‘Anything can happen’: BCSC thanks community for support of the referendum

Bentley Goff stands with his mother Karla as she votes in the Indiana Primary Election at Donner Center in Columbus, Ind., Tuesday, June 2, 2020. Mike Wolanin | The Republic

“In Columbus, anything can happen.”

Those were the words of Janice Montgomery, a Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. retired teacher and administrator, as she and other political action committee members waited for results to come in for the long-awaited referendum.

And as the numbers came in, she was proven right.

The BCSC referendum passed, with 9,356 people (61.33%) voting for and 5,900 people (38.67%) against the proposal.

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The referendum question read: “For the eight (8) calendar years immediately following the holding of the referendum, shall Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation impose a property tax rate … for the purpose of increasing compensation for teachers and support staff and maintaining student safety?”

As results came in, Superintendent Jim Roberts said that he was heartened by the community’s response.

“It’s shown us that the people in this community care deeply about our kids,” he said. “They do understand that we cannot thrive as individuals or collectively as a community without strong schools. And they also understand that the strength of a school is not because of the school building itself, but instead the people who are in it.”

During a Zoom call that was publicly streamed over Facebook as results came in, Montgomery thanked the community for its support.

“Thanks to every volunteer who called community friends, provided that testimony, talked to a neighbor, had a yard sign (even though it was bent sideways most of the time with the wind), wrote a letter, did a mailing or supported the effort in any way,” she said. “Thanks to our students for inspiring our staff, for wanting the very best education possible in this community.”

She and Roberts also thanked voters, community partners, the PAC team, city and county leaders, area boards and coalitions, the school board, financial donors and BCSC staff members.

“Sincere appreciation to the hard work of our teaching staff and support staff members. In my mind, the value to the community of our teachers and support staff has never been more apparent than it was this past nine weeks,” Roberts said. “This has been an interesting challenge over the last few weeks, and to see the way that our staff has risen to the occasion to ensure that, regardless of difficult circumstances, our students continue to be fed.”

Roberts said one of the factors that helped the referendum was likely the level of education about it and how much information was available to the community. He also thinks it helped that BCSC started campaigning and spreading information early. He said that while he’s unsure if voter turnout played a role in the result, he thought that voter participation was much higher than he anticipated, given the delayed election date.

Assistant Superintendent and Director of Finance Chad Phillips said that BCSC’s transparency about the referendum was probably a deciding factor, as it helped address community concerns about how the money would be spent.

The referendum will generate about $7.8 million per year in additional property tax revenue to fund teacher and support staff salary increases and student safety. BCSC property taxes will be raised by $0.156 per $100 of assessed value to roughly $1.01 starting in 2021. BCSC officials initially had sought a $0.195 per $100 of assessed valuation increase, but lowered the request before the public information sessions began.

A total of 86.5% of the increased property tax revenue will be spent on employee recruitment and retention and 13.5% on student safety, according to figures from BCSC. The latter category includes plans for “funding for existing school resource officers, mental health counselors in all buildings, and to update the bus fleet so that no buses are older than 12 years old.”

Vice President of the Columbus Educators Association Mandy Keele, who also teaches at Southside Elementary School and is involved in the referendum’s political action committee, said that the mental health side of the referendum will be “incredibly vital” as schools address the emotional and mental impact of the COVID-19 crisis and shutdown on students.

According to a property tax calculator on BCSC’s website, a home with an assessed value $141,800 — the average home value in BCSC’s tax district — will see an estimated annual property tax increase of $93.48, or $7.79 per month. A property assessed at a value of $300,000 could expect to see an increase of around $253.89 per year, or $21.16 per month.

Bartholomew County’s property tax rate in 2019 was $0.8512, lower than the state average of $1.07, according to figures provided by BCSC.

The pay increase for teachers will begin in January of 2021, but the property tax increase will not begin until May of 2021.

Expect to see a similar referendum in the 2028 primary election. According to BCSC’s website, “The need to invest in local public school employee salaries will not go away at the end of the 8-year period. BCSC will likely ask to renew the referendum, as long as the state legislature still allows this one method for increasing local revenues. This is essentially a request to reset the base property tax rate.”

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BCSC Referendum