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State law is keeping the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. from lobbying for a ballot referendum that would make prekindergarten available to economically disadvantaged families.
The wording of the referendum itself has become a second obstacle.
Superintendent John Quick said he and his employees have adhered strictly to the rules, even though the rules somewhat tie the hands of the school district.
“It’s just another one of those structural hurdles we have to get past,” Quick said. “It does make communication tougher.”
Quick distributed a memo in June that explained to all school system employees that they could use neither school facilities nor equipment to encourage support or denial of the referendum. The memo also explained that the employees could not use company time toward those same causes.
The reason for the state law is that it would be a conflict of interest to let people who are paid with public tax dollars use facilities and equipment that also are paid for with tax dollars, according to Jenny Banks, director of communications for the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance.
Wording of the Nov. 6 referendum, which appears on Bartholomew County ballots for voters who live within the school district, follows a standard state template. It asks voters only if they would pay an extra 5 cents per $100 of their homes’ assessed values on their property taxes. It does not mention that the extra money would be used for preschoolers.
For the 7 calendar year or years immediately following the holding of the referendum, shall the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation impose a property tax that does not exceed five cents ($0.05) on each one hundred dollars ($100) of assessed valuation and that is in addition to the school corporation’s normal tuition support tax rate?”
State Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, said the state modified the school district’s draft of the referendum because it mentioned childhood education. Smith said inclusion of that description could unfairly slant results, despite seemingly neutral language. He said the reason the state allows only the tax information on a referendum is that it gets to the heart of the matter, which is money.
Smith said he is convinced Bartholomew County people already know that early childhood education is the reason for the bare-bones language, given extensive coverage the issue has received in the newspaper.
Quick said he understands the state’s stance.
“On the one hand, you want to be able to tell your story,” he said. “On the other hand, a candidate doesn’t get to put his platform next to his name on the ballot, either.”
He said the school system used to get referendum wording onto the ballot pretty much untouched, but that was before the Indiana General Assembly began requiring state approval.
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