment.

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