News From Terre Haute, Indiana

News Columns

November 18, 2013

Citizens fight for school funds

Goshen parents make case for tax levies — and win

INDIANAPOLIS — 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.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
News Columns
Latest News
TribStar.com Poll
AP Video
Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station New York Auto Show Highlights Latest in Car Tech Small Reactors Could Be Future of Nuclear Energy Raw: Massive 7.2 Earthquake Rocks Mexico Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested New York Auto Show Highlights Latest in Car Tech Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Human Antidepressants Making Shrimp Too Calm Swiss Unveil New Solar Plane for Global Flight Raw: Four French Journalists Freed From Syria Popular Science Honors Year's Top Inventions NASA Releases Images of "graceful" Solar Flare Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest Raw: Church Tries for Record With Chalk Jesus Raw: Greeks Celebrate Easter With "Rocket War"
NDN Video
Jabari Parker's Top 5 Plays From Duke Career Kourtney Kardashian Is a Bikini Babe More Manpower Than Ever Expected At 4/20 Rally Debunk'd: Miley Cyrus AIDS, Cheeseburgers Cause Cancer, Military Warning Bill Previewing the NBA playoffs Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite My name is Cocaine Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Lohan Gets Candid About Her Sex List The 2014 New York Auto Show Meet Johnny Manziel's New Girlfriend Chelsea Clinton Announces Pregnancy Funny: Celebrating Easter with Martha Stewart and Friends Man Accuses 'X-Men' Director Bryan Singer of Sexually Abusing Him As a Teenager Man hit with $525 federal fine after he doesn't pay for soda refill Lea Michele & Naya Rivera Feuding? Jabari Parker declares for the NBA draft Singing Nun Belts Out Cyndi Lauper New West, Texas Explosion Video Swim Daily, Throwback Thursday
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -

     

    March 12, 2010

activity