Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

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.

    “Since ninety percent of our operating budget is staff, we would have to make a reduction of about one hundred fifty positions across all employee groups,” said Beth Niedermeyer, superintendent of Noblesville Schools. “One hundred and fifty staff members out of fifteen hundred employees. That’s ten percent of our staff.”

    Without the money from the referendum, Niedermeyer said there would be dramatic impacts on academic programming and class sizes. She says it would also mean reduced behavioral support services, eliminated or lengthened bus routes, and a reduction in facility cleaning and maintenance.

    For years, Noblesville has been reliant on funds from referenda.

    In 2009, Noblesville Schools received about $5,600 per student in state funding. After changes to the state’s school funding formula and caps to property taxes that fund schools, Noblesville received about $300 less per student. Between 2009 and 2015, the number of students attending the district grew by about 1200.

    More students to educate, with fewer funds attached to each, meant a cumulative loss of about $38 million for Noblesville. So district officials used a 2010 referendum to ask taxpayers to fund the schools.

    “We get our funding from the state and property taxes and because of these cuts that have been put in place, [referenda] are the new norm,” Niedermeyer said.

    But Niedermeyer doesn’t want to be reliant on referenda in the future. To keep funds flowing into schools, she plans to turn to the local business community.

    “One of the things that we will do is we will be really seeking more sponsorships,” Niedermeyer said. “We will start asking businesses if they want to advertise on our baseball diamond, on our fences and just ways that we can get a steady stream in.”

    But for now, she’s still relying on the ballot referendum.

    “This operating budget is to continue the money so we can make sure we maintain our strong programming, our strong staff and maintain all of the current services we have in place for our students,” Niedermeyer said.

    School Town Of Speedway

    In the small town of Speedway, the stakes are similarly high. The school district is relying on their referendum to maintain the operating model they’ve been using for over 50 years.

    “Small neighborhood schools are tremendously effective and we think we’ve proven that with our results, if you take a look at how our students achieve and what the accomplish,” said Ken Hull, superintendent of the School Town of Speedway. “But they aren’t the most efficient.”

    In Speedway, elementary students attend schools close to home. Most students live within one square mile of their school. Almost no students take school buses.

    The elementary schools are small, students test well and an average class size of 18 is well below the state average.

    But, the schools are also expensive to run.

    “When you hire teachers to have that kind of class size, they have a big impact, they do a good job,” Hull said. “But it is expensive. The reality is we put our money into the classrooms.”

    Hull says the school district can only maintain this model with the money voters agree to contribute through ballot referenda.

    “When the state took over the funding for operation of schools, they essentially told Speedway ‘We’re not gonna pay for these little elementary schools’,” Hull said. “‘They may be effective, but they’re not efficient.'”

    In 2010, the town passed a ballot referenda that gave the schools around $3 million of additional property tax funding.

    “We’re simply asking our public to continue doing what they’ve been doing for the past 6 years,” Hull said. “We intend to continue delivering what we think is an exceptional school program.”



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