During the midterm elections, Indianapolis taxpayers voted on two tax referendums regarding the Indianapolis public school system.
Voters answered “yes” or “no” regarding two public questions: “Shall Indianapolis Public Schools issue bonds or enter into a lease to finance the IPS Safety and Modernization Project, which includes renovating and improving school facilities, making security and safety enhancements, and upgrading campus technology and equipment, which is estimated to cost not more than $52,000,000 and is estimated to increase the property tax rate for debt service by a maximum of $0.0332 per $100 of assessed valuation?”
“For the eight (8) calendar years immediately following the holding of the referendum, shall Indianapolis Public Schools impose a property tax rate that does not exceed nineteen and six-tenths cents ($0.1960) on each one hundred dollars ($100) of assessed valuation and that is in addition to all other property taxes imposed by the school corporation for the purpose of funding academic and educationally related programs, including the attraction and retention of teachers, expanding academic programs, and providing support for students with special needs?”
An overwhelming majority voted “Yes” to both questions, passing both IPS referendums.
“It’s a huge win for the district and the children of Indianapolis Public Schools,” Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said. “This positions us well to continue to offer competitive compensation. I’m really pleased and grateful and extremely thankful that the voters approved this investment in Indianapolis Public Schools.”
Approximately 31,000 students, 3,600 faculty and staff in 88 schools make Indianapolis Public Schools the largest school district in Indiana. Capital funding for the IPS Safety and Modernization Project will provide all IPS-owned school buildings with safety and security enhancements including enhanced exterior lighting, technology upgrades, hardened exteriors, classroom safety upgrades and upgraded emergency communication system.
In addition, better services will be provided to special needs students, academic and educational programs for students will be expanded, and IPS will work to hire and keep more teachers.
“There is a teacher shortage here in the state of Indiana, and actually across the nation, and we need to be competitive about our compensation,” Ferebee said. “We raised salaries the last couple of years where we have invested $10 million in compensation and benefits for our employees. We want to continue to do that, we need to continue to do that.”
According to IPS, it is likely that the district could’ve been forced to freeze teacher and employee compensation, reduce educational programs for students, reduce the quality of services for students with special needs and continue to defer building maintenance and scale back transportation services if they did not receive the additional funds.
Years have passed since the last referendum, and with the districts spending gap, the passing votes came right on time. IPS closed three high schools and a middle school last year alone. And after IPS has closed under-utilized schools and disposed of several unused properties to save money and generate additional funds, there is still a gap between state-provided funds and the amount spent. With budgets still falling short, the district decided to go to the city’s taxpayers.
In the spring the district originally rolled out a plan asking for close to a billion dollars, which was not well perceived by local taxpayers. This forced IPS to pull the questions from the May ballot, go back to the drawing board and scale back considerably. Working with the Indy Chamber to conduct an analysis of the district’s expenses and needs, both groups worked together to create what was presented on the ballot and passed during the midterm elections.
Indianapolis taxpayers will see a property tax increase to fund $272 million to IPS over the next eight years. Of that, $52 million will pay for capital projects such as the Safety and Modernization Project and $220 million to pay higher wages to current teachers and provide funding to hire additional teachers in the district.
Urban League President Tony Mason stated “The $220 million proposal does not address all of the fiscal issues that IPS is facing, but it does help the district compete better with the townships for the best educators — we need strong principals to lead high-performing schools, and great teachers to inspire and educate our children. And the cost to the average homeowner is less than $5 a month, with every dollar benefiting our students.”
According to IPS, this is expected to cost homeowners approximately $3.19 per month in increased property taxes to benefit our children and our city’s future.
Although the district has new funding, it will have to make substantial budget cuts. The school system will likely close more underutilized schools in the years to come but will have secured better buildings, better programs for students, more teachers and higher compensation so this was definitely a big win for Indianapolis as a whole.
For more information regarding the IPS referendums or to calculate how this will affect your property tax visit my ips.org.
For more information regarding state and local property taxes visit IN.DOR.gov.
Brittany Sabalza, enrolled agent, is director of continuing education for Pro Tax Solutions Indianapolis and a tax columnist.