It’s tempting to think a referendum to continue funding the Monroe County Community School Corp. with a modest property-tax levy will pass this November with votes to spare – just as it did in 2010.
But that could be a mistake. This is a very different election year from the one six years ago. Contests for president and governor are on the ballot, a circumstance that will bring out more and different voters. An anti-establishment mood has swept the country, and that could hurt the MCCSC and its supporters.
And it’s likely that many voters will go to the polls with no idea a school funding referendum is on the ballot. The question will be at the bottom, below all the national, state and county contests. It’s important to inform education supporters that they need to vote.
So it’s good to see the school district’s supporters are treating this like a real election campaign. The pro-referendum election committee Yes for MCCSC held a kickoff rally Tuesday, complete with music, signs and talks by students, parents, teachers and officials. The group has put together an informative website. It has lined up support from Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton and others.
Importantly, the website includes a “supply closet” section that details how the referendum money will be used and a property tax calculator that shows what the impact will be on taxpayers.
It’s a shame that schools in Indiana have to beg the voters for adequate funding – and it’s even more of a shame that, in many school districts, the voters don’t think they can afford to say yes. But the plain truth is that state officials have done a lousy job of funding public education. Schools have no choice.
The problem dates from the Great Recession, when then-Gov. Mitch Daniels cut school funding by $300 million to balance the state budget. In the MCCSC, teachers were cut, class sizes ballooned and it took a massive fund-raising effort to keep extracurricular programs operating.
That’s where we’ll be again if the referendum doesn’t pass on Nov. 8.
The best argument I’ve read for supporting the referendum – and probably the best I will ever read – was an October 2010 Herald-Times guest column by former MCCSC Superintendent Harmon Baldwin.
He wrote that anyone who wants to vote against the referendum can find a reason to do so. Maybe you don’t like the school board or you disagree with some of their decisions. Or maybe you think teachers or administrators make too much money. Or you’re disappointed in how some of the money from the 2010 vote was spent.
But administrators and teachers aren’t the ones who will suffer if the referendum goes down, he wrote. “We are talking about a quality of educational opportunities for the young people of this community. Their lives and their futures rest upon the decision that we make when we vote …”
Baldwin, who is 92, lives in Virginia now, but I bet he’s following this referendum campaign closely. I sure hope the outcome on Nov. 8 will be one that he can feel good about.