News and Tribune

Editorials

December 7, 2011

VAN HOY: Property tax caps put the squeeze on schools

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — In November 2010, 72 percent of Hoosiers cast a ballot in favor of adding property tax caps to the Indiana constitution. This came after two separately elected legislatures voted for the same measure.

Well, you get what you pay for … and pay for what you get sometimes.

The recent budget constraints placed on local governments, school systems — even libraries — can be traced in part to those votes. The crunch is at the head of the class at Greater Clark County Schools, where the school board was set to vote Tuesday night — before this column was written — on about $4 million in budget cuts.

It also appears a majority of board members believe the $225,000-per-year salary for Superintendent Stephen Daeschner is too expensive and the board will not renew his contract, despite academic gains.

To some people, this is all well and good. Some people want to pay less taxes and can live with less public services; I have no issue with that.

The problem comes when people demand lower taxes and then expect services — be it staffing at police or fire departments, the number of teachers in classrooms or snow removal — to stay the same.

In this case, Hoosiers are getting what they asked — or in this case voted — for.

When legislators imposed the caps, the state sales tax was boosted from 6 percent to 7 percent. That extra percent of revenue was to be directed to schools, according to a Wall Street Journal article.

Then, the recession hit and sales tax collections lagged, forcing budget cuts — including about $300 million for schools ordered in 2010 by Gov. Mitch Daniels, a proponent of the caps.

Southern Indiana teachers were laid off, some services were outsourced and, in the case of New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp., individual schools were closed.

Closing one school — Maple Elementary — was recently proposed by Daeschner and his administration, but teachers, students and parents rallied to convince the school board to keep Maple open.

I have no problem with a person, neighborhood or community fighting to save a school. But I have to wonder, how many of those parents and teachers voted in favor of adding the property tax caps to the Indiana constitution, and thus making the measure much harder to appeal? Was it 72 percent, just like the rest of the state?

It might not have directly led to the administration’s proposal to close Maple Elementary, but it certainly didn’t help the situation.

The Greater Clark board also considered outsourcing custodial management, a move projected to save about $1.7 million. That also was dismissed by the school board after emotional pleas. How many of those workers and family members voted in favor of the tax caps?

The fact is, voting for those caps saved some Hoosiers money on their property tax bills. But, it also siphoned control of tax dollars away from local governments — and school boards — and placed them in the hands of the state of Indiana.

Those who voted for the tax caps should keep that fact in mind when they say they can’t handle certain services being cut or a school closing.

You may not have known it at the time, but you are getting what you voted for.

— Shea Van Hoy is editor of the News and Tribune. Reach him via email at shea.vanhoy@newsandtribune.com.

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