Some good election coverage of school referendum ballot questions from Eric Weddle & Kristen Adair at WFYI and from Aleksandra Appleton at Chalkbeat Indiana. West Lafayette’s referendum was up for renewal for the third time (first passed in 2010 and renewed in 2017) and passed handily with 80.46% in favor (2009 “yes” versus 488 “no.”) This is down from a gaudy 94.27% in 2017 (2,105 “yes” versus 128 “no”), but that’s not really a fair comparison. The 2017 campaign was a special election where that was the only item on the ballot. The pro-referendum PAC (which I helped) put a lot of effort going door-to-door and making sure people in support got to the polls. This year, the question appeared along side municipal races and the pro-referendum PAC took a more low key approach. As I said in 2017, the need to renew the referendum is a waste of time and effort – it’s make-work by the state. In West Lafayette, there was no appetite to eliminate the current tax rate. The burden is reasonable and the results of that funding have been very good. However, the process is incredibly stressful for school personnel, and it is not conducive to long term planning. In my mind, a better approach would be to leave the rate intact until someone gathered enough signatures to put the question on the ballot. If the community is happy, why go through this process?
On the flip side, of the four referendums that failed last night, three of them were in Lake County: Hammond, Lake Central, and Whiting. (The fourth was a school safety referendum for Bluffton Harrison in Wells County. (Technically, it was four out of the five that failed were in Lake County. Hammond had both a construction referendum and an operating referendum fail.) Correlation is not causation, but as it happens, Lake County is one of the pilot counties in this year’s legislation that requires referendum money to be shared with area charter schools. If the referendums had passed, Hammond would have been the only one required to share because Lake Central and Whiting had their question approved in May before the legislation went into effect. But it’s hard telling how aware the public was of any of these distinctions. Both the operating and construction questions in Hammond went down hard – 24%/76% for the construction question and 21%/79% for the operating question. Lake Central was a squeaker with 49.7% in favor and 50.3% opposed.
Carmel Clay, Hamilton Southeastern, Monroe County, Northeast Dubois, Sheridan, and Fort Wayne were also successful.
I think these school funding questions for localities can turn into virtuous cycles and into death spirals. In West Lafayette, people are willing to fund the schools because they’re good and the schools are good because people are willing to fund them. In other places, the opposite dynamic can take hold: people don’t want to fund the schools because they are bad and the schools are bad because people don’t want to fund them.