Indiana voters on Tuesday rejected half of the K12 operating fund referendums in the state, making it one of the worst nights for the school ballot questions in the last decade. 

Three of the seven Indiana school districts that placed ballot questions to approve property-tax levies for operational funds failed to get enough voter approval. Another school district was unable to get voters to sign off on a $115 million construction project referendum.

The dismal school referendum passage rate is the worst since November 2014, when neither of the two proposed referendums in the state were successful. 

In 2021, state lawmakers enacted a law to require school ballot questions to include the estimated average percentage of property tax increase paid to the school district if the levy is approved. Education leaders and advocates have cautioned that the new ballot language could confuse and mislead voters about how much additional property-tax they are agreeing to.

Indiana voters reject four referendums

District leaders at Brown County Schools, Delphi Community School Corporation, Medora Community School Corporation and Wabash County School Corporation could not persuade their communities to support an increase to their property bills, according to unofficial results reported by county election offices.

The four rural districts warned that failed referendums would lead to staffing and programs cuts, wage freezes, cuts to athletics, and cramped classrooms, among other consequences.

Brown County Schools (Brown County)

  • 53% of voters selected “no” on an operations referendum with a property tax rate of $0.1200 per $100 assessed value for eight years. Brown County Schools said if the referendum doesn’t pass, the district will have to make major cuts to academics, arts and athletics, plus freeze wages, cut teacher positions and increase class sizes. District officials said they now plan to try another referendum in 2023, before the current one expires.

Delphi Community School Corporation (Carroll County)

  • 55% of voters selected “no” on an operations referendum with a property tax rate of $0.2032 per $100 assessed value for eight years. The purpose of the proposed tax hike was to keep and attract new Delphi School staff with better pay, and also maintain programming for students.

Medora Community School Corporation (Jackson County)

  • 75% of voters selected “no” on an operations referendum with a property tax rate of $0.50 per $100 assessed value for eight years. Medora leadership said the referendum was intended to help the district reduce its debt service payment for budget year 2023. Without the funding, Medora schools could be forced to reduce or eliminate certified or classified staff, transportation options, and certain student programs.

MSD of Wabash County School Corporation

  • 78% of voters selected “no” on a capital referendum with a property tax rate of $0.8300 cents per $100 of assessed value for eight years. The estimated total tax amount levy would have funded a $115 million plan to construct a new 165,000-square-foot high school and renovate other buildings.

Four communities vote “yes” to operating referendums

Four other districts got the green light from voters. Additional funds going to those schools will help increase teacher salaries and expand in-classroom education services and extracurricular activities for students.

Monroe County Community School Corporation (Monroe County)

  • 67% voted “yes” on an operations referendum with a property tax rate of $0.1850 per $100 assessed value for eight years. MCCSC teachers will receive a $4,500 raise as a result of the referendum, according to the school district. Support staff, like instructional aides and paraprofessionals, will see a $2.25 per hour wage increase.  The remaining funding, equal to about $1.2 million per year, will fund educational services such as special education services, performing arts programs and STEM programs.

MSD of Southwest Allen County (Allen County)

  • 69% voted “yes” on an operations referendum with a property tax rate of $0.15 per $100 assessed value for eight years. District officials said the tax dollars will cover salaries and benefits for 72 people, including 43 current teachers and 14 new hires.

Southern Wells Community Schools (Wells County)

  • 71% voted “yes” on an operations referendum with a property tax rate of $0.127 per $100 assessed value for eight years. The referendum will fund six current teaching positions, as well as two current instruction assistants and one current custodial position, according to the district.

Westfield Washington Schools (Hamilton County)

  • 68% voted “yes” on an operations referendum with a property tax rate of $0.17 per $100 assessed value for eight years. Westfield Washington officials said property owners will actually see a decrease in their property tax rate starting next year —  the new referendum will lower the current rate under the previous referendum from 20¢ to 17¢, or 15%. The funding will be used to maintain lower class sizes, retain staff and start an orchestra program and an agriculture science program, according to the district.
© Indiana Capital Chronicle, 2022 The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to giving Hoosiers a comprehensive look inside state government, policy and elections. The site combines daily coverage with in-depth scrutiny, political awareness and insightful commentary.