Nov 1, 2023 - News

Hamilton County voting on school referendums

Illustration of an apple with an I Voted sticker.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Voters in parts of Hamilton and Boone counties are deciding whether to extend a property tax increase for their schools or risk losing teachers.

Driving the news: Carmel, Hamilton Southeastern and Sheridan school districts have operating referendums on the ballot for next week's election.

Why it matters: All three referendums are continuations of previously passed tax hikes.

  • If voters reject the measures, districts will have multimillion-dollar holes in their annual budgets.

By the numbers: Carmel Clay Schools is asking voters to renew a 2017 referendum to collect around $24 million a year — nearly all of which would be spent on retaining and attracting teachers and other staff.

  • Hamilton Southeastern Schools is requesting an extension of the referendum first passed in 2016 — but it's lowering the rate by roughly $5 per $100,000 of assessed value, for annual revenue around $24 million — for teachers and academic programs.
  • Sheridan is looking to renew an increase passed in 2017 for an expected $1.3 million annually, with nearly $900,000 to be spent on retaining and attracting teachers and the rest for academic programs.

The intrigue: Property tax referendums were created when the state capped property taxes more than a decade ago but many districts have never passed one or even tried.

  • A state report found that referendums fuel pay disparity between well-resourced districts that can pass them and those that can't.
  • Education reform advocates and some parents have also protested the resource gap they create between traditional public districts and public charter schools.

Yes, but: Those efforts have largely stalled.

  • Referendum sharing was passed this year, but only for school districts in four counties: Marion, Lake, St. Joseph and Vanderburgh.

Zoom out: Six other districts around the state also have operating referendums on next week's ballot.

  • Only one, the School City of Hammond, is asking for a construction project referendum.
  • Two are asking voters to approve tax hikes for school safety initiatives.

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