Never underestimate the power of high school band parents.
That’s one lesson coming out of the special elections this month, when voters in four Indiana communities were asked to raise property taxes to provide more funding for their local schools.
Three of those referenda went down to defeat. The fourth sailed through with no organized opposition.
Michigan City voters said no to a $5 million request to close a budget gap in their schools’ general fund; Mishawaka voters said no to a $28 million request to repair their aging schools, and Muncie voters said no to a $3 million request to keep the schools buses running.
Meanwhile, voters in Goshen — a city of 32,000 people of relatively modest means — said yes to a request for $17 million for a new school pool, bigger band rooms, a new baseball field, and a remodeled cafeteria to accommodate an increasing middle-school student population.
How did that happen?
Here’s where those band parents come in: In Goshen, they were part of a broad coalition of school boosters who convinced voters that paying more taxes would be a wise investment in their community’s future.
Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman was part of that coalition. Earlier this week, contemplating the referendum vote, the three-term mayor credited a well-organized effort to gain voters’ trust.
“You can’t just presume these things are going to happen,” Kauffman said.
Other school districts have learned that the hard way in the five years since the Indiana General Assembly capped property taxes and changed the way school districts can levy taxes for construction and operating expenses. Of the 88 school referenda since 2008, just slightly half have passed. Those asking for money for building costs — like Goshen’s referendum — fared worse than those that asked for operating expenses.
Ball State University economist Michael Hicks cited several reasons for the failed referenda. Among them: Skeptical voters who didn’t believe local school leaders were capable of making tough decisions about spending priorities.
Hicks also makes this argument: After 1973, when the father of property tax relief, the late Gov. Otis Bowen, made it so much harder for local government units to raise tax levies, most local leaders gave up. They stopped pitching the idea of more revenue as an investment worth making in the community.
“The experience with an informational campaign is lacking in local government,” Hicks said.
Goshen is an exception. While Kauffman helped champion the tax increase for his community’s schools, he credits recently retired Goshen superintendent Bruce Stahly for helping create trust with voters.
In 2010, as Goshen schools were feeling the crush of capped property taxes and a cut in school funding from the state, Stahly created a citizens task force that spent months studying the school district’s finances. The task force’s recommendations were supported by Stahly and adopted by the school board. (Kauffman followed the model to create a citizens’ task force that looked at city finances.)
Stahly also earned the trust of parents: As the Goshen schools absorbed an increasing number of poor and immigrant students, the Goshen schools were also winning state and national accolades, including those for their arts and music programs.
Senior citizens are notorious for voting against school referenda. But among supporters of the Goshen referendum were residents of a large retirement community, who had been promised access to the new school pool by Goshen’s new superintendent, the well-liked Diane Woodworth.
Stahly and Kauffman are no fans of the tax caps that have caused communities to lose millions in revenue. But other local leaders may learn from their response.
“It was easy to get money for a long period of time,” Kauffman said. “Whatever you didn’t have money for, you just raised property taxes to do it. So in a way, we have to become better sales people.”
Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen. hayden@indianamedia group.com.
Goshen parents make case for tax levies — and win
Never underestimate the power of high school band parents.
Annual St. Ben’s community festival kicks off
The St. Ben's Community Festival kicked off Friday night and continues from 5 p.m. until midnight today.
Adding to the mix
The mix of local food choices will get a fresh stir in the near future, as a café opens a second location, a pizza place moves downtown and a national chain sprouts in two more spots.
Shift from jets to intelligence
Loud, impressive fighter jets once zoomed regularly across the sky in Terre Haute, their roars drowning out the sounds of televisions and telephones all around the area.
Candidates’ views clash over more education testing, vouchers
Indiana needs to change direction to improve education, said Democrat Jim Mann, who will face incumbent Rep. Robert Heaton, R-Terre Haute, in a rematch race for Indiana House District 46.
Fraudulent checks with an extra ‘t’
A Terre Haute woman who received a large check in the mail this week wants to warn others that though the check looks legitimate, it is a scam.
Truck, van collide, stopping some U.S. 41 lanes for an hour
Northbound traffic on U.S. 41 south of Terre Haute was blocked for about one hour Friday because of a two vehicle crash.
Mayor: City will not file bankruptcy
The Terre Haute City Council took well more than an hour to ask questions and discuss the health of the city’s finances with top city officials in a special meeting Thursday night. A few councilmen expressed grave concern about the financial picture, while Mayor Duke Bennett said things were improving.
State official threatens prosecution of city leaders who talk about audit
A state official has threatened to pursue the prosecution of city officials if they violate a confidentiality agreement signed last month.
ISU, 181st Intelligence Wing show off capabilities at expo
Communication and getting unmanned eyes in the sky can be vital parts of responding to a natural or man-made disaster.
Feds relent: Military to restore equipment program for fire departments
An agreement has been reached to keep surplus military equipment rolling into rural fire department bays in Indiana and 47 other states.
UW kicks off pilot campaign
Dottie King remembers the day she saw a young man leaving St. Ann’s Dental Clinic after having 17 teeth pulled. He had not received sufficient dental care before that day so his need was dramatic. That was unlike King, who had visited the dentist regularly since childhood, but still found getting a tooth filled not on her list of fun things to do. “I thought to myself, ‘I never have thought about the blessing of dental care,’” King recalled, sharing that story on Thursday morning with other volunteers for the United Way of the Wabash Valley.
Indiana’s director of homeland security sees unmanned systems’ potential
Integrating unmanned flight systems into use for domestic surveillance can provide first responders with key information in responding to fires, earthquakes and man-made disasters, said John Hill, director of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.
Stunt performer scheduled to be at Wigwam
A celebrity stunt man named Jim “Crash” Moreau is scheduled to perform at Terre Haute’s Wigwam Skate and Event Center on Saturday.
Rain barrels offered for sale
The Vigo County Soil and Water Conservation District is taking orders for 55-gallon rain barrels.
Tips lead to meth lab bust
Two people were arrested after police busted a clandestine methamphetamine lab Thursday in the 2200 block of Fourth Avenue in Terre Haute.
Historic Ohio Boulevard house inspired by 1948 Cary Grant movie
Spurred in 1948 by a newly released movie staring Cary Grant and Myrna Loy, coupled with a growing post-World War II housing market, General Electric partnered with Hollywood’s RKO Studios to build “dream homes” throughout the country.
A panel of public and private officials is calling for $10 billion in projects to upgrade Indiana’s aging roads and bridges, but its members concede there’s no money to pay for it all.
MARK BENNETT: Making road work a barrel of fun for drivers
We’re lucky orange barrels can’t talk.
City Council to take up city finances tonight
The Terre Haute City Council will have a chance in a special meeting tonight to delve deeply into the city’s financial health. However, council members are being asked to avoid raising the most controversial subject of recent weeks: The city’s use of Redevelopment Commission tax increment finance (TIF) money.
Bennett accepts $5,000 fine in ethics settlement
Former Indiana Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett has agreed to pay $5,000 as part of a settlement with Indiana’s ethics watchdog in which he admits to using state resources for campaign work but is cleared of formal ethics violations in the grade-change scandal that cost him his job as Florida’s schools chief last year.
Vermillion Jail trusties face new charges
Two former inmate trusties at the Vermillion County Jail face new criminal charges after a recently discovered security breach at the jail.
Lawrence police acquire armored military vehicle
A central Indiana city has acquired an armored military vehicle for use in highly dangerous situations.
Free carwash for law enforcement
Mike’s Carwash locations in Central Indiana, including Terre Haute, will honor the sacrifice of IMPD Officer Perry Renn and thank all those who serve and protect our communities with a free carwash for police and emergency personnel today and Friday.
Hitting a high note
A 17-year-old from Casey, Ill., won “The Voice of the Valley” Tuesday night, singing and shaking his hips and legs to an Elvis Presley song, then wooing the grandstand audience at the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds with a country tune.
Clay County residents clean up debris, get power back
Several power outages still affected hundreds of Duke Energy customers on Tuesday, more than 24 hours after storms and strong winds swept through west-central Indiana, leaving a swath of damage in the Staunton, Brazil and Center Point areas.
Return to Indiana?
Evan Bayh is keeping Indiana Democrats on hold.
Planning under way for 2014 Downtown Block Party
Wabash Avenue will be full of activity Aug. 23 as the 2014 Downtown Terre Haute Block Party takes over five city blocks in a celebration of music, food and events.
VIDEO UPDATE: Guys give food bank a lift
A $14,000 donation Tuesday from Guys Who Give enables Catholic Charities to be at nearly 75 percent of its $2.5 million goal to purchase and operate a new, larger food bank near Terre Haute International Airport-Hulman Field.
‘Dangerous’ suspect in police custody
A man sought by the Vermillion County Sheriff's Department has been nabbed by police in Indianapolis.
eBus brings financial empowerment to town
A 40-foot long mobile classroom is scheduled to roll into Terre Haute today, carrying what its sponsors call “financial empowerment.”
- More News Headlines
- Annual St. Ben’s community festival kicks off