Teachers cleaning their own classrooms and carrying out their trash; high school students crammed 44 to a class, as they are now in a physics class at Bloomington High School North; and the elimination of funding for librarians, art, music, PE and extracurricular activities all could become the norm in Monroe County Community School Corp. schools if the Nov. 2 property tax referendum doesn’t pass, Superintendent J.T. Coopman told members of the Bloomington Press Club Oct. 25.
In the longer term, if Indiana ends up a “referendum state” like neighboring Ohio, the consequences will be more profound, Coopman said. In Ohio, where school funding referendums are routinely used to raise funds, school districts have become divided into haves and have-nots. Those who have passed referendums and have continued to fund quality programming draw families from neighboring communities where citizens have voted against additional funding. The poorer school districts are losing students and, consequently, per pupil funding, compounding issues of equity among students, Coopman said.
Coopman reasoned that if the MCCSC referendum fails, citizens will end up paying much more in juvenile justice costs to rehabilitate students who drop out or lose interest in school than they will in additional property taxes if the referendum passes. And if public schools decline through lack of funding, he said, “businesses leave, people leave, and then a community starts to die on the vine.”
Monroe County property owners will pay up to 14 cents per $100 of the assessed value of their properties if the referendum is successful. The measure will go into effect for six years, but the MCCSC could ask for a lower rate in a given year, or even no additional taxes at all, if the funding situation for Indiana public schools improves.
So far, there’s no organized opposition to the referendum, Coopman said. And he doesn’t put much stock in anonymous anti-referendum mailings that have taken place in recent weeks.
He said most of the 70-plus positions that have been eliminated since the spring probably would be restored if the referendum passes. He said he’s also open to looking at issues beyond reinstating the jobs and programs that were dropped because of state budget cuts, such as attempting to increase the length of the school day — a contract issue that would involve renegotiating with the teachers’ union.
Between now and Nov. 2, Coopman said he’s treating the push to pass the referendum as a political campaign.
“It’s a clear, concise, constant message time after time after time,” he said.