Indiana elections 2019: Carmel Clay Schools passes state’s first school safety referendum

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Indy Star on 11/5/2019 by Arika Herron

Carmel Clay Schools passed Indiana’s first school safety referendum, asking voters to approve a new type of property tax increase to pay for improved security measures.

Carmel, the first district to test the new tool created by lawmakers earlier this year, was one of 10 school districts around the state asking voters for more money. Six of those districts were successful, passing seven different ballot measures.

The district, which passed the measure with 68.5% support, will use the $40 million generated over the next eight years to pay for more police officers and bolster mental health supports for students.

“We couldn’t be happier,” said Superintendent Michael Beresford.

In Marion County, Lawrence Township Schools was seeking a boost of $191 million to fund major renovations at both of its high schools, in addition to work at several elementary schools and early learning centers.

“We’ve had a tremendous amount of support,” said Lawrence Superintendent Shawn Smith.

While the high school renovations — expected to take three years to complete — are the largest projects, Smith said 10 schools will be touched by the referendum, which passed with support from 67.8% of voters.

Zionsville Schools brought both an operating and a construction referendum to voters, seeking to replace a previous referendum, fund lower class sizes and raise $89 million for various construction projects that would include a new elementary school.

Both passed with the support of more than three-quarters of voters.

In Johnson County, a referendum from Center Grove Schools was voted down by nearly two-thirds of voters.

The district was seeking a tax hike to improve safety, though using the traditional operating referendum mechanism to do so, asking voters to approve an increase to raise about $24 million over the next eight years. With that money, the school district was hoping to implement a series of extensive upgrades to safety measures in all its schools, including the addition of school resources officers, new technology and mental health services.

Of the 13 school referendums on ballots across the state, six failed.It’s the lowest referendum passage rate since November 2014. Experts have said that the state could see passage rates fall as more districts attempt referendums.

Danville Schools lost both referendums it placed on the Hendricks County ballot. Huntington County Community Schools also failed to pass either of its referendums. Washington Community Schools, in Daviess County, lost a construction referendum.

In addition to the successful referendums in Carmel, Lawrence Township and Zionsville, voters approved asks from Vigo County Schools, Hamilton Community Schools and Scott County School District Number 1.

Prior to this election, schools only had two referendum types to choose from: those used to fund construction projects or those to fund general operating needs. Over the past several years, districts had started to put operating referendums on local ballots for safety-related reasons.

Last November, nine of 12 districts added safety and security initiatives to their ballot questions and another eight districts did so in this year’s May primary.

Among them were Franklin Community Schools, which passed a referendum to support the expansion of mental health services available to students and raises for teachers and support staff and Wayne Township Schools, which sought a tax hike to maintain many of the academic services they offer now, but also to continue its school resource officer program.

Carmel Clay’s superintendent, Beresford, said his district jumped at the chance to use the new safety referendum created by lawmakers during the legislative session earlier this year.

It was easier to communicate to the public, he said. When voters asked if the money would be spent on any non-safety initiatives, the district was able to explain that state law prohibited it.

“I’m just so thankful,” Beresford said. “It’s a really important day for the Carmel community and and even more important day for the students at Carmel Clay.”