Two Marion County school districts are asking voters to approve property-tax referendums on the June 2 primary ballot. They are among 14 districts in the state seeking an increase in tax revenue to fund teacher pay, construction projects and other initiatives.
Beech Grove City Schools and Washington Township Schools both easily won their previous referenda requests in 2015 and 2016, respectively. But now school leaders and supporters are facing the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated disruptions and uncertainties. Just one example is Indiana’s unemployment rate. It jumped to almost 17 percent last month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Some indvidiuals and groups are critical of the tax levy proposals. One advertisement warns against homeowners of paying more taxes for Washington Township schools.
School districts across the state are asking voters to approve a total of 18 referendum questions. A referendum allows schools to collect a certain amount of property tax funding above the property tax caps put in place by lawmakers in 2008.
Beech Grove Superintendent Paul Kaiser says he remains optimistic for Tuesday’s vote but understands a tax increase could be the last thing some voters want.
“You know, the timing is not good, but again, it was already on the ballot. We tried to take it off. We looked into that and trying to delay it, but it was too late,” he says. “Absentee ballots have already been set out.”
The Southside school district of 3,000 students is asking voters to approve two separate property tax increases. One would fund $17.5 million in construction projects, including a new Early Childhood Center, a green house and upgrades to Hornet Park Elementary. The bonds would be paid back over 20 years.
The other is an operations referendum to generate $950,000 a year -- for eight years -- for teacher and staff pay. If approved, teachers would get a $2,000 salary increase and certified staff would get a $1,000 raise.
“We're optimistic that the economy is going to turn back around and that, you know, the job market will increase,” Kaiser says. “And from that standpoint, you know, education is forever.”
If both levies are approved, that would raise property taxes by $147 per year on a home with a $100,000 assessd value and a homestead exemption, according to the district's property tax calculator.
Washington Township Superintendent Nikki Woodson described the timing of the summer referendum as “less than ideal.”
“But because those trains were already moving down the track, we had to continue to proceed and ask the community for these funds,” Woodson says.
A district in the northern part of the county with more than 11,000 students is asking for $418 million in new taxes.
A capital request for $285 million would go toward the $72 million construction of a new Northview Middle School at 91st Street and College, a childcare center, renovating athletic facilities and improving disability access.
A gym would also be named in honor of Paul Loggan, the North Central Athletic Director who died from coronavirus in April.
A second operational referendum for $16 million annually, over eight years, would go toward new staff, including an additional counselor for each middle school, behavior specialists and staff to work with students on social emotional learning. One and half million dollars would go toward teacher pay increases. If approved, referendum would renew a tax increase passed a few years ago. If that levy is not approved, the district says funding for up to 60 teachers and other staff would be cut.
If both referenda are approved, that would raise property taxes by $150 per year on a $100,000 home with a homestead exemption, according to the district's property tax calculator.
The primary is Tuesday and early voting has started at some locations in the county.
Beech Grove City School Corporation
- Property tax rate: $0.25 per $100 assessed value
- Project total: $17.5 million
- For: Renovations for existing school facilities, including Beech Grove High School, Beech Grove Middle School, South Grove Intermediate School, Central Elementary School, and Hornet Park Elementary School; and to build the Hornet Park Early Childhood Learning Center.
- Property tax rate: $0.55 per $100 assessed value for 8 years
- For: Teacher and support staff retention, transportation and building maintenance
- Note: This measure would replace a tax levy currently in place.
MSD Washington Township, Marion County
- Property tax rate: $0.3172 per $100 assessed value
- Project total: $285 million
- For: Renovations at existing buildings, construction of two new district facilities.
- Property tax rate: $0.25 per $100 assessed value for 8 years
- For: Student safety, student support services, expanding academic support programs and teacher retention
- Note: This measure would replace a tax levy currently in place