Edinburgh schools consider referendum

EDINBURGH — For years, the student population at Edinburgh schools has been shrinking, and the district has been struggling to make ends meet with the money it gets from property taxes and the state of Indiana.

Now, Edinburgh schools is considering a property tax hike in the form of a referendum that would fund additional programming, raises for teachers and school buses.

Programming improvements would include pursuing certification in science, technology, engineering and math — or STEM — at Edinburgh Community High School and Edinburgh Community Middle School, to join East Side Elementary School, which is already STEM certified. The district would also hire a teacher for English language learners, said Ronald Ross, superintendent.

If approved by voters, it would raise property taxes in Blue River and German townships by 40 cents for every $100 of assessed value for eight years, which would raise about $720,000 a year. The owner of a $100,000 home would pay $10.22 more a year, and the owner of a $200,000 home would pay $32.58 more a year, according to district documents put together by Baker Tilly U.S. LLP, a Chicago-based public accounting and consulting firm.

For the referendum question to make its way onto ballots in May, the school board and Johnson County and Bartholomew County election boards would have to approve it. The referendum question will likely go before the school board in December or January, Ross said.

The starting teacher salary at Edinburgh schools is $40,000 a year, thousands of dollars less than the base salary for full-time teachers at Center Grove, Clark-Pleasant, Franklin and Greenwood schools. At Greenwood schools, for example, starting teachers make $47,258. Greenwood schools’ budget is $47.6 million, more than five times higher than Edinburgh schools’ $9.1 million budget, according to Indiana Gateway, a state budget reporting website.

A target salary for teachers at Edinburgh schools has not been established yet, Ross said.

“It is becoming increasingly hard for the district to retain and attract qualified (teachers) and staff members,” he said. “Neighboring districts are able to pay their employees significantly higher wages than (Edinburgh schools) is able to pay. We want to increase staff salaries to retain our staff and be competitive with neighboring school districts.”

While student populations at other local districts are increasing, the student population at Edinburgh schools has decreased to 814 from 904 students during the 2015-16 school year, Ross said.

Public school districts also get money from property taxes, and relatively low property values, along with the circuit breaker tax caps which limit how much homeowners pay in property taxes, have slimmed Edinburgh’s funding. Edinburgh schools misses out on $269,000 to $356,000 a year due to circuit breaker tax caps, he said.

Without the referendum, the district will continue to hemorrhage money and people won’t want to move to Edinburgh, which would exacerbate the problem, Ross said.

Property values in Edinburgh are much lower than other Johnson County communities. The average property value in the district from 2015 to 2019 was about $96,800, according to Baker Tilly.

Comparatively, the average property value in Franklin is about $222,000, according to Zillow, an online real estate marketplace.

Without the referendum, Edinburgh schools will continue to lag behind nearby school districts’ in terms of resources and teacher pay, and school officials may have to cut staff and consolidate with another school district, Ross said.

“If the referendum does not pass, (Edinburgh schools) will be unable to increase staff salaries, it will become increasingly more difficult to retain and attract qualified staff members, (Edinburgh schools) will lack the resources necessary to increase student achievement, student enrollment will continue to decline, deficit spending will continue and major program and staff cuts will be necessary,” he said.

“This will exacerbate the other issues and within five to six years, (Edinburgh schools) will be forced to consolidate and lose its independence. In addition, this will greatly decrease the likelihood of residential development in our community.”