The odds against the Madison referendum were long going in, as the district administrators admitted in the lead-up to the vote and in their expressions of disappointment afterwards.
Up until Tuesday’s election, school districts have struggled to convince voters of the merits of raising their own property taxes to fund expenses beyond what the state doles out and what existing local taxes bring in. With the defeat of its referendum, Madison joins a long list of school corporations that have fallen short in their first referendum attempt.
Since 2008, when the state overhauled education funding and created the referendum mechanism for school districts to raise money, two-thirds of the first-time referenda failed. Before Tuesday’s election, half of the 92 school referenda questions held since 2008 failed.
And $40 million is a lot for a small school corporation to request. With double the student body, the Decatur Township School in Marion County won their $27 million referendum with 64 percent of the vote.
But as Hicks notes, value has different meaning to voters. In the small farming community of Eminence in Morgan County, voters said yes to a referendum that will generate just over $4 million to keep its single K-12 school from having to consolidate with a neighboring school.
The Eminence school is struggling to keep up with the aggressive academic standards set by the state, but taxpayers there feel invested in its success. The tax hike won with 87 percent of the vote — the highest percentage of "yes" votes since the inception of school referenda in 2008.
Schools may still be on a learning curve when it comes to campaigning for referenda. But Hicks thinks there’s a lesson in Tuesday’s results. “Voters need to be persuaded of the net benefits to taxation,” Hicks said. “And that is purely a matter of successful local leadership.”