In recent years, certain aspects of public education have led to deep partisan divides. In Carmel, a newly formed political action committee is working to make sure the school district’s operating referendum isn’t one of them.
Yes for CCS PAC is chaired by Nicki McNally, a Democrat, and Stephanie Flittner, a Republican, who both feel it’s important for the community to do its part to help keep Carmel Clay Schools among the best in the state.
“The referendum should be nonpolitical. Supporting our schools and agreeing they’re a backbone and one of the pillars of our community is pretty much a non-partisan issue,” Flittner said. “We didn’t want to turn (the referendum) into a political battleground.”
On Nov. 7, Carmel residents will vote on whether to extend the CCS operating referendum for eight years, which would maintain the existing referendum tax rate of 19 cents per $100 of assessed property value. That rate has been in effect since 2017, when nearly 90 percent of Carmel voters approved it. It equates to approximately $433 annually for a home valued at $400,000.
McNally said she expects the political climate to lead to more pushback on the referendum this time around and hopes at least 70 percent of voters approve the renewal.
“The political landscape has shifted and schools have been politicized,” McNally said. “What we’re trying to show by working together as two people with polar opposite views on other political issues is (supporting schools) is really important to everyone in our community.”
The operating referendum produces $24 million annually for CCS, which is approximately 20 percent of the education fund primarily used to pay teachers and provide benefits. Without the referendum, CCS would be forced to make deep cuts to its teaching staff, significantly increase class sizes and cut a variety of programs.
“When it comes down to taking $25 million away, it comes down to pay and benefits,” CCS Supt. Michael Beresford said. “There’s nothing we could cut outside of employees that would amount to $25 million.”
CCS receives the second-lowest amount of funding from the state per pupil, an amount based on a formula that heavily factors area poverty rates. Most other school districts in Hamilton County have referendum tax rates, and the total CCS tax rate of 86 cents per $100 of assessed property value will remain the lowest in the county even if the operating referendum is renewed.
In 2018, the first year CCS collected taxes from the operating referendum at its current rate, the district received $17.6 million. The total collected by the district has grown each year as property values have increased, even as the tax rate has remained the same. Roger McMichael, CCS associate superintendent of business affairs, said the constant rate helps CCS keep up with inflation and that if assessed values continually grow more than expected – as they did this year – the district would consider collecting only a portion of the referendum tax.
McNally said top-ranked schools are a major factor in why many people move to Carmel and help property values remain strong. That’s among the reasons the Carmel City Council unanimously approved a resolution Aug. 7 in support of the referendum, which has also been endorsed by the OneZone chamber of commerce.
Despite the public support for the referendum, Beresford said two concerns keep him up at night.
“There’s a tendency in a district like ours to think, ‘Oh, I don’t need to vote. The schools will be OK. This is Carmel.’ I can guarantee people who are against (the referendum) show up and vote. So it’s really important our community isn’t apathetic about this,” he said. “The other part is misinformation. I imagine there will be a lot of misinformation kicked around.”
Beresford said he’s not aware of organized support against the referendum. He encourages anyone with questions or concerns to reach out to CCS or visit its operating referendum website at ccs.k12.in.us/services/business/referendums/operating.
Opportunities to learn more
Carmel Clay Schools will hold community meetings at 6 p.m. Sept. 20 (Clay Middle School), Sept. 21 (Carmel Middle School) and Sept. 28 (Creekside Middle School) to provide information about the referendum and answer questions. Registration is not required.
The Yes for CCS political action committee will hold a volunteer kickoff meeting at 6 p.m. Sept. 12 at COhatch, 38 W. Main St. in Carmel. Volunteer roles include delivering yard signs and providing information at community events and polling locations. Learn more about the PAC at YesforCCS.org.
To cast a ballot in the general election, voters must register by Oct. 10. Visit hamiltoncounty.in.gov/383/Voter-Registration or call 317-776-9632 to learn more. Early voting begins Oct. 11. Voters will need to show identification (Indiana driver’s license, state ID, passport or military ID) to cast a ballot. Check voter registration status at indianavoters.in.gov.