The only thing wrong with the Monroe County Community Schools Corporation tax referendum renewal, in the eyes of the YesForMCCSC committee, is the lack of knowledge about it.
Paul Farmer, a teacher at Bloomington High School North, said the first thing people will see on the ballot when they see the referendum is more taxes and will vote no.
“We still have parents of students who don’t even know about the referendum,” Farmer said.
The MCCSC tax referendum calls for a renewal of funding for the school district to support staffing needs and to provide programs for students throughout the district.
Farmer said the need for the referendum stems from former governor Mitch Daniels making $300 million cuts to public education in 2009. This, Farmer added, forced schools to make choices, MCCSC chose to go after the first referendum in 2010.
When the cuts went through in 2009, the district lost $2.5 million out of their budget, resulting in cutting all extra-curricular activities and some personnel — including teachers.
Lynn Coyne, co-chair of the YesforMCCSC referendum committee, said people in the community quickly became involved in working to help the situation.
“A lot of community fundraising took place to reinstate the extra-curricular activities,” Coyne said. “But by state law the only way to raise funds to help the budget of the corporation was to have a referendum adding a real estate tax amount.”
The referendum proposal was placed on the ballot that year, resulting in $7.5 million additional funding. Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer, an advocate and candidate for school board this November, said people who had never gone door-to-door or made phone calls for a cause became active in the community.
“Now, six years later we’ve got it back on the ballot, it’s a lot less visible,” Fuentes-Rohwer said. “There is so much going on in this election.”
Farmer said if the referendum is not renewed this November, MCCSC will run out of official referendum funding in December. He said while the district has been fiscally responsible, the referendum renewal allows them to continue throughout the year with the current programs.
He said the referendum dollars goes to paying individuals, and very rarely does the money go to material things. Technology and other departments including transportation come from different taxing groups.
“It’s all about staff,” Farmer said. “So, if the referendum fails, we’re going to be losing people. Class sizes will go up, and we’ll lose programs the students need.”
Programs such as Artful Learning at Fairview Elementary and STEM-oriented schools including Grandview Elementary are both programs that could become jeopardized due to a lack of staff if the referendum is not passed, Farmer said.
Coyne said the committee has had more time to publicize the referendum than they did in 2010. Before the school board officially adopted the resolution in July to place the referendum on the ballot, the committee went to school events, spoke with parent-teacher organizations and other school groups to make them aware of the vote early.
Farmer said in the 2010 vote, the committee members would have teachers send home papers with students to remind parents about the referendum and actively campaign as teachers to students.
But unlike the original passing of the referendum in 2010, teachers and other district employees are no longer allowed to actively campaign during school hours or on school grounds.
“I can’t wear, as a teacher, the referendum t-shirt to school,” Farmer said. “I can’t hang up a sign in my classroom. Needless to say, communication has been a very difficult thing.”
He said he does encourage his students to vote in general, though he is not allowed to advocate for specific issues.
“I’ve talked to my students in the classroom, because I have seniors who are eighteen, and I ask them if they’re registered,” Farmer said. “Because these students need to become active.”
He said in the last sentence of the paragraph on the ballot about the referendum, the committee mentions the proposal is a renewal. He said the tax referendum does not mean more taxes, but a maintaining of the current tax rate in place.
“You don’t want to wake up on Nov. 9 and say ‘I wish I would’ve’,” Farmer said. “Never change the past, just work for the future.”
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