State Proposal To Limit Referendum Measures Catches School Advocates Off Guard

Feb 21, 2020

Franklin Community Schools asked voters to approve a referendum for the first time last year during a primary election. If the current language in HB 1222 remains, referenda would be limited to general elections.
Credit Lauren Chapman/IPB News

Lawmakers are considering restrictions on how often schools in need of additional funding can propose referendum measures to local taxpayers, and education groups are once again pushing back on the proposal.

Right now, schools can propose referenda twice a year and in school-funded special elections, but lawmakers added a proposal into a bill this week that would limit those to general elections – about once every two years.

Head of the Indiana Association of School Business Officials Denny Costerison says many people didn't know about the change until it had already been approved in committee.

"It was again one of those things that just happened. We found out after the fact," he says.

Several groups, including the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents (IAPSS), spent the week pressing lawmakers to get rid of that part of the bill. IAPSS Associate Director Robert Taylor says it would hurt efforts to address key funding issues, like teacher pay.

"One of the areas in many school corporations that you can help improve teacher compensation is through the referendum process," he says.

Taylor, Costerison and others say restricting referendum proposals will likely also increase the cost of construction projects.

Standalone bills to add referendum restrictions died this year and last year after failing to get enough support. Costerison, Taylor and others hope if the language is removed with enough support, it will send a clear message that referendum restrictions aren't necessary – or welcome.

Lawmakers are scheduled to vote on it in the coming days.