DANVILLE, Ind. – It’s a question that some people will see for the first time on the ballot this November: Are you for or against your local school district’s referendum?
In Danville, voters are being asked to vote yes or no on two referendums.
“They need to prioritize better,” said Dave Potter, a concerned resident and part of the group Danville Community for Responsible Spending.
Potter is talking about the proposed capital and operational referendums by Danville Community Schools, a topic that’s dividing the town. If you drive around town, you’ll notice multiple signs for both sides of the issue.
“We want it to be well equipped, but we don’t like our tax money being wasted like it is,” Potter added.
Superintendent Tracey Shafer says the district has put about three years of research into the current referendum efforts, which has become more active over the last 10 weeks.
“The capital referendum is a 53 million dollar renovation. Referendum for those buildings and the operating referendum is 20 cents per one hundred dollars of assessed value on a property,” explained Shafer.
The capital referendum would transform the inside and outside of the four schools. According to the Danville Community Schools website, here are some of the updates that are needed:
- Replace/upgrade HVAC, mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems
- Replace roofs
- Add security features to main entrances
- Update classrooms and hallways
- Update cafeterias/kitchens
- Provide flexible learning spaces
- Add multiple entrances/exits
- Replace portable walls systems at the high school for safety and educational benefits
“We have debt that’s coming off, previous bonds are being paid off, so the actual tax payer impact on the capital is going to be about .06 cents instead of .68 cents,” Shafer explained. “At the polls, you’re required to list a max amount in any one year, our max amount doesn’t occur until about eight years out because we’ve staggered in the new debt, so taxpayers from what they’re paying today are really only going to experience only a .06 cent increase, and it’s not going to go above that over the entirety of that bond.”
Shafer says the projects are years overdue, including a focus on school security.
“Once they enter our building, they’re able to have a lot of freedom throughout the building,” said Shafer. “We’d like to contain that and make that a safer situation for our students.”
The operational referendum would help retain teachers and maintain transportation.
“We’ve turned over 65 teachers out of a staff of 146 in the last four years, many of whom who’ve left to take higher salaries in other districts that can pay more dollars,” said Shafer.
Danville isn’t the only district with a referendum on the ballot. Several others are asking the public to raise taxes this year.
“They have to make sure the message is right. People have to resonate with it,” said Hardy Murphy, a clinical professor in educational leadership and policy studies at IUPUI.
The Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at IU created a referendum database.
“What you’re seeing now is that the schools are feeling that, and the way for them to go out and get more funding for the students and community is to go out to their public and ask them to allow them to raise taxes through a referendum,” said Murphy.
It looks into what works and what doesn’t for districts who have asked voters to help with funding.
“Referenda is one of these things that in some ways is tied in with the kind of economy that we find ourselves in. When things are going good for people, they tend to be more supportive,” said Murphy.
The database also looked into how much of a tax increase districts are proposing and what time of the year they are more successful.
“About 30 cents per 100 dollars evaluation seems to be moving into the sweet spot. When you get above that, sometimes the voters tend to reject it, but that’s not always true,” said Murphy. “Elections in May are more successful than elections in November. That’s because in November, you get the general elections of local, state and national, and you have more people coming out.”
Murphy added, “In order to get that vote 'yes,' I think we have to demonstrate to people that our schools are deserving. We know they are. We have to be sure we’re completely transparent on how the funds are going to be used, and people have to understand that we’re trying to make sure that we ensure that classrooms are supported in every way possible.”
It’s now up to the voters to determine the future of Danville schools.
“Regardless of the outcome, we need to come together afterwards,” said Potter. “I’m hoping at least the capital referendum fails, and the school board and administration will welcome the community in to try and get some input and some cooperation.”
Superintendent Shafer said if the referendums don’t pass, they’ll be forced to reduce transportation services and have longer ride times that could exceed an hour. He also says class size would grow.
“In schools, you’re either improving or you tend to be getting worse, and we need to be able to compete,” Shafer added.
For a complete list of referendums in 2019, click here.