Voters have rejected a proposed property tax increase that would have provided millions of dollars toward widening the availability of early childhood education in the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.
Tuesday’s referendum lost 11,291 to 13,019, or 46 percent to 54 percent.
Supporters said their next step will be to find new ways to help 4-year-olds be better prepared for kindergarten.
“No one out there wants parents of 4-year-olds not to have options,” said Lisa Deaton of Columbus, director of We the People Indiana, a political action committee that opposed the measure. “We’re just not sure it’s a program the public should pay for.”
For the seven calendar years immediately following the holding of the referendum, shall the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation impose a property tax that does not exceed 5 cents on each $100 of assessed valuation and that is in addition to the school corporation’s normal tuition support tax rate?
*Bartholomew County results
The school district had the referendum placed on the ballot in the hope of continuing and expanding programs that make prekindergarten accessible for all 4-year-olds, regardless of their parents’ economic backgrounds.
The measure proposed to raise residents’ property taxes by 5 cents per $100 of their homes’ assessed values, which would have generated $12.6 million in additional funds spread over seven years. That amounted to an extra $16 a year, with standard deductions, for a taxpayer with a $100,000 home.
A group called Pre-K for All promoted passage of the referendum with yard signs, postcard-style mailings and word-of-mouth communication. We the People Indiana had lobbied for defeat of the referendum with newspaper letters to the editor, utilization of the Facebook social-networking website, emails and word of mouth.
The Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County and the Community Education Coalition had pledged to give a total of $700,000 during the same seven-year period so private prekindergarten providers could distribute their own scholarships for their own programs.
Those organizations’ only condition was that the public approve the referendum so the Columbus-based public school system could continue its three-year pilot prekindergarten program known as the Busy Bees Academy. But the public turned it down.
John Burnett, president and CEO of the Community Education Coalition, which led the charge in favor of the preschool proposal, said he didn’t know what the next step should be to try to provide universal education for 4-year-olds.
“It’s a sad day, but we will move forward,” he said Tuesday night. “We’ve got to find a way to help these families. We’re not going to let them down.”
John Quick, superintendent of the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., said he respects the community’s decision against the referendum. He said the school administrators would meet with the Heritage Fund, the Community Education Coalition and other stakeholders to find new ways to serve 4-year-olds.
He said the school system and its partners might need to implement a completely different business model to make something happen.
Kendall Wildey, principal of Columbus Christian School, a private institution, said he wished the referendum would have passed, because it would have helped young children “get ahead of the game” on their education. But he said he is not overly disappointed, given that he can see both sides of the issue.
“Sometimes we don’t just allow our kids to be kids,” Wildey said.
Deaton said she believes the reason the referendum failed was a combination of people being fed up with taxes and that people didn’t see the value in starting a brand new program for 4-year-olds.
“The programs are there,” she said. “It’s just a matter of letting people know they’re available so everyone who wants to can take advantage.”
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