April 18, 2022

Perry Township Schools to ask voters to approve 8-year, $154M referendum

Perry Township Schools is asking voters to approve an 8-year referendum on May 3. - (Elizabeth Gabriel/WFYI)

Perry Township Schools is asking voters to approve an 8-year referendum on May 3.

(Elizabeth Gabriel/WFYI)

Perry Township Schools in south central Marion County is asking voters to approve an ongoing property tax referendum in the May primary. The referendum would extend the tax increase for home and business owners that was first approved in 2015.

If approved, property owners would continue to pay about 42 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The new referendum would generate $19.3 million per year — $154.4 million over eight years — to fund teacher and staff pay, transportation and other operating budget expenses.

If voters reject the initiative, the district would be forced to cut more than 200 jobs, including 193 teaching positions, and reduce transportation services, Superintendent Patrick Mapes said.

“You try to keep your core programs in place, but if it doesn't pass, everyone in our township would be impacted by this,” said Mapes, who is also a member of the Indiana State Board of Education.

Perry Township Schools enrolls around 16,800 students. Twenty-nine percent of Perry Township students passed the 2021 state standardized ILEARN test for English Language Arts and math. That’s just above the statewide proficiency rate of 28.6 percent. Out of the 11 Marion County school districts, Perry is one of three that scored higher than the statewide average for both math and ELA.

What the referendum renewal will pay for

The referendum renewal will continue to pay for expenses covered by the previous property tax increase passed by 55 percent of voters in May 2015.

“And if they pass this again, it's going to be the exact same,” Mapes said.

Since the tax rate would stay the same, Mapes equates voters’ support at the ballot next month with continuing to support the school district.

If the referendum renewal doesn’t pass, the district will have to reduce staff levels — like taking away one teacher from each grade level, Mapes said. Elementary class sizes are currently 26-27 students per room. That could increase to 34-35 students per room if they aren’t able to pay for teachers. Elective instructors who teach subjects like art, music and physical education may also be cut from the budget. That means licensed elementary teachers would have to take on more responsibilities and teach those classes as well.

Mapes said similar actions would be taken at the middle and high school levels, plus eliminating some assistant coaches and director positions. That could mean fewer opportunities for students to take part in extracurriculars like band, choir or the spelling bee.

The 2015 referendum also helped fund transportation for all Perry students. But if the funding does not continue, Mapes said routes would be cut. Students who live about a half-mile away from their school would have to walk or be dropped off by their parents.

Reductions in driver pay and benefits, bus monitors, mechanics, and staff who plan routes would also be made. This comes at a time when school districts across the country have struggled to find bus drivers due to a national shortage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

What’s next

So far, Mapes said he hasn’t heard of any organized opposition to the referendum. But he’s concerned a 2021 state law that changed ballot language could confuse voters. The law requires percentages about a school's average property tax revenue as part of the ballot question. Mapes is worried the wording in the question could make a voter believe the proposed referendum would increase the tax rate.

“I would like to see some legislation … instead of using percentages, it would go back to the tax rate,” Mapes said. “I would love to see legislation that once a community approves a referendum, that the elected school board could hold hearings and decide whether or not to continue that if it expires.”

If the referendum doesn’t pass, elementary elective instructors will be notified by June 30 of their job status.

Early voting is underway. For information on how to vote or see a sample ballot go to the Marion County Election Board website. Primary Election Day is May 3.

Contact WFYI education reporter Elizabeth Gabriel at egabriel@wfyi.org. Follow on Twitter: @_elizabethgabs.

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