GOSHEN — Goshen Schools asked the community to fund school improvements, and the community said yes.
A referendum election on Tuesday, Nov. 5, ended with 61 percent of voters supporting the $17 million project, even though the project will mean a property tax increase for property owners living in the Goshen Schools district.
But three other school districts in Indiana didn’t fare as well. Mishawaka Schools, Muncie Community Schools and Michigan City Area Schools also had referendums on the table Tuesday, and all of those measures were voted down.
So why did Goshen’s proposal pass while the others didn’t?
Both Goshen and Mishawaka had strong involvement from political action committees. In Goshen, the Say YES Goshen group campaigned heavily for the project, while in Mishawaka, the No to $28 Million group campaigned against Mishawaka Schools’ project.
Goshen Schools superintendent Diane Woodworth and Mishawaka Schools superintendent Terry Barker both said on Wednesday that the committees affected the outcome of the vote.
“Without a doubt, (the group against the project) had an influence, but I’m not sure how widespread it was,” Barker said during an interview on Wednesday.
He added that the main reason Mishawaka’s referendum didn’t pass is simple — voters just didn’t want to pay additional taxes. He also said that he doesn’t think the school corporation could have done anything differently.
“We did several informational meetings, and I spoke to community groups,” Barker said. “We shared the message. The bottom line is ... people based their opinion on their ability to pay additional taxes.”
Mishawaka Schools’ referendum asked for $28 million to fund building repair and upgrades, including some technology improvements, Barker said.
Mike Wojtysiak, the leader of the No to $28 Million group, said Wednesday that the price tag of the schools’ proposed project was just too high.
“Part of the reason why it didn’t pass is that it was just too much money,” Wojtysiak said. “Their (the school corporation’s) eyes were bigger than our stomachs.”
He added, “We (Mishawaka) have such depressed property values, you just can’t keep piling on more and more money.”
Wojtysiak also feels that the school corporation needs to do more to increase communication and transparency between the community and the school about how money is being spent.
Goshen superintendent Diane Woodworth said on Wednesday that the Say YES Goshen group was instrumental in providing details to the public about the proposed project.
“A huge factor (of the referendum passing) has to be the PAC (political action committee) group,” Woodworth said. “They were just fabulous. They passed out fliers on First Fridays, they had an active Facebook page, they put out signs and they called people. And they were really positive about it. I think the word is enthusiastic.”
Steve Norton, the leader of the Say YES Goshen group, said on Wednesday that the group was able to help “on the fence” voters by providing quick details through social media.
“We got a lot of questions on the Facebook page, and we were able to answer them,” Norton said. “We had two to three (members of the group) looking at that Facebook page at least daily.”
He added, “I think people still don’t understand that the school system cannot advocate for themselves outside of the informational meetings. So the school system had their hands tied as far as getting information out.”
Four school districts in Indiana — in Goshen, Mishawaka, Muncie and Michigan City — attempted to pass a referendum for school improvement during special elections on Tuesday, Nov. 5. Goshen’s referendum was the only one that passed, but here is what school districts asked for:
Goshen — Goshen Schools asked the residents of its district to fund $17 million worth of improvements to the middle school and high school buildings. Improvements include new spaces for the music programs and cafeterias, as well as a new pool. On Tuesday, 61 percent of voters approved the project.
Mishawaka — Mishawaka Schools asked for $28 million to fund improvements including upgrades to technology and repairs and building maintenance. According to the St. Joseph County Clerk’s office, 1,321 votes were cast in favor of the project, but 2,751 votes were cast against it.
Muncie — Muncie Schools asked for $3 million to fund busing of students in the 2014-15 school year. The Muncie Star Press reported on Wednesday that 54 percent of voters rejected the proposal. As a result, the school district will likely stop busing students, according to a school spokesperson on Wednesday.
Michigan City — Michigan City Area Schools asked the public to vote for a maximum property tax increase of 17 cents per $100 of assessed property value for the next seven years, according to the Michigan City News-Dispatch. Those funds would have helped balance the school corporation’s budget. Residents of the area voted the proposal down with 3,498 no votes against 2,601 yes votes.