Fishers voters to consider school referendum in November


A school-funding tax referendum will be on the City of Fishers ballot Nov. 7, following a vote July 12 by the Hamilton Southeastern Schools Board of Trustees. 

The special school board meeting was held in conjunction with the Fishers City Council, which voted unanimously to approve a resolution supporting the referendum. 

In November, Fishers voters will decide whether to approve the new rate, which calls for a property tax levy of .1995 cents per $100 assessed value, providing school funding of an estimated $24 million. The current tax levy, approved by voters in 2016, expires at the end of the year. Through the 2016 referendum, property owners have paid .2275 cents per $100 assessed value. 

HSE Schools Superintendent Yvonne Stokes and HSE Schools Chief Financial Officer Katy Dowling gave a presentation during the meeting about how local funding has helped the district. Stokes said Hamilton Southeastern School District is rated A+ for Indiana public schools, and its two high schools are in the top-five in the country based on performance on assessments, and on how well they prepare students for life after high school. 

Stokes said the graduation rate is estimated at 98 percent, compared to the state average of 80 percent, and the number of district students who graduate with honors also is above average. She lauded the district’s dual-credit program, allowing students to earn college credits, and extra-curricular activities that help students gain life skills such as teamwork and cooperation. 

“We are really proud of everything that’s happened as a result of the referendum,” Stokes said, noting that the district had to make difficult cuts before the 2016 vote. 

Dowling provided what she referred to as the “mind-numbing-data part of the presentation,” and said that the referendum rate going before voters this year is an almost 20 percent reduction. But, she said, it will provide what the district needs, especially considering increases in property values.

Dowling noted that state funding for public education is not keeping up with inflation, and the referendum is needed to make sure the district can continue to attract quality teachers and provide the level of education the community wants. If the referendum doesn’t pass, she said, the cuts will be challenging. 

Dowling noted that most of the ballot language for the referendum is mandated by the state, and she said some of it is misleading. The language uses the word “increase” numerous times. She said the proposed levy is a decrease over the current rate, but they’re not allowed to say that in the ballot language. 

This is what voters will see on their ballots Nov. 7:

“Shall Hamilton Southeastern Schools continue to impose increased property taxes paid to the school corporation by homeowners and businesses for eight (8) years immediately following the holding of the referendum for the purpose of funding academic and educationally related programs, maintaining class sizes, retaining and attracting of teachers, essential safety initiatives, and changing the previously approved maximum referendum tax rate from $0.2275 to $0.1995? The property tax increase requested in this referendum was originally approved by the voters in May, 2016 and if extended will increase the average property tax paid to the school corporation per year on a residence within the school corporation by 20.8 percent and if extended will increase the average property tax paid to the school corporation per year on a business property within the school corporation by 20.8 percent.”

During public comment, 11 people spoke, all in favor of the referendum. 

Among them was Carolyn Porzuczek of the Hamilton Southeastern Education Association. She said teachers leave other districts in favor of jobs with HSE Schools because the district is one of the best in the state. 

“This is an amazing opportunity for the community,” she said. “We need to pass this to maintain our mission, to maintain academic excellence and continue to thrive. We have to move forward together.”

When introducing the city council resolution, Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness said residents are proud to be part of the Fishers community, because they believe it’s a place where their children will have a brighter future. 

“This issue, it’s about our community,” he said. “This community has chosen time and again to invest in ourselves. I’m certain that with your leadership, the return on investment will be worth the investment and sacrifice.”

The school board vote approving the resolution passed 6-0 with Board Secretary Tiffany Pascoe abstaining. Pascoe did not respond by deadline to a message seeking comment about her decision to abstain.