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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

IPS’ operating tax referendum won’t happen but district overhaul continues

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The Indianapolis Public Schools district officially announced it will no longer try to place a $413.6 million operating property tax referendum on the May primary ballot. The new funds were to help pay for a sweeping remake of academic and other offerings for elementary and middle school students. 

But the plan to close or merge six schools after the current academic year will still continue. 

“In our community, we need to have some long, hard conversations about what comes next,” Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said in a video sent to families Friday about the Rebuilding Stronger plan. 

The announcement comes a week after the IPS board of commissioners delayed a vote to put the referendum on the Marion County primary ballot. The board had until a Feb. 17 state deadline to approve the levy. 

Students, families and advocates of charter schools have opposed the referendum for months. Longtime district collaborators, such as the Indy Chamber, The Mind Trust and Stand for Children have also refused to support the referendum because it doesn’t give equal per student funding to the district’s innovation charter partners or the city’s independent charter schools.

“I have to believe that we all want for other people’s children, what we want for our own,” Johnson said in the video. “And it profoundly saddens me that there are those in our community who question if and what our children deserve.”

Johnson said the district is “committed to the benefits” of the Rebuilding Stronger plan, which aims to reallocate resources to boost academic performance, especially among students of color.

Parts of the plan, such as the expansion of algebra math to all middle school students, was identified as requiring funds from the operations referendum to be carried out. Currently just 34 percent of those students have access to the course.

“I will not see the vision that this community came together around diminished by the politics of zero sum games and either/or thinking,” Johnson said. “That’s a game that no one wins and kids lose. It may not be fast or easy, but with your support, we will rebuild stronger for all of our students.” 

The plan also includes closing or merging six schools, providing more academic and performing arts courses to all schools and redistributing pre-K seats so they are more accessible to families in neighborhoods across the district. It’s still unclear how the district will pay for these projects without a referendum as the district prepares for a $25 million annual deficit by 2027

The IPS board already approved a $410 million capital referendum for the May 7 primary ballot to fund building renovations at more than two dozen facilities and construction for a new elementary building. Construction will take place from 2023-2025.

If approved, the local property tax levy for the capitol referendum would be no more than $0.2066 per $100 of assessed value. It would add $3.18 per month in property taxes to homeowners of a median-valued property.

Homeowners in the IPS district already pay for an operations referendum passed in 2018. That eight-year levy is 0.19 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Contact WFYI education reporter Elizabeth Gabriel at egabriel@wfyi.org. Follow on Twitter: @_elizabethgabs.

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