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New IU Study Examines Impact of Referendums

A new IU study examines how Indiana districts are using or not using the referendum process.

School administrators haven’t been the only ones busy when it comes to the possibility of referendums in the State of Indiana. The Indiana University Center for Evaluation and Education Policy has released a new report on School Referenda in the state. The study examines the differences in strategy and also provides data gathered from school districts all over the state.

In 2008 the Indiana General Assembly passed Public Law 146 which established referenda as a new mechanism to raise money for struggling school districts. The referendum process replaced the petition- and- remonstrance process and along with it the job requirements for school administrators.

“Now [administrators] in essence have to wage a political campaign since these are ballot initiatives. They have to make every effort to inform the public about the question that will be on the ballot,” said Terry Spradlin, associate director of education policy at CEEP and the reports co- author.

Only 400 people attended last months community engagement meetings. Organized by the MCCSC, it was intended to figure out what issues were most and least important. The turn-out was disappointing.

“Since our referendum process is fairly new, beginning mostly in 2008, many communities just haven’t been exposed to it yet,” said Stephen Hiller, research assistant at CEEP and another co-author of the report.

The MCCSC has been very open with the community. Hiller and Spradlin spoke with 16 different superintendents across Indiana whose districts are exploring referendums and found several had failed at communicating effectively. The problem, Spradlin says, is too many districts are leaving it up to the superintendents to address the community.

“The superintendent cannot do it alone, even though they will be the leader and primary champion, they really need to build grassroot support and have a team in place to help do the heavy lifting. There’s a lot of work involved to educate the public,” said Spradlin.

The report analyzes past school referenda in Indiana as well as different strategies from different states. While most states have had the referendum system for decades, Indiana’s is new and will require much more research.

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