The Zionsville Community Schools Board of Trustees hopes they have better luck the second time around.
During a special meeting Wednesday night, Feb. 22, the board unanimously voted to put a referendum on the Tuesday, May 8, ballot that will ask voters to pay approximately $4.7 million annually for three years.
If the referendum passes in May, residents will pay a tax rate of 24.44 cents per $100 of assessed value. This is an increase from what taxpayers currently pay, which was $1.341 per $100 of assessed value, according to Zionsville Community Schools Superintendent Scott Robison’s presentation.
Robison presented three options from which the board could choose, and the board felt the middle option was the best.
“We are really up against the wall now and need to pick an option that will pass,” Board Member Jim Longest said. “We can’t afford it not to pass. Option B puts us on the road to restoring our schools.”
Board member Jane Burgess agreed with Longest.
“Option B is the one I have looked at very seriously,” she said. “I like option C, but we need to be realistic. It is critical we find a pathway forward for excellence. Not passing a referendum concerns me greatly.”
Board member Shari Alexander Richey felt that option B was also the best choice.
“If I could write a check, option C makes things where folks want it,” she said. “We have got to support B because it has the best chance of passing. Getting a goose egg the second time at the plate is not an option.”
Board member Bill Stanczykiewicz said he would vote for option B but would personally prefer a different option.
“My personal preference would be a combination of A and B, an A plus if you will,” he said. “Generally an A plus is a good thing in school. I personally prefer a shorter time period that would line ourselves up with the state budget. That way, we would be able to sign two year agreements and not have to rely on assumptions.”
Stanczykiewicz said the voters from the last referendum have been heard.
“The short term options bought us some time,” he said. “Perhaps this is the right size referendum for ‘no’ voters. Option C is larger than the one that failed and don’t have confidence it will pass.”
The referendum option is 17.3 percent lower than the referendum from 2010 and 57 percent shorter in duration.
Option B gives the schools the ability to hire 14 additional teachers, five science specialists for the elementary schools, two literacy specialists and five counselors.
Robison said this option will bring Zionsville Community Schools closer to the desirable class sizes that were established for excellence in the late 1990s.
“Since 2006, we have seen an increase in the number of our class sizes with more than 30 students,” he said. “In 2006, we had none; now we have 256. Right now, 46 percent of our class sizes are above metrics; with option B, we will see that number reduce to 26 percent, and the number of class sizes that are in the metrics range will grow from 43 to 130.”
Several residents spoke during the meeting and urged the board to vote for option C.
“Dealing with the kids future, I don’t feel comfortable being bold,” Board President Robert Wingerter said. “People don’t need a reason to vote ‘no’; they need one more reason to vote ‘yes’. B leaves some stress in the system, which is a good thing. From a taxpayer side, you want to keep the pressure on to find other ways to save money. Option B is a reasonable place to start.”
Wingerter said he knows some people will be upset.
“We can’t please everyone,” he said. “I think that’s the mark of a good decision.”
Alexander Richey said the community will have to get used to the idea of a referendum because of changes to public school funding.
“The attack on public school districts is one we knew was coming, but we didn’t know how ugly it was going to get,” she said. “The reality of referenda is one people will have to get used to. We will have to be very much like our contiguous neighbors in Michigan, Ohio and Illinois and make it a way of life.”
Wingerter closed the meeting with a final plea.
“For those of you that wanted more, please, for God’s sake, don’t vote ‘no’ because we need it,” he said. “For those of you that wanted less, remember that it’s going to the kids.”