Why Elkhart's referendum passed easily and Concord struggled

Concord's referendum passed by just 80 votes, while Elkhart schools' referenda passed with a much larger margin.

Posted on May 8, 2014 at 4:00 a.m.

Elkhart voters overwhelmingly approved two school referendums in Tuesday's primary election, but voters in the Concord district weren't as favorable of higher taxes funding the schools.

Concord won its $28 million referendum by just 80 votes. Elkhart schools, on the other hand, won two referendums totaling $47 million by more than 1,000 votes each.

That means residents of the two districts will be paying higher taxes for seven years in Concord's case and 19 years in Elkhart's.

Related: See final election results for Elkhart's referendum here and Concord's referendum here

Some credit Elkhart's win to a simple, easy-to-understand request for funds and to the high visibility of the Yes4Elkhart campaign.

Vote No in Concord, an opposing group that formed just a month before the vote, could have affected the results, according to some involved.

Concord Superintendent Wayne Stubbs said he doesn't have a firm answer on why the race was so close.

"I believe we did a good job of making our community aware of the challenges we face and then allowing them to make an informed decision on how the potential tax increase will impact them," Stubbs said Wednesday. "We believed going in to Election Day it would be a close vote, and it clearly was just that."


Dawn Fisher has two children in Concord schools and worked to promote the referendum through the Yes for Concord Kids group. She thinks the vote was close because residents were swayed by the Vote No group.

"One thing that made our scenario different from Goshen’s back in November and Elkhart’s yesterday as well is that we did have an organized opposition group that had an impact, clearly," Fisher said Wednesday, May 7.

The Vote No group had yard signs out before the yes group did and even had a presence at vote centers Tuesday, Fisher said.

K.C. Clements, leader of Vote No in Concord, said Wednesday that he did not want to comment on the outcome of the vote.

Visible campaign

Elkhart Superintendent Rob Haworth said immediately after declaring victory Tuesday night that the campaign for the Elkhart referendum was "community-based."

Yes4Elkhart, a political action committee promoting the referendum, formed back in February and has been a constant presence at many public community events in Elkhart.

Tanzie Nielsen, a member of Yes4Elkhart, was emotional Wednesday as she remembered watching results come in the night before.

"I kept waiting to see the no's get bigger and they didn't," she said. "That was exciting; it was wonderful and it left me feeling pretty good about the people in Elkhart."

She said Yes4Elkhart couldn't be completely credited with the win because the community made its own decision at the polls.

But the group's goal to be as visible as possible clearly paid off. 

Yes4Elkhart paid for print, TV and radio ads, sent mailers, called and sent social media messages to undecided voters and canvassed neighborhoods, Nielsen said.

And on the day of the vote, Yes4Elkhart volunteers were at 12 vote centers passing out business cards and encouraging voters to "vote yes twice."

Elkhart City Councilman David Henke, who was critical of the referendums early on because of how those costs could stack on top of other increases such as the local option income tax, said Wednesday that Elkhart's referendum likely passed because the school presented their request in a way that was simple and easy to understand.

Concord voters heard some "very vocal opposition" Henke said, and there may also be a perception that Concord has overspent on past building projects such as the junior high school.

He concluded, though, that the referendums are a good thing because the public is now more aware of how the schools will be spending their money.

"Now there will be more scrutiny," he said.

Follow reporter Lydia Sheaks on Twitter at @LydiaSheaks



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