Parents, taxpayers react to IPS proposal to ask voters to raise taxes

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indianapolis Public Schools parents and taxpayers reacted Friday to the district potentially asking voters to raise taxes to improve facilities and expand education opportunities.

In a board meeting Thursday night, district leaders showed a presentation that said a tax increase of an additional $6 for most homeowners would result if voters approved the two proposed referendums.

Information presented during the IPS Board meeting suggested the balloting could happen in May. The board could decide in December whether to put the referendums on the May ballot.

One of the proposed referendums would raise $410 million for capital improvements, and the other would raise operating funds totaling $50 million. A total of $800 million in funding from the referendums, if approved by voters, would be used over the next few years.

The last referendum the district had was approved in 2018, raising $52 million for capital improvements.

In a statement to News 8, IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said:

“From the development of a vibrant and fulfilling experience for all students to how we fund the enhanced opportunities for them, the desire and need for community input and support has been a consistent theme of the Rebuilding Stronger draft planning process.  With the full support of the community via the referendums, we will be able to provide high-quality educational facilities that are safe, warm and welcoming, expand the offerings and experiences that our students have, and offer compensation that supports our outstanding teachers and support staff.

“By doing this, we project continued student growth and proficiency in the classroom and on statewide assessments, as well as in graduation rates. As a family of schools in which the majority of students are students of color, the elimination of the achievement gap between these students and their peers is critical. Through Rebuilding Stronger, we are aligning values and resources. The investment in the student experience will send ripple effects throughout the entire community for decades to come.”

Dontia Dyson, an IPS parent and taxpayer who is also an advocate with Stand for Children Indiana, reacted to the burden of added taxes: “Then you have inflation with all the prices. Most parents in IPS are middle and lower class. So, when you talk about this referendum dollar, it’s estimated to come out to almost $800 million, as parents, as taxpayers, I would like to still be heard, and I understand the plan. I actually like a lot of things that she’s doing with the plan, but the opportunity gap is very important.”

Stand for Children Indiana’s focus has been for the district to address equity gaps in their Rebuilding Stronger reorganization proposal.

In a statement to News 8, the organization said Thursday:

“As an organization that spent significant resources supporting the 2018 IPS referenda, we certainly understand the need to invest in our local public schools. While we look forward to hearing the full details of this latest referenda proposal, I’m confident the parents we work with will have several questions that need to be addressed, starting with the strategy that drives this ask of taxpayers.

“Black and Brown families have been clear in their feedback to IPS that the Rebuilding Stronger plan misses the mark when it comes to equitable opportunities for students. The plan greatly expands a school program that has among the worst racial testing gaps in the entire state of Indiana. What even more problematic< leaving out a key parent request to grow a local public school model that is seeing proficiency that is four times the state average for children of color. In hearing from our Stand parent advocates these last several months, I think it is safe to say that growing schools that are working best for children who have been historically underserved must be a key part of any plan funded by this potential referenda.

“It’s our hope that IPS will listen to the constructive feedback being offered by parents — especially parents of color — when it comes to both the referenda and the Rebuilding Stronger plan. For Stand to support any future referenda, the plan for utilizing this new taxpayer funding must be rooted in equity.”

Justin Ohlemiller, executive director, Stand for Children Indiana

Latoya Hale Tahirou, another IPS parent and taxpayer who is a Stand for Children advocate, said, “I appreciate some of the hard work that has taken place, but, specifically, when you talk about the referendum and the Rebuilding Stronger plan, there’s still some concerns that us parents have before we can even support a referendum and ask taxpayers for money to push a plan that we would like to see kind of be critiqued and updated.”

The district said the referendum would go toward its 31,000 students supported by quality teachers and staff.

Indiana Department of Education statistics, last updated for the 2020-21 school year, say IPS has 22,928 students.

Hearings about the referendum proposal could come in mid-November, with a final decision and vote from the board on Dec. 6.

The IPS release issued Thursday said the proposed referendum came after “considerable public input” following the release of its draft of the Rebuilding Stronger plan in September.