Hamilton County Voters Once Again Say Yes to Education

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May 3, 2017 10:55 AM

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Last year was Hamilton Southeastern’s turn for a school referendum vote, but for three other Hamilton County school corporations, 2017 was a referendum year.  Normally, Indiana does not hold elections the year after presidential balloting.

The only exception to that rule is a school referendum for more funding.  If a local school board chooses to hold a referendum asking taxpayers for more money, it’s the school system’s responsibility to pay the costs of the election, since there normally would not be one in 2017.  In other words, school officials need to be reasonably certain they can make the case for the tax increase.

Carmel, Westfield and Sheridan all asked for more tax money from their voters.  In all three cases, the voters said yes.  Each situation is a little different.

Carmel had approved what is termed an “operating referendum” before, but those votes only last seven years.  If the local school board wants to retain that tax levy, voters must renew the referendum.

The Carmel vote was about continuing to pay teachers and support staff.  Without the continued referendum money, teachers would be laid-off, many classes would grow in size and programs would need to be cut.

Voters in Carmel and Clay Township voted in favor of the continued referendum, with nearly 90% of those voting casting a yes ballot.  Therefore, there will be no layoffs, class sizes will remain steady and no programs will be cut.

In Sheridan, voters approved an operating referendum, with over 76% saying yes to higher taxes.  This will allow education programs to continue in that northwest Hamilton County largely rural school district.

The Westfield-Washington referendum was not so much about programs, but about buildings.  Westfield is experiencing the growing pains Fishers went through in recent years.  The voters there approved the referendum to construct the buildings needed to handle the student population growth, but the margin was smaller than the other two Hamilton County votes.

The Westfield margin of victory was 54% to 45%.  Out of 4,864 votes cast, the margin of victory was 398.

What this shows is that a stable and wealthy school corporation overwhelmingly approved their referendum in Carmel.  The Sheridan schools, more rural, said yes by a healthy margin.  The fast growing suburb of Westfield said yes by a smaller, but still clear, margin,

In covering the local Hamilton Southeastern School Corporation headquartered in Fishers, I have seen what the approval of an operating referendum can accomplish – elementary class sizes are down, education programs have been enhanced and a mental health program is being implemented.

The property tax caps have required school referenda in Indiana, and so far, Hamilton County voters have backed local educators when the case for more tax money is explained.

However, it is discouraging to see how low the turnout was.  According to the Hamilton County Election Office, fewer than 16% of registered voters bothered to cast a ballot.  If you crunch the numbers among eligible voters, the percentage is much smaller.  Once again, communities throughout Indiana need to come together and deal with the low turnout issue in local elections.

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