A Tale of Two Cities (Lebanon & Zionsville): School Finance Edition

Carol S. Corner, writing for the Indiana Property Tax Reporter has a very interesting comparison on school funding as between Lebanon and Zionsville. The post is entitled Indiana Tax Reporter: The Indianapolis Business Journal Compares the Zionsville School District Seeking a Referendum with Lebanon’s Schools that are Fiscally Healthy. (It references the Indiana Business Journal, so I guess I don’t know off hand how much of the Property Tax Reporter post is attributable to the IBJ.)

Zionsville has a more high end, residential population while Lebanon is more blue collar with more industry and warehousing. Changes in the last 5 years or so, significantly those having to do with the imposition of property tax caps have resulted in Lebanon having a much better school funding situation than Zionsville.

That outcry led the Indiana General Assembly to overhaul both property taxes and school funding during its 2008 session. Beginning in 2009, homeowners could be taxed no more than 1 percent of the assessed value of their homes. Farms could be taxed up to 2 percent of their value and businesses could be taxed up to 3 percent of their value.

At the same time, the state of Indiana raised sales taxes statewide and used the extra money, in part, to take over all financing of schools’ general funds. Districts with healthy property tax revenue now can use those funds only to pay for buildings and buses, not to pay teachers or to fund educational programs.

Then came the recession, which ultimately led Gov. Mitch Daniels to cut school funding $150 million, meaning all schools were getting less per student for their educational programs than before.

The Legislature’s 2008 actions “changed the game,” said Dax Norton, a Zionsville resident who is executive director of the Boone Economic Development Corp., based in Lebanon.

“The General Assembly basically said, ‘If you want to continue to survive, if you want to continue to innovate, you’re going to have to play the economic development game.’”

(The outcry being primarily from citizens in high-end, under-assessed older homes who were abruptly being asked to pay property taxes based on the actual market value of their homes.)

Anyway, the whole article is an interesting read. I recommend it.

Public Instruction

Joy Leiker of the Muncie Star Press has an article on Superintendent of Public Instruction (But Certainly not a Creationist) Tony Bennett’s latest proposition for changing the rules about who can teach. On its face, it seems more or less plausible: cut out the bureaucracy and focus more on the substantive education, making sure the teachers have more expertise in the subject areas they are teaching.

But, not to put too fine a point on it, I don’t trust the messenger. There has been a fervor for breaking the teacher’s unions – and where proposals for education reform might tend to break the union, my cynicism leads me to believe that’s the purpose of the exercise.

I don’t know the specifics of Bennett’s proposals – my fault. But as a general rule, I would suggest that the younger the child, the more important the teacher have received education about how to teach as opposed to, necessarily, education in the particular field. It’s much more important that a first grade teacher know how to communicate with six year olds than that the teacher know differential equations before teaching the kids addition and subtraction.

My passing impression of the education system is that there is plenty of unnecessary bureaucracy and job-protecting jargon. But, efforts to cut through those things should be coupled to a commitment to paying and treating our educators like professionals. The article briefly mentions Bennett’s apparent belief that teachers can cram their continuing education in during some unspecified period of the day reminds me a bit of Wal-mart managers who locked their employees in the stores and required them to work without pay.