School Information Session – Proposed Referendum

bc schoolsUpdated: July 20, 2022 

Brown County Matters – Facebook post of this post.

 

June 14, 2022. I attended the information meeting regarding the tentative/proposed referendum at the June 14, 2022, session.  Copies of the handouts are provided below:  

I have also followed the topic at the Brown County Democrat, history, trends, and have conducted additional research. See 2022 School Referendum – For the Record

The last referendum was passed in 2016 by more than 1,000 votes or 59% of the vote. There was a strong campaign by the proponents of the tax including guest columns, Letters in the Democrat, and yard signs. 

Who can vote?   IC 20-46-1-16 Qualified voters  Sec. 16. (a) The individuals entitled to vote in the referendum are all of the registered voters resident in the appellant school corporation.   (b) An individual who changes residence from a location within a school corporation to a location outside of the school corporation less than thirty (30) days before an election under this chapter may not vote on the public question. [Pre-2006 Recodification Citation: 6-1.1-19-4.5(c) part.] As added by P.L.2-2006, SEC.169. Amended by P.L.109-2021, SEC.76.

State Funding of Schools. In FY20-21, Total K12 education investments accounted for 50.2% of the state general fund appropriations.

Indiana – Education Policy – School Choice and Vouchers. Indiana is recognized as a school choice state. The Brown County school administration (the school board, former superintendents Hammack and Shaffer) have been against funding for vouchers that provide citizens with a choice for educating their children. In 2021, the budget bill containing the school voucher language and ESAs passed the House 96-2 and the Senate 46-3. (Ref: Indiana expands school voucher program to include most middle-class families, by Margaret Menge | The Center Square contributor,  April 23, 2021._

Justification. The need to maintain or increase the revenue from a referendum appears to be the same as it was in 2016.  By state law, the proposed increase must be based on need vs a want (a nice to have). Indiana Code 20-46-1-8 allows the governing body of a school corporation to adopt a resolution to place a public question on a ballot if the governing body determines that the school corporation  …

  1. cannot carry out its public educational duty unless it imposes a referendum tax levy or
  2. that a referendum tax levy should be imposed to replace property tax revenue that the school corporation will not receive because of the application of circuit breaker credits.

Meeting this standard (see 1) implies a thorough analysis of alternatives. This would include the identification of the costs, benefits, risks, and the respective risk mitigation strategies. Put another way, what specifically will be the effects of not passing a new referendum?

The criteria used to make the decision should clearly reflect that the tax levy is a critical need for the school to carry outs its educational duty.  Should a criterion include the inability to meet the guidelines from the state regarding student-teacher ratios? 

Decision-makers. The voters decide on the quality of the analysis and the school’s proposal for a tax levy.  “In the case of the school corporation’s determination to have a referendum, there is no statutory remonstrance opportunity that is separate from the referendum itself. Whether it succeeds or fails depends on the results of the vote.” – DLGF

Economic Situation. Unlike in 2016, the economic situation is a little different this time around. Record inflation, gas, and food prices. The stock market is experiencing significant losses affecting 401Ks and retirement income.  Inflated home values and high demand for homes along with annual property assessments have resulted in yearly property tax increases for many if not most residents. The cost of utilities continues to increase.  In 2017, a statistically valid survey identified that the county has a low to moderate-income level of 53.1%. This combined with many residents with fixed and declining incomes combined with social security not keeping pace with inflation, reinforces the obligation to validate that continuing a tax increase is the best option.

County Taxes. The county has one of the highest income tax rates in the state, doubled it in 10 years, has maxed it out, and has been relying on annual property tax increases and borrowing to fund the county government.   

Continuing the tax vs taxes decreasing. The increase in revenue from the referendum is about a million a year. Typically, a selling point on renewing a tax is that it is about the same, or in this case, maybe it could be a little higher, e.g, residents will not see an “increase.”  Seems every time a tax increase is proposed in the county, it is always followed by comments like “it’s just a few dollars or just pennies a day.”    

National Issues.  Covid policies and mandates and school shutdown policies may affect some voters’ desire to vote Yes to a tax increase.  Associations and teacher unions supporting policies such as Critical Race Theory (CRT) may also undermine the support for public education in general.

    • National School Board Association (NSBA): ” Following the National School Boards Association letter sent to the White House comparing parents to domestic terrorists, the nation’s largest teachers union sent a letter to social media companies encouraging them to crack down on “propaganda” surrounding Critical Race Theory (CRT) and other education concerns raised by parents.” (1)
      • National Education Association (NEA).  “Despite NEA claims that there are unfounded beliefs regarding “graduate level courses about racism,” in U.S. public schools, the union approved a plan to implement CRT in 14,000 school districts across all 50 states in July.” (1)
      • Four days after the NSBA letter was sent, Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memorandum that called on the FBI to “use its authority” against parents who threaten or use violence against public school officials. (1)

Brown County Schools, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Policy.

Process and Due Diligence on behalf of all citizens. My interest as a citizen is in the decision-making process. Has the school corporation performed its due diligence?  When was it identified that another referendum may be needed? Was this identified by the strategic plan? What actions were or have been taken? Does the analysis of alternatives support and justify the need?

Systemic Decline in Enrollment. The school has experienced a systemic decline in enrollment since about 2008/2009 and has successfully managed to do the more or same with less revenue. This includes applying for and receiving grants from a variety of sources that have led to improvements in the quality of education. 

Population projections for the county indicate that the population peaked in 2020 and will continue to decline. Brown County has one of the older demographics in the State.

Demographics. Given demographic projections, what is the best case, worse, and the average case regarding enrollment over the next few years?   What is the state guidance regarding student/teacher ratios?  How many classrooms and teachers will be needed at the projected enrollment levels? Correspondingly, how much infrastructure (number of schools) will be needed?

In summary, the School, through an analysis of alternatives, need to make the case that the new tax levy is needed. Voters can assess the quality of the analysis in support of their respective decision.

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