Indianapolis public school officials hope to ask voters to cover $810 million in operating and capital expenses through two ballot questions in May 2023 to fund its massive reorganization plan known as Rebuilding. Stronger, an increase that officials say would raise the average tax bill by $6 a month. based on the median home value.
The two ballot issues are part of a three-part effort to fund the plan, which would close seven schools, reconfigure grades across the district and expand specialized college programs such as the International Baccalaureate.
A $410 million referendum would support capital projects such as two new schools and renovations to several others.
The other referendum would generate approximately $50 million annually for the district’s operating budget over an eight-year period. It would fund the expansion of specialized academic programs and provide ongoing competitive compensation for staff.
The district also estimates it will save a total of $2.5 million through 2024-25 by closing schools as part of Rebuilding Stronger.
The district estimates the tax increase would mean a monthly increase of $6 for a resident whose home is valued at $138,500, the median value of homes within the IPS limits. Taxpayers would see an increase from 2024.
The referendum on operating expenses would increase the tax rate from 19 cents per $100 of assessed property value to 25 cents per $100 of assessed property value.
The capitol referendum would ask for about 16 cents per $100 of assessed value to cover facility debt. However, district officials said they will soon finish paying off previous debt for capital projects, a move that would lower the overall tax rate and effectively reverse that 16-cent increase.
The two proposed ballot questions, which will be presented to the school board on Thursday, must be approved by the board before being added to the ballot in the primary election in May next year.
Build Back Stronger, which the school board will consider for a vote in November, is the district’s latest solution to longstanding issues of declining enrollment, financial challenges and lack of access to better college programs.
In 2018, voters agreed to raise property taxes to raise an additional $272 million in operating and capital expenditures. This increase funded teacher salary increases and improvements to school building security and facilities.
Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said the district will share money received from the operational referendum with its innovation schools, most of which are charter schools that enjoy more autonomy than traditional public schools.
Johnson said she hopes the IPS community will support the tax increases if they are on the ballot.
“I just believe that people in our city and in our community believe that our children shouldn’t have to look for opportunities, they should have opportunities,” she said.
A referendum on the capital would finance new buildings
The $410 million Capital Referendum would fund a new building for the Sidener Academy for High Ability Students on the current site of Francis Parker Montessori School 56. Under the plan, School 56 would merge with James Russell School Lowell 51.
The money would also fund the construction of a new 650-student elementary school on the site of Joyce Kilmer School 69, which operated as the Kindezi Academy innovation charter school. The operator has chosen not to renew its agreement with the municipality in 2022.
Fourteen other schools would benefit from facility upgrades:
- Arlington College
- Broad Ripple High School
- butler lab school 55
- Carl Wilde School 79
- Eleanor Skillen School 34
- George Julian School 57
- George Washington Carver School 87
- Harshman College
- James Whitcomb Riley School 43
- Longfellow College
- North West High School
- Thomas Carr Howe Middle School
- Washington Irving School 14, and
- William Penn School 49.
The decision to upgrade the buildings follows a facilities assessment that found 21% of school buildings in the district are in poor overall condition or worse. Only 31% were in good or better condition.
The funding would help improve those grades so students have access to “better or warm or safe learning environments both inside and outside the building,” Johnson said.
The operational referendum would expand university programs
The operational referendum, which would last eight years and generate $50 million a year, would help expand seven academic programs in schools in the district: the Center for Inquiry model that uses IB programming, Montessori, Reggio, STEM , high capacity, arts and dual language.
The funding would also ensure continued competitive competition for staff – although the exact amounts are not yet clear. The starting salary for teachers currently sits at $50,400.
“We know we are striving to execute a fairly ambitious plan, and so having our staff on board will be important in ensuring that the compensation offered to them continues to be competitive,” Johnson said.
The plan requires staff to undergo training for certain special academic programs, such as the International Baccalaureate and Montessori.
What if voters say no?
The district could still move forward with parts of the Rebuilding Stronger plan if voters don’t approve of new taxes — including school consolidations, Johnson said.
The district could also adopt its four new enrollment zones, allowing students to attend any school in each zone — a move that could help reduce student mobility during the school year. However, the district may not expand special programs if tax increases are not passed.
“If our community isn’t willing to invest in all the kids having at least that basic experience, then the conversation in my mind has got to shift to ‘OK, well, what are we reducing across the board? “, Johnson said. “Because we can’t continue to have the kind of structure of haves and have-nots that we have in some ways today.”
The primary election is May 2, 2023.
Amelia Pak-Harvey covers schools in Indianapolis and Marion County for Chalkbeat Indiana. Contact Amelia at [email protected]