LEBANON, Ind. — As voters in Lebanon head to the polls on May 3, one of the issues up for debate has more to it than the wording may appear.
Along with deciding who will represent the Republican and Democratic candidates in races ranging from City Council to Congress, voters will come across the following seeming word problem:
Breaking the word problem down, the corporation is looking for help paying for several issues including:
- Maintaining police officers in each school
- Addressing staff and teacher salaries
- Maintaining funding for electives like art, gym, and music
- expanding STEM programming
Jon Milleman, superintendent of Lebanon Community Schools, said without the referendum funding, they may have to cut back on many of these staff.
“We’ll likely have to face a reduction of school police staffing if the referendum is not successful,” Milleman said. “We have some other staffing areas as well, elective classes at our elementaries depend on the funding that would be provided through the operating referendum. Instructional coaches that help our students and staff at the elementary level would face an uncertain future if the referendum is not successful.”
Milleman said this additional funding is necessary after the City of Lebanon discontinued funding for the Lebanon Schools Police Department. The school corporation added a resource officer to every school in 2018 following a shooting at Noblesville West Middle School.
The Mayor's office said the City Council financially supported the school resource officer program for four years before making the decision to end the City's support in 2022. Mayor Matt Gentry said while he does not agree with the council's decision, it was a choice they made during the budget process.
"It's critical for us to have our resource officers there to support our students," said Milleman. "I think, you know, parents expect a safe, secure learning environment. We want to provide that safe, secure learning environment for our students and our staff. So, having that dedicated officer at each school we believe is critical."
Milleman said he believes it is in the best interest of the community to have an officer in every building. He said school safety is part of the greater public safety.
If the operating referendum passes, on the other hand, Milleman said it would help them enhance their programming. This includes STEM education for K-5.
The operating referendum also addresses funding diverted from the corporation to charter schools over the past three years. The corporation said they lost $790,703 from the voucher program. Since 2015, the corporation said they lost more than $2.2 million due to property values and local control.
Despite the increase in tax rate that the operating referendum would bring, Milleman said nearly all of the corporation's debt service will retire over the next 12 years. Between that and the growing assessed growth of the community, the tax rate should remain around where it currently is.
Milleman reminds people that by investing in schools, they invest in the community. The corporation cites the National Bureau of Economic Research and UpNest in saying for every $1 spent on school funding, property values increase by around $20.
People can read more about the school corporation's referendums by visiting their website.