By Sadie Hunter
The Noblesville Schools district is one that prides itself on innovation, from staff to students to programs, and throughout all grade levels. However, Indiana’s funding formula for public schools has left many districts, similar to and including Noblesville, in a jam when it comes to financing its staff and programs.
Since implementation of property tax caps and a reduction in monies received from the state, Noblesville Schools has lost approximately $38 million in total revenue since 2009, putting them among the bottom 10 percent, along with the rest of Hamilton Co., in per-pupil funding.
With its current operating referendum set to expire in December 2017, the district is looking to have another approved by voters during the primary election on May 3.
Voters will be asked a simple yes-or-no question on their ballots for or against the referendum, to last until May 2023.
“It’s 10.5 percent that it will be lower, and the reason why we can lower it by that rate is because we really tightened our belts, we’ve gotten some additional monies from the state that’s guaranteed for two years, … and Noblesville is growing, so that has helped us, too,” Supt. Dr. Beth Niedermeyer said.
Right now, residents of Noblesville pay 21 cents per every $100, but with the new referendum, the rate is reduced to 18.9 cents per every $100, meaning residents will pay less than they currently are in taxes.
“This referendum is an operating referendum, and operating is for staff and programming. Ninety percent of our operating fund is people,” Niedermeyer said. “We have 1,500 employees, so being the largest employer in Noblesville, this referendum is about maintaining the wonderful academic programming that we have in place now. It’s about maintaining good class sizes, and it’s about maintaining the current services. That’s why this is important.”
If the referendum does not pass on May 3, Niedermeyer said the district stands to lose approximately $6 million (or 10 percent) each year from its operating budget, along with a chunk of staff and other services.
“So, since 90 percent of it (the operating budget) is staff, that would mean that we would have to reduce staff by 150, which is significant, and considering that 70 percent of our staff are Noblesville residents, it would have a big impact on the whole community,” Niedermeyer said. “But I think, more importantly, it would mean we would have less of our programming, like Project Lead the Way and some of our fine arts and performing arts, P.E. classes. We’d see increased class sizes, and we would see fewer services in regards to transportation … minimized transportation routes. It would even impact custodial services in our buildings because the cuts would be across the all employee groups.”
Anyone interested in voting on the referendum must be registered to vote in Hamilton Co. and be a Noblesville resident. The deadline the register to vote was April 4. Early and absentee voting is currently taking place at the Hamilton Co. Government and Judicial Center on the west side of the downtown Noblesville square from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, until May 2 at noon. Special Saturday early and absentee voting will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 23 and 30. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Election Day, May 3. To find your polling place, visit www.hamiltoncounty.in.gov/222/Current-Election-Information. The referendum vote will appear on all democrat, republican and no-party ballots. No-party ballots will only include school board races and the referendum. For more on voting, call the Hamilton Co. Elections office at 317-776-8476.
“TIGHTENING OUR BELTS”
Supt. Dr. Beth Niedermeyer often refers to the district’s cutbacks as “tightening our belts.” Here are a few ways Niedermeyer says the district has saved money on its own accord:
- Reduction in hours for support staff
- Reduction in overtime costs
- Employee cell phones and vehicles eliminated
- Restructuring of central office staff
- More than $1 million saved in energy costs through energy conservation efforts when building new facilities
- Eliminating costly renovation/remodeling features like special types of flooring and more grandiose entryways
- Elimination of computer labs because of iPad use; labs now used as classroom space without construction
- Reduction of paper, printers, copying, etc. because of iPad use
- Granted approximately $150,000 for eLearning initiatives
The political action committee promoting the importance of passing the operating referendum, Friends of Noblesville Schools, has set up milleryes.org., a site dedicated to informing voters on the necessity of the referendum, including a lengthy FAQs section and contact and election information.
The site also features a tax impact calculator for residents to see what they are paying under the current referendum, what they will pay under the future referendum if passed and how much they are saving from referendum to referendum.