Bloomington Public Schools to ask voters for referendum renewal

Voters will be asked to select candidates for both the Bloomington Board of Education and the Bloomington City Council in November, and they’ll have one more question to answer when they cast their ballots.

Are they willing to renew their financial support of the school district?

The district will be posing a referendum question this fall, asking voters to fund the district’s operations at the state-allowed maximum for another 10 years. The referendum would provide the district with $22 million per year, about $5 million more than the district is receiving from the current referendum that will expire during the 2018-19 school year, according to district spokesman Rick Kaufman.

The district is receiving about $17 million annually under the terms of an operating referendum approved in 2007. The operating referendum provides additional funding for district costs such as salaries, benefits, utilities, transportation and curriculum, Kaufman noted. The 2007 referendum was approved at the maximum allowed, and is providing an additional $1,472 per pupil. The new referendum is estimated to provide an additional $465 per pupil.

The district is not alone in seeking continued referendum support to compensate for financial shortfalls in state funding, according to Kaufman. All but three districts in the state utilize a referendum to support their operations, he noted.

This fall’s referendum question is different than the question asked of voters in 2013. That referendum was for capital projects and safety and security improvements. The funds in that referendum cannot be used for operational costs such as salaries, Kaufman said.

The projected tax impact for the owners of a median-value home of $230,000 is $8.16 per month, or 26 cents per day, more than the amount being funded by taxpayers under the 2007 referendum. Annually, the increase for the $230,000 homeowner would be $98, according to Kaufman.

For the owner of a $300,000 home in Bloomington, the referendum would increase property taxes by $10.67 per month, or $128 per year, he said.

Although the referendum commitment would increase, the district’s portion of property taxes have been either flat or have decreased in recent years, with the city and county’s share of the residential tax dollar being slightly higher than the school district’s, Kaufman noted.

The district is permitted to provide information related to its financial picture and the impact of the referendum, but it cannot advocate for support. That’s where Yes for Bloomington Public Schools comes in.

The volunteer organization is encouraging support for the referendum, much as it did in 2013, by promoting awareness of the referendum through a campaign not unlike those of the candidates who seek to serve on the school board in 2018.

Jamie Burden, a district parent, is a co-chair of the committee, which meets weekly to discuss the efforts to inform residents and voters about the impact and benefits of the referendum.

“It’s important to be informed,” she said.

Burden considers herself to be a parental face in support of the referendum, helping remind people about the value of educating the district’s students and trumpeting the need to continue investing in them. She has served on the district’s special education community advisory council and was invited to join the Yes for Bloomington Public Schools Committee in June. After considering the impact to the district, with and without a referendum, “The answer for our family was clear,” she said. “This is a fantastic investment.”

And what if the referendum fails? In the short term there would be no impact, as the district has a one-year cushion before referendum funding would cease. The district would likely consider asking voters to renew the existing referendum next fall at $17 million annually rather than at the new state maximum, although that would make it more challenging for the district to keep up with the rising costs of operations.

Realistically, the district would fall further behind financially, as it has been using a combination of budget cuts and deficit spending of its general fund to meet its annual budget, Kaufman explained.

The referendum revenue is approximately 11.4 percent of the district’s current operation budget, he noted.

Ultimately, if the referendum is not renewed at any level, the loss of $17 million will have a significant impact on district operations, “The likes of which we have not seen,” according to Kaufman.

The referendum campaign includes encouraging supporters to vote. The 2013 levy received more than 13,000 votes and passed by a margin of 417.

The district may not be able to advocate for yes votes, but its referendum information includes details on how to register to vote prior to Election Day, and how to absentee vote or cast a ballot prior to Election Day, beginning Sept. 22, at Bloomington Civic Plaza.

Encouraging people to not only support the referendum, but to cast a ballot for it, is among the goals of the Yes for Bloomington Public Schools campaign this year. There’s an aspect of personal responsibility in the current political climate that Burden and the committee aim to tap into through Election Day, calling the referendum an opportunity for voters “to take control within their community.”

Information about the referendum is available online at bloomingtonschools.org/referendum. The campaign’s website is yes4bps.org.

 

Follow Bloomington community editor Mike Hanks on Twitter at @suncurrent and on Facebook at suncurrentcentral.