An Indiana education official is calling out Indianapolis Public Schools for how the district has handled a recent proposal to collect almost $1 billion from taxpayers over the next eight years.
Gordon Hendry, a member of the Indiana State Board of Education and an Indianapolis resident, said the district’s plan to ask voters this May to approve two referendums to increase funding has not been transparent. The proposed tax increase is also way too high, he said.
“This may be the most nonchalant billion-dollar tax increase ever approved by anyone,” Hendry, a Democrat, said Wednesday at the board’s February meeting.
So far, few education advocates or community organizations have been vocal in their support for the referendums, which total $936 million. Voters have raised concerns about the amount their taxes would increase and how the money would be spent.
The district has said one referendum would raise up to $92 million per year for eight years to pay for teacher raises, special education services, transportation and regular maintenance. The other asks voters to support $200 million in improvements to school buildings, primarily safety updates such as new lighting and door security.
Hendry said the district has not provided voters with enough information about what the new money would be used for, instead offering “general statements.” He said he thinks the district should already be able to cover those costs, such as transportation and facilities, with its existing state and local funding.
“Our entire state budget for education is $7 billion each year,” he said.
IPS, like other districts, receives state, local, and federal dollars. Hendry pointed out that under Indiana’s school funding formula, urban districts already receive more money per-student than other districts, although that is supposed to support students who might be more costly to educate than those in suburban or rural districts. Urban schools typically have more students living in poverty, learning English or with disabilities.
The referendums would come with considerable tax increases for those living within IPS boundaries, Hendry said, and would disproportionately affect low-income families.
Hendry didn’t limit his criticisms to IPS. He urged Indiana lawmakers to freeze all school funding referendums and set up a committee this summer to study how to improve the efficiency of district spending, as well as how to address “long-standing” problems with ensuring teachers are adequately paid.
Going forward, Hendry said referendums need more oversight. He proposed that the state board or mayors and city councils should approve them — a measure he said would increase accountability.
More than a third of school districts have asked for tax increases since state lawmakers capped how much local governments could collect in property taxes in 2008. About 60 percent of them have been successful, including six in Marion County.