Indy Chamber won’t back IPS referendum plans; board vote imminent
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — School leaders and parents on Friday were raising concerns a day ahead of the Indianapolis Public Schools Board vote on its proposed operating referendum.
The board meeting will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Madam Walker Legacy Center, 617 Indiana Ave.
The IPS Board on Dec. 7 unanimously approved a one-time $410 million capital referendum for the May ballot to fund construction projects proposed under the Rebuilding Stronger plan. The board still has to vote on the operating referendum, which if approved Saturday, would also be on the May ballot.
IPS said in an Jan. 19 news release, “The operating referendum would invest in students and staff, ensuring that all students have access to higher-quality programs and experiences and that the district would pay competitive salaries to attract and retain high-level educators.”
IPS also said in the news release that the operating referendum could raise $50 million to $51 million annually until 2031. If the operating referendum is approved by the board and later voters, IPS says, the local property tax rate would rise from 19 cents to no more than 25 cents on each $100 of assessed valuation starting in 2024.
Both referendums, if approved by voters, would raise property taxes about $6 month for the “typical homeowner,” IPS says.
For years, the Indy Chamber has partnered with Indianapolis Public Schools for its economic investments in education. On Friday, Indy Chamber took a stand against the school district’s referendum plans. Chamber leaders urged school officials to delay further action on their referendum proposals until they create a plan that best addresses business and community concerns.
The chief executive officer of charter school operators Paramount Schools of Excellence, Tommy Reddicks, stands behind the Indy Chamber. “I do feel that this is happening too fast, that we need to take a longer, harder look at what’s been proposed in this referendum. I think delaying this until the fall gives us the chance to put additional legislation in place for referendum hearing for everybody.”
In a statement, the Indy Chamber says there are several questions left unanswered. One question: What are the district’s specific student outcome goals and how will implementation of the Rebuilding Stronger plan help achieve these goals?
Reddicks said, “We’re not seeing any financial transparency about how they’re going to support their own schools with referendum dollars. We’re only seeing the transparency of how they might support innovation schools.”
“We’re not seeing existing debt and what you would do with the existing income streams in the next eight years opposing really what the additional debt that they’re going to take on over the next eight years. I think they’re basically saying we’re in this horrifying debt position, so we have to have this $410 million in capital to cover our debt, but what truly is that position when we factor in the income that you have going forward without adding mega middle schools and this extra construction and what looks to be really lucrative contracts. I think if you pair some of that down that capital referendum dollar amount would be much lower.”
The Indy Chamber says in its statement that the majority of students who live in the IPS boundaries do not attend IPS-managed schools, including the majority of Black students and nearly half of Latino students.
Reddicks said, “We have a property tax and a sales tax issue. If there’s tax that’s being applied to a majority of the parents that aren’t supporting a majority of the students, we need to look at this district different than other districts in the state because it’s reached a tipping point where public dollars aren’t supporting public kids.”
Parent Irma Perdomo lives in Indianapolis. Perdomo says she recently put her kids in charter schools seeking better education. She says she’s fed up with the IPS district’s educational gap. “I believe that they have to take steps to make it more equal for everyone so that this can work, because if not, that gap will always be seen and each time we will be further away from closing it.”
News 8 reached out to Indianapolis Public Schools for comments on the Indy Chamber’s statement, but no response was made by 5 p.m. Friday.
Parents, students and community members with the group EmpowerED Families are opposed to the plan and say they will rally at the center starting at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.
News 8’s Gregg Montgomery contributed to this report.
“The Indy Chamber’s partnership with Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) spans two decades, and we recognize the critical role that IPS and other school systems play in educating Indianapolis’ young people, the challenges they face, and the social and economic importance of investments in education. We also recognize that IPS requires investment for its capital and operating needs.
However, IPS’ current referenda proposal and timeline have been insufficient to garner the Indy Chamber’s support at this time. We urge IPS and its Board of Commissioners to delay further action on their proposal until a plan can be developed that adequately addresses business and community concerns, including the following questions:
IPS’ academic proficiency and graduation rates have lagged far behind Marion County and state averages for years. What are the district’s specific student outcome goals, and how will implementation of the Rebuilding Stronger plan help achieve these goals? How will the community know IPS is on track?
The majority of students who live in the IPS boundaries do not attend IPS-managed schools, including the majority of Black students and nearly half of Latino students. How does the district’s plan impact these students? Why won’t Innovation Network Schools, that are part of the IPS family of schools, receive an equal portion of per-pupil funding?
IPS’ facilities currently have capacity for 46,000 students, while district enrollment has declined to its current population of 28,000. Will constructing three new buildings and closing six effectively right-size IPS to the appropriate facilities footprint? What facility utilization rate is IPS targeting? What feedback has IPS received from the community to affirm that the new Rebuilding Stronger zones meet existing family needs and will attract new students?
Other revenue and efficiencies alternatives must be explored, such as utilizing remaining federal relief funding, creative facilities reuse, and accounting for surplus revenues from the existing 2018 referenda. How can these alternatives be leveraged to reduce the need for an additional property tax increase and perhaps extend the timeline for raising new revenues?
Property values within IPS district boundaries have seen consecutive years of over 15% increases, impacting commercial investment, housing affordability for homeowners and renters, and attraction of new residents and businesses. Do the timing and amount of the planned property tax increase exacerbate economic challenges?
We believe that more time and engagement are required to allow the community to fully vet the current proposal, build support for a path forward, and work with state lawmakers to address inequities in the school funding formula that disadvantage IPS and many other schools across the state. The Indy Chamber looks forward to assisting district leaders in this work and remains committed to the success of IPS and its students.”