Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Your Guide To The Ten School Referenda On Tuesday’s Ballot

It’s primary day in Indiana, and 10 school districts around the state are posing ballot referenda asking voters to raise property taxes to help fund schools.

The districts say they need additional revenue because of property tax caps instilled in 2008 and the updated school funding formula passed during the 2015 General Assembly.

Referenda posed during primaries usually pass at a higher rate, because typically primary elections aren’t as interesting to the general population, meaning those that are passionate about the referenda question show up to the polls.

But as we’ve reported, Tuesday’s primary could be the exception to the trend. With the high stakes and highly publicized presidential primary, local questions like school referenda might not be on many voters’ minds, which could lead to a no vote.

As results come in tonight, reporter Peter Balonon-Rosen will be tweeting updates (@pbalonon_rosen and @StateImpactIN) and will also post stories here.

Below is a list of all 10 school districts posing school referenda. Click the name of the school district to learn more about what they are hoping to accomplish with the money and what led them to take the question to the ballot:

Argos Community Schools

Brown County Community Schools

Ft. Wayne Community Schools

Hamilton Southeastern Schools

New Prairie United School Corporation

Noblesville Schools

Southwest Allen County

Speedway Schools

Southern Wells Community Schools

Wabash City Schools

Schools On The Ballot: Southwest Allen County And Argos

Voters in 10 Indiana school districts will decide on education-related referenda May 3. (Chris Phan/Flickr)

Voters in 10 Indiana school districts will decide on education-related referenda May 3. (Chris Phan/Flickr)

All week we are taking a closer look at the ten school referenda that will appear on ballots around the state May 3. A referendum asks voters in a particular area to choose whether to increase their property taxes to fund schools. We will follow all ten referenda and post results as they come in the night of May 3.

Ten school districts will ask taxpayers to funnel tax dollars into local schools on Tuesday.

In ballot referenda across the state, school districts hope to make up funds lost to property tax and a new school funding formula. Among those: Southwest Allen County Schools and Argos Community Schools.

Southwest Allen

For Phil Downs, superintendent of Southwest Allen County Schools, it’s also a way to maintain local control of schools.

“It’s probably the only tax you’re going to pay where you know where every penny goes,” Downs said. “The other taxes go down into the big kiddie pool down in Indianapolis and gets divided up. With this one, every penny goes right to the schools and into fifty people’s pay checks.”

Southwest Allen Schools will present a ballot referenda on Tuesday that, if successful, would continue to fund 52 positions across the district. A 2009 ballot referendum has given Southwest Allen $3.5 million annually for the past seven years.

That ballot referendum is set to expire this year. Downs is relying on taxpayers to renew it.

Otherwise, it could mean personnel cuts across the district. According to Downs, roughly 11 percent of the district’s 430 staff get their paychecks from referendum funds.

“We are one of the lowest funded districts in the state, by the funding formula,” Downs said. “In order to compete class size-wise and have class sizes at a level that our parents are comfortable with, that’s what this referendum has been for and that’s what we’re going to continue to use it for.”

Argos Community Schools

Argos County Schools superintendent Micehele Riis says her district has been rocked since school funding changes in the late 2000s. In an email exchange, Riis said the district has lost over $1 million in funding since 2008.

“We are operating with the ‘bare minimums’ which have not hurt our students or families in regards to the education,” wrote Riis. “If the referendum does not pass, we will need to make further cuts to the budget which may result in loss of programs, teachers, and classified personnel, as well as larger class sizes.”

A ballot referendum would give the district approximately $750,000 in generated tax revenue. Riis said that revenue would fund positions including a Math teacher, an eLearning Coach and extra curricular positions — like staff for cross country and robotics programs. She said it would also continue “paying for our contracted services of nurse, school psychologist, speech/language pathologist and vocational teacher.”

So far, the reactions have been mixed.

“We have many supporters who want to see the school remain within the community,” wrote Riis. “There are some that are opposed, and the voices that are heard are our farmers.”

She said the community owes it to the students.

 

Here’s Who’s Creating Indiana’s New School Tests

Gov. Mike Pence and House Speaker Brian Bosma separately announced appointments to the panel that will recommend a replacement for Indiana’s current standardized test, the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus or ISTEP. (David Hartman /Flickr)

Gov. Mike Pence and House Speaker Brian Bosma separately announced appointments to the panel that will recommend a replacement for Indiana’s current standardized test. (David Hartman /Flickr)” credit=”

The panel that will decide the future of Indiana standardized testing is now complete, officials announced Friday.

Gov. Mike Pence and House Speaker Brian Bosma separately announced appointments to the panel that will recommend a replacement for Indiana’s current standardized test, the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus or ISTEP+.

The announcements follow appointments earlier this week from other state officials.

“Today we take an important step towards moving away from ISTEP+ to create a shorter, more reliable test,” said Pence, in a statement. “This dynamic slate of education experts and stakeholders… will take the lead in developing the next iteration of assessment and accountability for our schools.

Under recent state law, the current ISTEP+ must end after the 2016-2017 school year. The 23-member ISTEP+ Review Panel will study alternatives to ISTEP+ and make recommendations for a shorter, simpler-to-administer test by December.

NIcole Fama, principal of IPS 93 in Indianapolis, will serve as chair of the panel.

Continue Reading

As More Japanese Move To Columbus The Schools Seek To Adapt

Hiroko Murabayashi moved to Columbus, Ind. in August with her husband and two kids for her husband's job at Enkei. Yoki, 9, and Rico, 7, both attend Southside Elementary school in the Bartholomew County School Corporation and receive English language services.

Hiroko Murabayashi moved to Columbus, Ind. from Japan in August with her husband and two kids. They came for her husband’s job at Enkei, a Japanese wheel company with a branch in Columbus. Her children, Yoki, 9, and Rico, 7, attend Southside Elementary school in the Bartholomew County School Corporation and receive English language services. When they started the year they didn’t speak any English. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

COLUMBUS, Ind. — Over the last five years, the number of English learners in Indiana grew faster than the national average. Today, five percent of all students in the state don’t speak English as their first language.

This growing population comes to Indiana from all over the world. The new Hoosiers bring more than 200 languages into schools. International companies in Columbus are attracting families from a handful of different countries, including Japan, India and China.

And while the majority of the district’s English Learners are native Spanish speakers, traditionally the largest population of EL students in Columbus, the second biggest group is Japanese students.

“There have been more Japanese students every year,” says English Learner teacher Tony Butiste. He says the number of Japanese students he teaches increased the most over the last three years. The district now teaches 84 Japanese-speaking students.

And with a growing number of students from one country, the school district is realizing they must adapt to help educate these students properly.

From Japan To Indiana, With A Few Road Bumps

Nine-year-old Yoki Murabayashi and his seven-year-old sister Rico, are almost done with their first school year at Southside Elementary School, and it’s been a school year full of change.

Yoki and Rico moved to Columbus in August, after their dad was transferred to the Columbus branch of Enkei, a Japanese wheel company.

Hiroko Murabayashi, Yoki and Rico’s mother, was very nervous when she enrolled them in school.

Nine-year-old Yoki Murabayashi reads a book in Japanese, his native language.

Nine-year-old Yoki Murabayashi reads a book in Japanese, his native language. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

“They didn’t know anything, even the alphabet,” Hiroko says through a volunteer translator.

At first, that adjustment was tough for the whole family, including seven-year-old Rico.

“In the beginning she cried,” says Hiroko. “She didn’t want to go to school and every morning she cried.”

Hiroko recalls one time when her husband was out of town for work, she got sick and couldn’t get out of bed. Eventually there wasn’t any food in the house.

In Japan kids can go to the stores, by themselves, even when they’re that young,” she says. “But here we can’t.”

So rather than sending the kids down to the store, they had to wait for a friend to find out Hiroko was sick and bring the family dinner.

But besides adjusting to the cultural differences between Japan and Indiana, the biggest challenge for the family has been learning English. Continue Reading

Schools On The Ballot: Noblesville And Speedway

Two school districts, Noblesville Schools and the School Town of Speedway, will ask voters to continue referenda passed years ago that fund their schools. (Michelle Vinnacombe/Flickr)

Two school districts, Noblesville Schools and the School Town of Speedway, will ask voters to continue the referenda that fund their schools. (Michelle Vinnacombe/Flickr)

All week we are taking a closer look at the ten school referenda that will appear on ballots around the state May 3. A referendum asks voters in a particular area to choose whether to increase their property taxes to fund schools. We will follow all ten referenda and post results as they come in on the night of the May 3 primary. 

Schools across the state are turning to the Indiana primary ballot to seek school funding. For many, it isn’t the first time.

Changes to the state’s school funding formula and property tax caps in the late 2000s, led Indiana districts to present public questions known as referenda on ballots across the state. Those questions asked voters to allow additional property taxes to fund local school districts for seven years.

Now, some of those referenda are set to expire.

Two school districts, Noblesville Schools and the School Town of Speedway, are asking voters to continue referenda passed years ago. If they do not pass, both districts will see massive budget cuts.

Noblesville Schools

Unlike other school districts that hope to add extra programming or start construction projects, Noblesville schools hopes to continue business as usual. But they’re relying on taxpayers to allow that to happen.

Otherwise the school district stands to lose $6 million annually. Continue Reading

Schools On The Ballot: Hamilton Southeastern And Southern Wells

Southern Wells Community Schools and Hamilton Southeastern School district are among ten Indiana districts with referenda on the May 2016 ballot. (401(K) 2012/Flickr)

Southern Wells Community Schools and Hamilton Southeastern School district are among ten Indiana districts with referenda on the May 2016 ballot. (401(K) 2012/Flickr)

All week we are taking a closer look at the ten school referenda that will appear on ballots around the state May 3. A referendum asks voters in a particular area to choose whether to increase their property taxes to fund schools. We will follow all ten referenda and post results as they come in the night of May 3. 

School districts across Indiana will once again ask voters to pay higher taxes or risk larger class sizes and teacher layoffs.

After property tax caps went into effect in 2008 and the legislature changed the state’s school funding formula, officials from districts of all sizes — urban, suburban and rural — say they have become reliant on referenda to sustain education in their districts.

Hamilton Southeastern

“Referendums have now become a reality, more so than they have in the past,” said Bev Redmond, a spokesperson for Hamilton Southeastern School District. Hamilton Southeastern is a central Indiana district that serves about 21,000 students. “Our reality came to a head in 2008 and 2009 when the governor made some cuts to education. “It made referenda more than just adding extras, this became part of our world.”

Hamilton Southeastern School officials say their referendum, if passed, would provide the district with an annual $17 million. That’s a total of $119 million over seven years.

The money would go into funding teacher salaries, reducing class sizes and incorporating new programs into district schools, said Redmond.

Currently, the average Hamilton Southeastern Schools kindergarten class has 23 students. District officials say money would allow them to reduce kindergarten classes to 21 students. Sixth grade classes, which currently average 28 students, could also reduce to 26 students.

The money from the referendum could also mean more entrepreneurship and language classes for students, according to Redmond.

“We certainly want to be more competitive when it comes to talking about world languages,” Redmond said. “So, adding programming to make sure that we have students coming out of school that certainly can compete.”

There’s a lot at stake for the district on this year’s primary ballot. The referendum builds upon a rate set by a 2009 referendum passed by the district.

If this year’s referendum doesn’t go through, the district will lose that initial funding increase, as well. That would force the district to look into district-wide teacher cuts, Redmond said.

“We would be losing approximately one hundred [teachers],” Redmond said. “It is dire. This is one of the most important decisions this community will make this spring.”

And, she said, the referendum means more than simply funding schools.

“Strong schools do equate to stronger property values,” Redmond said. “Schools really are the lifeblood of a community.”

Southern Wells Schools

For Southern Wells Schools, referenda have also become a lifeblood to sustain school funding. The small northeastern school district educates about 840 students. Their referendum aims to maintain the same tax rate that a 2009 referendum gave the school.

Southern Wells Superintendent Jim Craig says the referenda would give the school district about $400,000 to keep class sizes small, give students more individual attention and start a preschool program.

“Presently we have twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two kids in elementary classrooms and we would like to keep that the same,” Craig said. “If the referendum failed, we would be up to over 30 in classrooms because we’d have to cut staff.”

Southern Wells Schools were hit hard with recent changes to the school funding formula. The district has become reliant on funds beyond state funding to maintain everyday operations.

“Our budgets are so tight from the funding from the state and they fluctuate,” Craig said. “We’d like to have some consistency and be able to do the things that we feel like we need to do without cutting people and cutting staff.”

Local reception to the referendum has been generally positive, according to Craig. A similar referendum easily passed in 2009 when large-scale teacher cuts loomed on the horizon.

“When we had the initial referendum back in 2009 we actually did cut some teaching positions so there was that rallying point that everybody understood what we were doing,” Craig said. “So there was that experience that the community had of teachers actually losing their positions, getting ready to cut programs, so there was that fervor about it.”

Now, the district hopes to get a renewal on the same tax rate — without an event that concretely showcases its need.

“I think the main thing for us is that we need to get people out to vote,” Craig said.

First Appointments Made For ISTEP+ Review Panel

Six Indiana educators, a former education policymaker and a teachers union representative are the first appointees to a panel that will decide the future of standardized testing in Indiana.

The 23-person panel– created by a law that calls for the elimination of the Indiana’s current standardized test known as ISTEP+– will be made up of lawmakers, state agency heads, educators, business leaders, parents and teachers union representatives.

Today’s appointments come from superintendent Glenda Ritz and Senate President Pro Temp David Long. Legislation also allows for House Speaker Brian Bosma and Governor Mike Pence to make appointments to the panel. They haven’t yet announced their choices.

The panel members will decide how Indiana’s state test will change, and importantly, how the state can use test grades to rate schools and evaluate teachers.

“I have said for years that Indiana needs to get away from the expensive, high-stakes, pass-fail mindset of ISTEP+ and instead, use an assessment that actually works for students, parents and teachers,” said Indiana Superintendent Glenda Ritz, in a statement. Continue Reading

Schools On The Ballot: Brown County and Wabash City

Ten school districts are posing education referenda on Tuesday's ballot.

Ten school districts are posing education referenda on Tuesday’s ballot. (Vox Efx/Flickr)

All week we are taking a closer look at the ten school referenda that will appear on ballots around the state May 3. A referendum asks voters in a particular area to choose whether to increase their property taxes to fund schools. We will follow all ten referenda and post results as they come in the night of May 3. 

To help schools make up for funds lost to property tax caps or a new school funding formula, many districts have turned to ballot referenda.

Both Brown County Schools and Wabash City Schools are posing a referendum to voters next week in hopes of increasing their general funds. Both districts took a hit from the school funding formula change enacted after last year’s General Assembly.

Brown County Schools

If passed, the referendum in Brown County would give the school district an extra $1 million per year for their general fund.

Superintendent David Shafer says almost all of this money would go toward teacher salaries.

“We haven’t been able to pay our teachers what we think is a competitive level of salary for several years now,” Shafer says. “So we’ve lost some quality teachers to other school districts that can pay more.”

Shafer says teacher salaries aren’t competitive because of the money the district receives from the state declined after the legislature re-wrote the school funding formula in 2015. That formula shifted more money per student, meaning a school with high enrollment will get more money. Shafer says that model hurts the schools in his district.

“County wide districts, like Brown County, where we have enrollment decline, are penalized by the current funding formula,” he says. “I think that the formula doesn’t recognize some limitations that we have in a rural county-wide district.”

And with less money coming in than before, the district will be forced to make cost reductions, which he’s hoping the referendum will allow them to avoid.

To save money, other Indiana school districts have closed schools. Shafer says since Brown County is a rural school district, with schools are spread out over a larger area, that wouldn’t be plausible. He doesn’t want to subject kids to longer bus rides. Continue Reading

Council Banks On Extension To Save Dual Credit Programs

Indiana Dual Credit Advisory Council (Peter Balonon-Rosen/StateImpact Indiana)

Indiana Dual Credit Advisory Council (Peter Balonon-Rosen/StateImpact Indiana)

A panel of Indiana educators, lawmakers and higher education officials are searching for a way to save Indiana classes that give high school students college credit.

Indiana high schools are required by law to teach those classes, but a new policy change from the Higher Learning Commission requires teachers to hold a masters degree and acquire additional training in order to teach them. They are known as dual-credit classes, and without a way to answer last fall’s new policy requirements, thousands of them could disappear.

The policy change is set to go into effect in September 2017. Now, that panel is banking on getting an extension.

On Tuesday, Teresa Lubbers, Commissioner of Higher Education, told the Indiana Dual Credit Advisory Council that her department will apply for an extension so teachers may have until September 2022 to meet the dual-credit requirements. The application is due by December.

“It’s definitely achievable and we have a strong commitment from all of the colleges and universities,” said Lubbers. “I’m very comfortable with the timeline, that we’ll have the application in time to actually be approved for the extension.”

The submission for the extension requires the department to submit data on ways colleges and universities currently use dual credit options. Lubbers says the department will gather that data and information on how local universities can offer more graduate courses, so teachers can meet the requirements.

She says they can complete the application by September and is confident the state will be granted extra time.

“We don’t have a backup plan because we are planning on the extension going through,” said Lubbers.

If the extension is approved, the new guidelines say schools may continue to hire dual credit teachers who not meet the requirements after 2017 — with the understanding they must become qualified within the extension window. For Indiana teachers, that could mean by 2022.

The effects of the incoming new teacher requirements have reverberated throughout the state, says Janet Boyle, Executive Director of Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning (CELL). Her organization surveyed teachers’ and principals’ feelings on the new requirement.

Perceptions about whether or not a master’s resulted in being a better teacher were mixed. Many said learning about how to teach was just as important learning what to teach.

“Teachers do believe a masters can help them be a better teacher if its methodology and content, not just content alone,” Boyle said.

CELL’s survey also found that teachers said the content knowledge gained in graduate courses was too advanced to use in introductory dual-credit classes. In other words, the material learned from getting a masters degree, wouldn’t necessarily be used in the classes they teach.

Schools On The Ballot: Ft. Wayne And New Prairie

Ten school-related measures will appear on local ballots May 5. (Photo Credit: Jessica Whittle Photography/Flickr)

Ten school-related measures will appear on local ballots May 5. (Photo Credit: Jessica Whittle Photography/Flickr)

All week we are taking a closer look at the ten school referenda that will appear on ballots around the state May 3. A referendum asks voters in a particular area to choose whether to increase their property taxes to fund schools. We will follow all ten referenda and post results as they come in the night of May 3. 

There are two types of school referendum a school district may put on a ballot– one that raises taxes to help with construction and renovation projects, or one that raises taxes to help the district’s general fund.

Ft. Wayne Community Schools and New Prairie United School Corporation are both asking voters to pass a construction referendum.

New Prairie United School Corporation

New Prairie United School Corporation in LaPorte and St. Joseph counties is looking to raise $42 million dollars to renovate and add to many of the district’s schools.

Superintendent Paul White says after property tax caps went into place in 2012, the fund to complete construction projects like this dramatically decreased. Once the caps went into place, the district has access to $3 million a year for construction projects, and White says they use all of that to just maintain current buildings.

The $42 million budget the district hopes to get after this referendum would help create new buildings and give major updates to existing schools.

A major project the district would like to complete with the money is build up the college preparatory program at the high school.

“We want to really build and cultivate a vocational wing of the high school to support programs we have in place already that we want to better support and we have some programs we want to add.”

White says they want to add Project Lead The Way, vocational agriculture, animal science and biomedical programs. Those types of programs require specific classrooms and labs that will be added to the high school.

The construction costs would also cover adding secure entries to some elementary schools and putting new roofs and boilers in a few schools.

White says updating the energy infrastructure costs money now but will save money for the taxpayers in the long term.

“Energy experts have calculated that we are spending about $150,000 district wide on energy inefficiency,” he says. “We would start saving the taxpayers [money] if we did this and put in more modern, energy efficient equipment.”

District officials and a political action committee created by community members in favor of the tax increase have spent the last few months educating the community about the details of the referendum.

White says one of the more confusing parts of the language on the ballot has to do with the rate hike itself. The actual rate increase, that will get the district the $42 million, is less than the number on the ballot. That’s because there’s already an increase in place to pay off the debt of a middle school in the district. For a few years taxpayers would fund both of those projects but in seven years, once the middle school is paid off, the rate will drop.

White says all the outreach they have done in the community makes him hopeful it will pass.

“We’ve been working really hard to engage with the community and it looks favorable. We have members of the community who have concerns or have voiced that they are against the project, but we have what appears to be more residents that are for it.”

Ft. Wayne Community Schools

The situation with Ft. Wayne Community Schools’ construction referendum is different from New Prairie. Rather than raise taxes to complete a new construction project, the district is asking voters to continue paying an increased property tax rate for a multiyear project to renovate all of the district’s schools. That project comes with a $130 million price tag.

Voters first approved a referendum in 2012 so the district could begin a two phase process to renovate the district’s schools. If the referendum on the May 3 ballot passes, phase two of this project may begin.

Chief Financial Officer for the district Kathy Friend says the schools renovated during Phase one were the ten neediest schools in the district. A lot of these schools got huge renovations. Friend says phase two will do smaller renovations on 42 schools.

“In Phase one we gained over $200,000 in energy efficiency in a year because of having better, more efficient [heating and cooling] systems, windows and all of that,” Friend says.

The second phase will put new roofs on schools, update heating and cooling systems in other schools and add new parent drop off lanes at certain schools. It will also update lighting and security systems at some schools.

Phase one came in under budget by $2 million, and Friend says this probably helps contribute to the positive feedback she’s getting from community members about this referendum. She says the referendum has received endorsements from many community groups, but even if it doesn’t pass, she says the district needs this money to improve the schools.

“We would want to come back to the taxpayers soon after,” Friend says. “I know we have to wait a year but we would come back again and try to get this done. That will just delay progress and we would like to get going to get these things taken care of.”

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