Schools On The Ballot: Ft. Wayne And Southwest Allen County

May 3, 2016

Ten school-related measures will appear on local ballots May 3.
Credit Jessica Whittle Photography / Flickr

There are two types of school referendum a school district may put on a ballot– one that raises taxes to help with construction and renovation projects, or one that raises taxes to help the district’s general fund.

Ft. Wayne Community Schools and Southwest Allen County Schools are both asking voters to funnel tax dollars into local schools Tuesday.  

FT. WAYNE COMMUNITY SCHOOLS

Rather than raise taxes to complete a new construction project, FWCS is asking voters to continue paying an increased property tax rate for a multiyear project to renovate all of the district’s schools. That project comes with a $130 million price tag.

Voters first approved a referendum in 2012 so the district could begin a two phase process to renovate the district’s schools. If the referendum on the May 3 ballot passes, phase two of this project may begin.

Chief Financial Officer for the district Kathy Friend says the schools renovated during Phase one were the ten neediest schools in the district. A lot of these schools got huge renovations. Friend says phase two will do smaller renovations on 42 schools.

“In Phase one we gained over $200,000 in energy efficiency in a year because of having better, more efficient [heating and cooling] systems, windows and all of that,” Friend says.

The second phase will put new roofs on schools, update heating and cooling systems in other schools and add new parent drop off lanes at certain schools. It will also update lighting and security systems at some schools.

Phase one came in under budget by $2 million, and Friend says this probably helps contribute to the positive feedback she’s getting from community members about this referendum. She says the referendum has received endorsements from many community groups, but even if it doesn’t pass, she says the district needs this money to improve the schools.

“We would want to come back to the taxpayers soon after,” Friend says. “I know we have to wait a year but we would come back again and try to get this done. That will just delay progress and we would like to get going to get these things taken care of.”

SOUTHWEST ALLEN

Some school districts hope to make up funds lost to property tax and a new school funding formula. Southwest Allen County Schools is one of those districts.  

For Phil Downs, superintendent of Southwest Allen County Schools, it’s also a way to maintain local control of schools.

“It’s probably the only tax you’re going to pay where you know where every penny goes,” Downs said. “The other taxes go down into the big kiddie pool down in Indianapolis and gets divided up. With this one, every penny goes right to the schools and into fifty people’s pay checks.”

Southwest Allen Schools will present a ballot referenda on Tuesday that, if successful, would continue to fund 52 positions across the district. A 2009 ballot referendum has given Southwest Allen $3.5 million annually for the past seven years.

That ballot referendum is set to expire this year. Downs is relying on taxpayers to renew it.

Otherwise, it could mean personnel cuts across the district. According to Downs, roughly 11 percent of the district’s 430 staff get their paychecks from referendum funds.

“We are one of the lowest funded districts in the state, by the funding formula,” Downs said. “In order to compete class size-wise and have class sizes at a level that our parents are comfortable with, that’s what this referendum has been for and that’s what we’re going to continue to use it for.”