Tax Referendum

Editor’s Note: As our readers may recall, our January issue featured a cover story on the funding crisis effecting the Zionsville School system and nearly every other outstanding suburban public school in the state. It was our intent to educate and inform our readers about the facts related to the causes and the cures for the crises and to dispel many of the misconceptions related to how school funding works in Indiana since the legislature placed a cap of 1 percent on the amount of property tax revenue school districts could collect and imposed a state developed funding formula to distribute funds to schools. We ran a similar story in our sister magazine in Carmel detailing the problems presented to that school system. We followed up that story with another one in April reporting that the state legislature’s answer to the problem was to provide a modest increase in funding for these public schools bringing their funding to 2008 levels generally. Because few things can operate in 2015 with the same budget level as 2008, a tax referendum became inevitable, in our opinion. We hope that, while the State of Indiana boasts of record budget surpluses, some of that money finds its way to support our outstanding public schools, like ZCS, in the near future.

We asked Dr. Scott Robison, ZCS Superintendent, to submit a short comment on what he thinks is important for voters to know as they go to the polls in November to vote on the tax referendum, and this is what he provided:

Future of ZCS School Program Hangs in the Balance — Important Election Just Ahead
Election day is fast approaching, and with the current 2012 operating referendum expiring on December 31, the Zionsville Community School Board has placed a renewal of this operating referendum on the November 3 ballot.

“ZCS is the lowest funded school district in the state of Indiana,” Dr. Robison explained (source: Indiana General Assembly’s Legislative Services Agency). “If the measure passes, ZCS leaders say class sizes can be sustained, and student programs and services will not need to be cut. If the measure fails, ZCS reports that some 120 positions (teachers, administrators and support staffers) would be eliminated, and this would cut educational programs. Additionally, class sizes would rise to unacceptable levels.

“Prior to 2008, schools received funds for student instructional purposes from the state and local property taxes. That changed in 2009 when the state legislature passed major reforms in how Indiana schools are financed. As a result, high performing school districts like Zionsville lose millions of dollars per year. Knowing the change would cause harm to some districts, the state provided a mechanism to restore funding through a local referendum.

“The referendum question on the ballot this year is for the same rate as approved by voters in 2012. This rate is 24.44 cents per $100 of net assessed value (after all deductions). A table showing the cost to taxpayers for continuation of the expiring referendum at the 2012 rate is available at the “school funding” tab of the Zionsville YES website: zionsvilleyes.com.

“Due to a very successful refinancing of a 2005 bond, the district lowered the regular school tax rate by 22.52 cents in 2015 and projects a further reduction of at least seven cents when rates are approved for 2016. For taxpayers that are not already at the tax cap (including commercial, multi-family and agricultural taxpayers), these reductions will be greater than the referendum rate and will result in a net decrease in tax bills for these taxpayers when compared to 2014.

“ZCS has used every dollar of the 2012 referendum for classroom instructional expenses. The current referendum supports 87 teaching positions. Should the referendum pass again, ZCS will continue to spend every dollar on teachers to protect class sizes.”