Updated: Nov 18, 2022
The justification for a new referendum as opposed to taxpayers receiving a tax cut when the old referendum expires is based on a one-sided closing argument without supporting analysis and evidence of need.
The rationale for the referendum is followed by a marketing campaign and advocacy by surrogates. Attempting to justify the need after the decision has been made is not credible due to bias and compromises the integrity of the surrogates advocating for the new tax.
Nov 16, 2022. BCD. Superintendent offers thoughts after school referendum fails on ballot
- The “Spin” – justification based on “its not that much.” — “If the Brown County School’s referendum would have passed, the median assessed value homeowner would have paid roughly $3 to $6 more per month in property taxes.” ….”… the increase of 33% was not how much an individual would pay in property taxes, instead it was the increase in the tax rate.
- The correct (No Spin) calculation on the increase in taxes.
- Post of the Article at Brown County Mattes
History -Systemic Problem – Debt, budget shortfalls, declining enrollment, aging demographic
Nov 9, 2022. WTHR. ‘It felt like a death’ | Brown County voters reject school referendum. Brown County voters were asked to renew a referendum that they approved back in 2016, a $15.1 million referendum that expires next year.
- “What’s next for the school district? Tracy said they will seek another referendum in 2023, before the current one expires.”
Nov 8. 2022. Referendum. Unofficial Brown County results with 11 of 11 precincts reporting and WITH absentee votes: 3,027 No, 2,694 Yes
Nov 3, 2022. Act of Desperation? The Facebook Post at Brown County Chatter by the superintendent. Also shared on Brown County Matters claims that amount of the tax increase is “misleading”.
- MISLEADING??? The exact language required by the state: “The average property tax increase paid to the school corporation per year will increase by 33.91% for residences and 20.91% on business property.” What is misleading and disrespectful is Ms. Tracy’s comment published in the Democrat that:” For the average home value in Brown County, this is an additional $3.26 per month, which is less than a McDonald’s Extra Value Meal.”Basing a justification of need because “it’s not that much” is absurd. “Vote No” which may lead to the school leadership to make a credible case on need where the taxpayers can draw their own conclusions regarding “it’s not that much.”
Note also that the referendum will transfer over $15 million dollars from the taxpayers to the school over 8 years. – Not exactly a trivial amount.
Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF). A “NO Vote This Year” may lead the new school board leadership to re-assess the need and scope and develop community-wide support. This could be followed by a defendable argument free of fallacies, to justify the need for additional revenue. (Ref: Critical thinking, arguments, fallacies, rhetoric).
A Recap. The first referendum was passed in 2016 and expires in 2023. The decision to pursue another referendum will generate over $15 million dollars over 8 years. The decision for a new referendum was first “introduced” to the public in the three information sessions on May 31, June 7, and June 14. These meetings were followed by a unanimous vote by the school board (July 14 ) to place the referendum on the ballot. This was then followed several weeks later by a website and marketing campaign including support from a political action committee (PAC).
Observations and Commentary
Lack of Analysis. There has been no comprehensive analysis documented in a published report that defends the decision for a new referendum. Such a report should include the justification of need as opposed to a “nice to have.” Such a report might also include an independent and objective analysis of the results of the revenue from the first referendum. This referendum was also marketed as supporting a need to increase teacher pay.
Analysis, Review, Scrutiny. A comprehensive analysis to justify a need would include a trend of performance to State and local goals and objectives, a mission analysis that identifies what must be accomplished and what is optional, an analysis of alternatives, an analysis of staff pay and increases, a review of revenue and expense trends from all sources, enrollment trends, trends of student-teacher ratios by a school and by grade, the capacity of our existing schools, and the criteria to be considered in the need to close a school. Also helpful would be comparisons with other schools.
McDonald’s Extra Value Meal? The justification by the superintendent has included a statement that the increase in taxes (4 cents) is only the equivalent of the additional cost of a McDonald’s extra-value meal. The new referendum transfers over $15 million dollars over 8 years from taxpayers (over half of whom are in the low to moderate income level) to the school to cover pay and benefits, a new program, and some operating expenses.
- The superintendent has also stated that closing a school is not a viable option. Is this belief supported by the school board? What is the cost to the taxpayer of this decision? Is the cost acceptable to the taxpayers? Are taxpayers aware of the trade-offs?
Spin on taxes. The tax rate on the expiring (2023) referendum is 8 cents. The rate on the new referendum is 12 cents. The “spin” is the “increase” is “only” 4 cents. The state requires a factual statement on the language that only considers the proposed new rate of 12 cents. The fact: “The average property tax increase paid to the school corporation per year will increase by 33.91% for residences and 20.91% on business property.”
- Property taxes and increases in assessed values. When property taxes are increased, are the schools receiving additional revenue?
State Funding Policy. Regarding teacher pay, a premise is that State education policy inadequately funds teacher salaries for some districts. (The state has 291 school districts, and relatively few (14 in 2022) have opted for a referendum. Since 2009, the number of operating referendums ranged from 5 to 20. (Source: Department Local Government Finance (DLGF).
Politics and State Policy. The local teachers union, previous superintendent, and school board members signed a resolution in 2021 that challenged Indiana’s Education Choice Policy. Their position is in alignment with the controversial and political left-learning National Education Association which also has endorsed a policy opposing the increases in funding of vouchers that provide parents with a choice in their children’s education. Despite the opposition by many groups throughout the state, the budget bill containing the school voucher language and Education Savings Accounts (ESA) passed the House 96-2 and the Senate 46-3.
- Motivation. Since the school leadership is opposed to State funding policies, is their motivation for the referendum driven more by political considerations or financial ones?
Salary Study. On the pay issue regarding teacher salaries, in 2018, the county council with the support of the IU Kelly School of Business, developed a “comprehensive analysis and report” on staffing, pay, and benefits of county employees compared with other counties of our size. This led to some incremental changes. A similar analysis and report regarding county teacher pay and benefits would help justify appropriate action.
- In 2022, the Sheriff’s office with the support of the county council developed a study that demonstrated that with the required investment in officer training and turnover, higher salaries would result in more benefits than costs. The council approved the salary increases.
Declining Student Enrollment and State Funding. Further, student enrollment has been declining since 2009. Demographics and population projections indicate that this trend is unlikely to be reversed. Are taxpayers being asked to support more staffing and schools that are or will be needed? If so, this needs to be disclosed so taxpayers can factor this into their decision.
Decision-making Process – Court Case. Critical thinking involves being able to make a good argument free of fallacies, and defend it by providing credible counter-arguments. The process is equivalent to a civil case. An argument is made by both sides (pro and con), facts and evidence are presented, experts and witnesses are questioned, and a jury (voter) is then asked to make a decision. In this case, citizens received only a one-sided argument and are asked to vote Yes or No.
Positions – School Board Candidates. For those candidates supporting the new tax, What is their analysis of the “specific” information that was used by the school board to justify their unanimous vote to put the referendum on the Nov ballot? The information on the school website was posted about 2 months after the vote by the school board.
- Voting YES. Supporting the Referendum (voted to approve as members of the school board): Carol Bowden (Dist 1), Vicki Harden (Dist 2). Stephanie Kritzer (running for commissioner (D).
- Candidate Kathryn D. Lane (Dist. 2) and Kevin McCracken (Dist. 3), Jenise Bohbrink (Dist. 2 have identified their support for the referendum.
- Voting NO for “This year” Kevin Patrick (Dist. 1) – His statement on his FB Page
- “I am a No. Given that we have 1 year of funding left with the current 2016 referendum. I believe that is enough time and funding for any new board members to become familiar with the schools operation so that an informed plan can be put in place and strike the right balance for successful education of the kids and the operation of the school. Should there be a need for additional funding, a new referendum can be placed on the 2024 ballot and more time can be taken to share what the need(s) are, along with more details on where/how the funding will be allocated and used.”
- Position Unknown: Edward Wojdyla (Dist. 3). Mark Smith (“I will not place a burde on the taxpayers of Brown County”)
The Brown County Democrat newspaper avoided asking the candidates their position on the referendum. Election Guide: School Board Q&A.
Outside Funding – Political Action Committee (PAC). The Referendum campaign is receiving funding from the Brown County Educator’s Association (BCEA). “The Brown County Educators Association (BCEA) is a professional association organized to support the educators of Brown County Schools. The Indiana Political Action Committee for Education (I-PACE) is the statewide political organization for ISTA. Acting on behalf of I-PACE, the members of BCEA and the L-PAC endorse candidates for local elections.” (Ref: BC Democrat, Oct 26, 2022 advertisement).
The Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) is aligned with the National Education Association (NEA). NEA advocates for many policies associated with the ideology of Democrats including covid related policies, social justice, and the divisive and polarizing Critical Race Theory (CRT). NEA also opposes providing parents with school choices that can be funded with vouchers.
The BCEA (local union), the previous superintendent, and the School Board signed a resolution opposing education savings accounts and voucher expansion for private schools in Indiana in 2021.
A delay of a year of a new tax increase should provide sufficient time to make a compelling case (if possible) in these economically challenging times. With the increase in inflation, gas, food, utilities, and overall cost of living, taxpayers should expect information that they can use to make a more informed decision which can lead to community buy-in and support.
Taxes. The new school operating referendum is projected to result in new property taxes that will generate over $15 million dollars over an 8-year period. The proposed tax “rate” is a 50% increase (from 8 to 12 cents) over the expiring referendum that was passed in 2016. Documents approved by the Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF) identify that “The average property tax increase paid to the school corporation (when the new rate is applied) per year will increase by 33.91% for residences and 20.91% on business property.”
- The Schools “Spending Plan” accepted by the DLGF
- Estimated annual revenue and expenditure: $1,892,512
- Salaries, benefits, programs: $1,419,512
- Birth to Five: $157,709 (A new program).
- Career Resource Center (CRC): $157,709
- OperatingFund: $157,709
Birth to Five. The Brown County Community Foundation (BCCF) along with the school, has been the advocate for this program. They asked for $195,000 from the county (status unknown) to help fund this program and also identified the request for another $157,709 as part of referendum funding. This is likely just a start.
- Responsibility? Typically, daycare and pre-k education costs are the responsibility of the parents and the private sector. Help can be provided by the non-profit sector (including Community Foundations and Churches), and individual donations.
- Government Role? The Birth to Five program touches on the political area supported by the “more government is better” contingent. The Obama Administration introduced the “Cradle-to-Grave” concept in the video – The Life of Julia. The concept was not well received at the time.
The Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF) has identified that relatively few (14 in 2022) of the 291 school districts in Indiana opt for an operating referendum. Brown County Schools may be unique in that there has been a systemic decline in enrollments since 2009. This fact reduces available funding for staff and programs necessitating more budget reductions than may be desired.
Facebook Post (shared this post) on the topic at Brown County Matters. My reply to a comment where it was stated I was “over-thinking” the issue:
- Disagree. A “NO Vote” by the community this year could result in more benefits than costs. Especially, if it was followed up with the desire and commitment to make a thorough and balanced argument (better process) that would lead a “jury” (the voters) to to make a more informed decision on the merits of the argument devoid of fallacies.
- The superintendent’s statement that the tax increase is only the equivalent in the cost of an “extra value meal” is inaccurate, misleading, and disrespectful to the community. It is also a good indication of a very weak argument and reflects an inadequate decision-making process. A stronger argument may have led people to arrive at this conclusion on their own.
- The decision-making process is more important than cost. Critical thinking is the process of making a good argument, addressing the counter-arguments, and avoiding fallacies. No overthinking is needed- just some basic logic, reason, and common sense.
- Appealing to emotion, relying on surrogates to support your case, “because we said so” or “others are doing it” are among the fallacies as is attacking the critics of the referendum (the messenger) as opposed to the message. An incomplete argument can lead to divisiveness and can be polarizing.
Sept 29, 2022. ELECTION GUIDE: School board Q&A – Candidates were not asked about their position on the referendum.
- Post of the article at Brown County Matters
- Current School Board Members on the ballot that approved the Referendum: Carol Bowden (Dist 1), Vicki Harden (Dist 2). Stephanie Kritzer (running for commissioner (D).
- Voting Yes. Jenise Bohbrink (Dist. 2): Kathryn D. Lane (Dist. 2), Kevin McCracken (Dist 3)
- Voting No for this year – Kevin Patrick (Dist. 1)
- Position Unknown: Edward Wojdyla (Dist. 3
Sept 29, 2022. ELECTION GUIDE: What your school referendum vote means, Brown County Democrat.
Aug 12, 2022. School Board – Opposing ESAs and Vouchers
Aug 11, 2022. 2022 School Referendum – Supporting Documentation
July 31, 2022. Critical Race Theory (CRT), Diversity Equity Inclusion (DEI)/Equity Inclusion, and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG), are among the many controversial initiatives dividing the country. CRT, DEI, EI, ESG
- Context: The local Brown County teachers union is supported by the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA). ISTA is aligned with the National Education Association (NEA). The NEA has been an advocate of many controversial policies including vaccines, masks, critical race theory (CRT), parental involvement in curriculum, and opposing vouchers. In some school districts in the country, CRT is being applied through DEI programs.