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Last modified: Thursday, May 5, 2011

Despite school referenda failures on Tuesday, Indiana now a “referenda state”

Center for Evaluation and Education Policy examines the vote, updates online database

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 5, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Continuing a trend, most of the school referenda on ballots across Indiana failed during Tuesday's election. Despite that losing streak, an education policy analyst with the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy (CEEP) at the IU School of Education expects as many or more referenda to be on ballots this November.

Terry Spradlin

Photo by Kip May

Terry Spradlin

Print-Quality Photo

"We've become a referendum state," said Terry Spradlin, director of education policy at CEEP. "The General Assembly did increase funding for K-12 education but just by half a percent in the first year and one percent in the second year of the new biennium (the two-year state budget), and increases in school district expenses are continuing to exceed the revenue increases from the state. Because of these funding challenges, we will continue to see a good number of referenda each election cycle."

Just how many will be on the fall ballot isn't clear yet, Spradlin said, but he did indicate many school districts are considering taking funding measures to the voters because of financial strain.

On Tuesday, only three of seven referenda on the ballot passed. Voters passed both construction and general fund referenda for the Metropolitan School District of Perry Township. Crown Point Community School Corp. also succeeded in passing a general fund measure. But a construction referendum failed for the Oak Hill United School Corp. in Grant County, and general fund votes lost in Metropolitan School District of Franklin Township in Marion County, Avon in Hendricks County, and the North Adams Community Schools in Decatur.

"The results are indicative of shaky consumer confidence and the economy," Spradlin said. "And still, an anti-tax increase climate remains as was apparent on Tuesday."

An online database at the CEEP website -- http://ceep.indiana.edu/DISR/ -- is now updated with the primary results to reflect the trend for referenda over the last three years. Tuesday's vote continues a low percentage of referenda passing statewide. "Since 2008 just 40.3 percent have passed -- or 27 out of 67 have passed of both types since the May primary in 2008, with 40 referenda or 59.7 percent having failed over this time," Spradlin said.

The most recent losses may force further and more dramatic spending cuts for some districts. Leadership in Franklin Township has said the district may cut as many as 81 teachers, close three schools and end transportation service.

"When we consider all expenses including teacher pensions, utility costs, transportation fuel costs and rising health insurance expenses, the cost of doing business probably exceeds the level of the state tuition support increase that schools are going to be receiving," Spradlin said. "So they're going to have to make tough financial decisions regarding school closures, staff and teacher layoffs, and program elimination or program reduction, as well as implementing fee-for-service or fee-to-participate type programs -- the 'pay for play' concept to participate in athletics or extracurricular activities."

CEEP's updated referenda database is part of the center's ongoing nonpartisan education policy efforts. In upcoming weeks, CEEP will release several more publications and conduct workshop sessions related to the issues of school funding and education reform measures passed in the Indiana General Assembly including:

  • an education policy brief in mid- to late May on the outcomes and trends of school district referenda, including new procedures, campaign restrictions and procedures that were established in House Enrolled Act 1238-2011;
  • "Perspectives of Key K-12 Legislation of 2011," the annual wrap-up regarding education matters in the General Assembly, including analysis and commentary from education stakeholders in schools, business and government;
  • a policy brief in June on new teacher evaluation requirements and their implementation;
  • a policy brief in July comparing Indiana's vastly expanded voucher program to those in other states, funding and legal issues, as well as guidance on how voucher program outcomes should be assessed in the future;
  • CEEP staff will be participating in upcoming conferences for Indiana's mayors and school administrators.

CEEP, one of the country's leading nonpartisan education policy and program evaluation centers, promotes and supports rigorous evaluation and research primarily, but not exclusively, for educational, human services and nonprofit organizations. Center projects address state, national and international education questions. CEEP, located within a highly-ranked School of Education at one of the world's largest research institutions, draws upon vast resources to deliver the most efficient combination of advanced evaluation methodologies, nonpartisan policy analysis and research, and cutting-edge technologies. To learn more about CEEP, go to http://ceep.indiana.edu.