FLOYD COUNTY — Floyd County voters rejected a referendum that would have expanded school safety services and security with funding from increased taxes.
In Tuesday’s Primary election, 7,438 people, or 52.49%, voted “no” to the School Safety Referendum, with 6,733 people, or 47.51%, voting in favor. If passed, the referendum would have funded both mental health services and enhanced physical security at schools in the New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp.
The proposed plan would have been funded through a tax levy of 8.5 cents for every $100 of property value over an eight-year period, and it would have brought the district $3.1 million a year. There would have been about $3.88 per month in taxes for the owner of a $128,000 home, according to previous reporting by the News and Tribune.
Under the School Safety Referendum, 70% of the money would have funded mental health, anti-bullying, violence prevention and addiction services, and the rest would have gone toward for physical building improvements, including better doors, increased surveillance and technology upgrade, along with additional school resource officers.
“I am really proud of the effort that was put forward to help our kids,” NAFC Superintendent Brad Snyder said. “We put out a strong policy for our community to consider. We had a large and talented group of committed volunteers who executed an exceptionally strong ground game. The merits of the policy for the kids and the community speak for itself. In the end, the limitations of COVID-19, the economic downturn, and low voter turnout hurt all efforts to engage voters to support their public schools. The timing did not work out.”
The NAFC school board voted unanimously in February to move forward with the safety referendum. The vote followed legislation passed by the Indiana General Assembly after a school shooting in Noblesville — the legislation allows schools the option to fund improvements through safety referendums decided by voters. NAFC was one of the first school districts in the state to move forward with such a referendum.
Many voters have been critical of the proposed tax increase. New Albany resident Teresa England voted against the referendum due to financial concerns. She recently lost her job at an orthopedic doctor’s office due to the pandemic, she said.
“I’m not disagreeing with what they want to do, but I don’t think that we need to keep raising our taxes for everything,” she said. “I think that money should come from somewhere else...Taxes keep going up, and right now I’m not working, and I just don’t have the money.”
New Albany resident Marti Coffey voted in favor of the safety referendum.
“I think it’s important that we have more mental health professionals in schools, and security is important, so having more law enforcement officers in schools is important to me,” she said. “Mental health is definitely an issue with our kiddos. I’m a social worker with [Floyd County] DCS, so I see a lot of our kiddos who are really struggling.”
NAFC school board member Elizabeth Galligan said she was disappointed to see voters reject the referendum.
“We have a great team that worked vey hard,” she said. “It was unfortunate timing with this virus happening, and it impeded us from going door-to-door getting [the] message out in-person. There are so many people affected employment-wise, and it’s a difficult time to ask for a tax increase. Going forward, I guess we will assess the district’s most pressing needs and move forward addressing those.”
A $1.5 million Lilly grant allowed the district to expand mental health services in schools, but it will expire in 2021.
“The societal issues of student and staff safety is not going to go away anytime soon,” Snyder said. “We hope that other funding mechanisms will be made available and become a legislated priority.”