Seven of 12 referendums to raise property tax revenue for local school districts passed in Indiana’s Tuesday general election.
Voters in Hamilton and Allen counties approved levies that will generate hundreds of millions of dollars for four school districts over the next eight years. Carmel Clay and Hamilton Southeastern both won by large margins giving them the ability to keep using local tax dollars to pay teachers. Each district will get $24 million a year.
Fort Wayne Schools will get $12 million annually to create a multitude of mental health supports and programs for students.
“This is about not reacting after a catastrophe, this is about how do we work today, proactively, to prevent?” Fort Wayne Superintendent Mark Daniel said. “But also build leadership in our youths and empower our students.”
Schools in other parts of the state faced near disdain by voters.
In northwest Lake County, voters in wide margins rejected four referendums from three school districts. Leaders at the School City of Hammond had warned the community if its operations referendum did not pass, the district could face possible state intervention. As Hammond Schools faces an ongoing decline in enrollment and an unstable fiscal situation, it is under assessment by the Distressed Unit Appeals Board.
Failure of the levy will also prevent local charter schools from receiving a share of the district’s revenue. Hammond was the first district in the state required to share its local tax dollars with charter schools from a successful referendum.
Voters also refused to approve Hammond’s $84 million capital referendum for renovations and improvements at Morton and Hammond Central high schools.
Lake Station Community Schools is another Lake County school district that voters rebuffed at the ballot. The referendum was a renewal of a levy passed in 2017. Without it, the corporation needs to find an additional $1.3 million or cut that amount from its budget.
“When we talked about an operating referendum, it truly is just that. The operations of our school district,” said Superintendent Tom Cripliver. “Operations as far as transportation operations, as far as maintaining our buildings and our schools, maintaining the upkeep of our schools. Those are the types of things that we were looking for.”
Cripliver said Lake Station administrators and board members will meet immediately to determine where cuts can be made, possibly in transportation and counseling services. But Cripliver said they will do their best to limit the impact on students.
Before the election, school leaders and referendum supporters expressed concern that the required language on the ballot question could make voters think their taxes would increase much more than they actually would. Cripliver was one of them.
A 2021 law requires the ballot question to include the estimated average percentage of property tax increase paid to the school district if the levy is approved. Not the actual increase to the homeowner’s property tax bill.
“I really think what resulted in the community responding the way it did this evening was the way the question was written on the ballot,” Cripliver said. “I think that question was confusing to many of our community members and many of our voters. …I think that was our biggest obstacle in attempting to win this referendum.”
Here are unofficial results reported by county election offices:
Carmel-Clay Schools, Hamilton County - PASS
Renewal of property tax rate previously approved in 2017: $0.19 per $100 assessed value for eight years
Hamilton Southeastern Schools, Hamilton County - PASS
Changing the tax rate previously approved in 2016 from $0.2275 to $0.1995 per $100 assessed value for eight years.
Lake Station Community School Corporation, Lake County - FAIL
Renewal of property tax rate previously approved in 2017: $0.54 per $100 assessed value for eight years
Monroe County Community School Corporation, Monroe County - PASS
Property tax rate: $0.085 per $100 assessed value for eight years
Northeast Dubois County School Corporation, Dubois County - PASS
Renewal of property tax rate previously approved in 2016: $0.18 per $100 assessed value for eight years
School City of Hammond, Lake County - FAIL
Renewal of property tax rate previously approved in 2017: $0.44 per $100 a ssessed value for eight years
School City of Whiting, Lake County - FAIL
Property tax rate: $0.17 per $100 assessed value for eight years
Sheridan Community School Corporation, Boone & Hamilton Counties - PASS
Renewal of property tax rate previously approved in 2017: $0.25 per $100 assessed value for eight years
West Lafayette Community Schools, Tippecanoe County - PASS
Renewal of property tax rate previously approved in 2017: $0.37 per $100 assessed value for eight years
Metropolitan School District of Bluffton Harrison, Wells County - FAIL
Property tax rate: $0.075 per $100 assessed value for eight years
Fort Wayne Community School Corp., Allen County - PASS
Property tax rate: $0.10 per $100 assessed value for eight years.
WFYI reporter Sydney Dauphinais and WBOI reporter Ella Abbott contributed to this report.