Three Indianapolis area schools won voter approval Tuesday for higher property taxes to shore up finances hit hard by the state’s property tax cap and other funding fluxes.
The victories were ovewhelming for Decatur Township schools in Marion County and Eminence Community Schools in Morgan County. But the referendum for Mt. Vernon Community Schools in Hancock County passed by a thin 10-vote margin.
Eminence faced the dire consequence of closing its doors after next year if the referendum failed. Instead, 87 percent of voters in the small farming community backed the tax hike, said Superintendent Terry Terhune.
“It comes down to the community and that was their response to how important the school was,” he said. “We had tremendous amount of people come out. Many told us they were only voting for the school.”
The referendum was for a local property tax rate increase of 40 cents per $100 of valuation for the next seven years. But Terhune said in at least the first year, the district would increase the rate only by 25 cents to raise $390,000.
Decatur voters approved a $27 million referendum that will help save two of the district’s schools, possibly save bus service and help district stabilize its budget that had taken a hit from property tax caps.
About 64 percent of voters supported the referendum, with all precincts reporting.
“When I got here and saw the budget, I saw we had some obstacles we had to deal with,” said Superintendent Matt Prusiecki as he held back tears during a celebration at the high school.
“Coming together like this is incredible,” he told referendum supporters. “Without your support, we would not have achieved this.”
Prusiecki became the district’s leader last September.
Mt. Vernon’s thin victory will bring a much needed $2.5 million over three years to pay off debt and reinvest in the classroom. A grass-roots initiative to pass the referendum paid off, said Superintendent Bill Riggs.
Unlike the failed referendums in 2010 and 2012 promoted by Riggs and school board members, two parents initiated this year’s referendum. McCordsville fathers Larry Longman and Jeff Mull became the face of the movement to shore up the school’s funding.
“The public came to us — Larry and Jeff — and said let us run with this,” Riggs said. “It was the parents saying that we really need the money.”
Statewide, the three districts were among nine primary referendums to raise local property taxes for school construction projects or operating funds. Since 2008, a state law has required voters to decide whether to give more funding to public school districts above and beyond property tax caps.
Since 2011, 36 referendums for operational funds have been waged in Indiana, 13 more than for new construction projects. It’s a sign that more schools are desperate for money to pay teachers, run buses and keep academic programs operational than they were just a few years ago when efforts to build new schools were more common.
|Eminence School Tax (All precincts counted)|