Winners and losers in the school-funding game

Monroe County Community School Corp. board member Keith Klein asked an important question last week when the board was voting to put a school-funding referendum on the November ballot: Will “winners and losers” result from Indiana’s growing reliance on property-tax referenda to fund school operating expenses?

The answer appears to be yes. The school districts where citizens have voted to raise property taxes in order to better fund their schools include some of the wealthiest districts in the state. In less well-off districts, school-funding referenda have typically been defeated.

The Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at the Indiana University School of Education recently released a policy brief on Indiana school-funding referenda, along with a data base of results. They provide timely information about the referenda that have been attempted since the current system for funding school took effect last year.

In 2009 and so far in 2010, 13 school districts have asked voters to raise property taxes to support their general funds, Continue reading

Survey shows support for MCCSC referendum — but how strong?

There’s no denying that the Monroe County Community School Corp. board got some good very news last week when the Springsted Inc. consulting firm reported on a survey that showed strong support for raising property taxes to support schools.

In the survey of 401 registered voters early this month, 69 percent said they would vote to increase taxes to make up for state cuts in school funding. When told the increase for the average homeowner would be $65 a year, support rose to 75 percent. (The results are posted on the MCCSC website).

representative Don Lifto said the survey revealed “a very, very good base of support for an operating referendum.” The school board, emboldened by the results, voted last week to go forward with a school-funding referendum in the Nov. 2 election. Members indicated they will decide this Tuesday (June 29) how much of a tax increase to ask for, and for how long.

But before anyone thinks this referendum is a slam dunk, it’s good to remember that talk is cheap – including talk with a stranger asking survey questions Continue reading

Charrette or charade?

Here’s some hopeful news about the school-funding “charrette” Thursday night at Bloomington High School North: The 40 people who took part clearly had a wide range of priorities, but everyone seemed open to the idea that other people’s priorities are important too.

At least that’s how it seemed to me, based on the clicker-augmented survey that started the evening and the later small-group discussion that I took part in.

With real-time results available from the initial survey, it seemed most people were giving a rating of “most important” or “important” to virtually all aspects of education in the Monroe County Community School Corp. Sure, class size, music, art and librarians were rated as important. But so were alternative education, adult education, early childhood education and career and technical education.

Ninety percent of us said current and future funding cuts threaten the quality of education in the MCCSC. Altogether, it seemed like a group that was ready for some give-and-take but likely to support a broad-based referendum to increase property taxes to offset state funding cuts for local schools.

The charrette was the last of four conducted by MGT of America as part of its “community engagement” contract with the MCCSC. An online version of the priorities survey is posted on the MCCSC website. MGT project director Bill Carnes has also been conducting outreach activities, including a meeting last week with members of the pro-referendum group Support Our Schools. Continue reading