February 14, 2018

State Ed Board Member: IPS Not Transparent, Should Delay Property Tax Request

Gordon Hendry during a meeting of the Indiana State Board of Education. - State Impact Indiana

Gordon Hendry during a meeting of the Indiana State Board of Education.

State Impact Indiana

A member of the State Board of Education is calling on Indianapolis Public Schools to delay its request for a nearly $1 billion property tax hike for Center Township residents.

During today's board meeting, Gordon Hendry said the district has not been transparent in how it sought to get two referendums on the May primary election ballot. He wants IPS leaders to hold off on the referendums until 2019.

"I have a real concern about the fact there's been, in my view, a lack of transparency in the approval process," Hendry says. “There have been precious few details shared about not only how the district would spend the money over the next eight years but what metrics it sees to measure its performance."

But IPS is not Hendry's only concern. 

He is also calling on lawmakers to suspend school referendums across the state. He wants a study of school funding this summer. His comments come as the state faces a school funding gap of more than $22 million this year. And projections for next year say that gap could reach almost $60 million. Lawmakers have yet to figure out a fix.

"I would like to see further approvals as part of the school referenda process whether that be local mayors and city councils who really are truly accountable to the public," he says.

School corporations have been able to seek a property tax increase beyond established tax caps since 2008. The levies can be used for school construction and general fund needs. Since then, there have been 164 referenda on ballots. Of those, nearly 60 percent passed.

IPS is seeking to pass two referendums worth a total $936 million. If passed, school officials say they would provide pay increases for teachers and improve buildings.

Hendry wants the district to delay the referendums for a year so there can be more public discussion and understanding of the impact. He says IPS had not done enough to engage the public before the IPS Board of Commissioners approved the request.

Ahmed Young, IPS chief of staff, pushed back against Hendry's claims. Young, in a statment, says IPS leaders are in discussions with members of the community about why the district is seeking the referenda.

"Since December, we have actively engaged in conversations with taxpayers, students, teachers, parents and community members," according to the statement. "We take very seriously our stewardship role in managing taxpayer-provided resources and ensuring that the administration adheres to the Board of School Commissioners guidance as it relates to the maximum possible tax rate. We will continue to work alongside our Board throughout this process."

IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee announced the referendums on a television newscast Nov. 30, 2017. Public hearings were held Dec. 12 and Dec. 14 about the referendums. The IPS Board approved the request to seek a property tax hike at the later meeting.

The IPS website has a page dedicated to the referendums. Homeowners can also use a calculator on the site to estimate their increase in property taxes.

But Hendry says this is not enough information for the public.

“If this were a small amount of dollars then it would be less concerning, but we're talking about a billion dollars which you could have a huge impact on the lower and fixed income property owners,” he says.

As WFYI reported earlier, the total monthly impact on homeowners is projected to be $28.45 per month for the owner of a $123,500 home, the median home value within IPS boundary in Marion County, according to IPS.

In 2008 IPS passed a $278 million capital referendum with 78 percent voting in favor.

Eight other Marion County districts have attempted capital and operating referendums since 2008. Of those,15 passed and four failed.

Contact WFYI education reporter Eric Weddle at eweddle@wfyi.org or call (317) 614-0470. Follow on Twitter: @ericweddle.


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