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3 Indianapolis school districts win new money from voters

Wayne Township's Ben Davis High School. The district passed two referenda tonight to avoid staff layoffs.
Wayne Township's Ben Davis High School. The district passed two referenda tonight to avoid staff layoffs.
Scott Elliott

Five requests for additional tax dollars were easily approved by voters in three Marion County school districts today.

Wayne Township, Perry Township and Beech Grove schools each had proposals on the primary election ballot asking voters to raise taxes for issues including busing, building upgrades and teacher salaries.

Wayne Township Superintendent Jeff Butts said the new tax dollars from two referenda make up for an $8 million loss the district incurred when property taxes were removed from school general funds back in 2010. If it hadn’t passed, the district would’ve had to seriously consider teacher layoffs, Butts said.

“We had to decide, do we keep that going, or do we make additional reductions?” he said. “I’m pleased for Perry and I’m pleased for Beech Grove, but obviously I’m very proud of our community for supporting our kids.”

Most of the races had wide margins of success — Beech Grove’s two referenda each passed with more than 75 percent of the votes, and Wayne Township’s passed with almost two-thirds of the votes cast.

The closest decision was in Perry Township, but voters still approved the referenda by more than 50 percent.

Here’s a breakdown of each district’s ballot requests:

Beech Grove Schools
Proposed tax increases: A 35-cent continuation of existing taxes and a 15-cent increase per $100 of a property’s assessed value.
What the increase will support: busing, updated band and choir rooms, heating and air conditioning systems.
Potential new cost to the average homeowner: Less than $36 per year.
Vote outcome: 76.3 percent to 23.6 percent for the 35-cent tax and 75.8 percent to 24.1 percent for the 15-cent tax (eight of nine precincts reporting at time of publication).

Perry Township
Proposed tax increases: A 42-cent increase and a 13-cent increase per $100 of a property’s assessed value.
What the increase will support: hiring of bus drivers and janitors, building of more classrooms for growing student population.
Potential new cost to the average homeowner: About $118 per year.
Vote outcome: 53.4 percent to 46.5 percent for the 42-cent tax and 55 percent to 44.9 percent for the 13-cent tax.

Wayne Township
Proposed Tax increases: A 35-cent increase per per $100 of a property’s assessed value.
What the increase will support: teacher and staff salaries.
Potential new cost to the average homeowner: Less than $100 per year.
Vote outcome: 63.8 percent to 36.1 percent (51 of 53 precincts reporting at time of publication).

The districts said they had to ask voters to approve additional funding largely because of changes to the school funding formula that capped property taxes, limiting what schools could collect.

The caps were supposed to make homeowner’s property taxes more stable and offer some tax relief, but that meant many schools lost sizable amounts of money they needed for their operating funds, which mainly pay for teachers and classroom costs.

Wayne Township lost 37 percent of its property tax revenue because of the caps and Beech Grove’s lost 39 percent, the two largest in the county. Wayne Township is the second largest district in the county behind Indianapolis Public Schools.

Overall, Butts said the election successes amounted to a pretty good night for Indianapolis schools, but he said the state’s system might force more referenda in the future.

“I think this is the new wave that schools will be funded for anything additional,” Butts said. “And local communities get to make that decision.”

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