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Indianapolis Public Schools will likely ask taxpayers for $936 million for teacher pay, construction

Indianapolis Public Schools announced plans Thursday to ask voters for $736 million to increase operating funds and $200 million for construction and building projects, to be collected over the next eight years.

A district spokeswoman declined to provide Chalkbeat with more information. But details were published on the district website. If approved by the school board next month, the request would be placed on the 2018 primary ballot on May 8.

School board president Mary Ann Sullivan said that this shouldn’t be surprising to voters given recent changes to school funding.

“This is now the new normal. The new normal is districts will be coming to taxpayers every so often so they can continue operating public schools,” she said.

The district’s website says that the operating funds, $92 million per year for eight years, would be used to raise teacher pay and special needs services. The construction funds would pay to upgrade buildings and make safety improvements.

The school board is planning two public hearings for 6 p.m. Dec. 12 and 14 at the central office building, 120 E. Walnut St. There will be opportunities for public comment if people sign up by noon on the day before each hearing. The board is expected to make a decision about whether to pursue the referendums at the second hearing.

Seeking extra taxpayer dollars would likely lead to a contentious battle, as Indianapolis voters would see their tax bills increase. Between the two tax increases, a family with a home at the district’s median value — $123,500 — would be looking at paying about $28.45 more per month in property taxes.

The calculation relies on assessed property value, so the tax increase would vary for each homeowner within district boundaries. The operating increase would raise taxes by up to $0.59 for every $100 of assessed property value, while the construction increase would raise taxes by up to $0.12 per $100 of assessed property value.

Hoosier schools have almost exclusively relied on state funding in recent years. State lawmakers capped how much local governments could collect in property taxes in 2010, and those funds can now only go toward things like construction or transportation — not salaries. But voters can decide to override those caps in their communities. In Marion County, seven districts have asked voters to raise taxes to pay for schools, and all but one were successful.

But it could prove especially difficult for IPS to win support for the tax increase. Households in IPS boundaries are less likely to have children than households across Indiana, according to Census data. And many district residents with school-age children choose private, charter and township schools outside the district.

District leaders have been laying the groundwork to ask for more funding for months. In February, Ferebee told Chalkbeat that the district would need to ask for more funding from taxpayers because of low state funding.

At the time, IPS board member Kelly Bentley said closing some high schools was one way district leaders could show voters that they were “good stewards” of their funding. In order to continue raising teacher pay and serve high-need students, the district needs more money, she said.

The district’s website said that if the tax increases don’t pass, salaries could be frozen, and transportation services and services for students with disabilities could decrease.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the amount of money the district hopes to raise for operating funds, and the total amount of both referendums. For operating funds, it would be $92 million per year for eight years, totaling $736 million. Including the capital referendum for $200 million, the district would be seeking $936 million.