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Election board certifies referendum

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GREENFIELD — The Mt. Vernon School referendum, the third in four years, will be on the May 6 ballot.

The Hancock County Election Board officially approved the addition of the referendum question to the ballot at a meeting Thursday. The vote was a formality after the MV School Board endorsed the idea of a referendum last month.

But the vote officially sets in motion the campaign to raise property taxes for the next three years to pay off the district’s short-term debt. That effort has been boosted in recent days by endorsements from two town councils.

The Cumberland Town Council unanimously approved a resolution supporting the $2.5 million plan on Wednesday night. The McCordsville Town Council – one member of which is an organizer of the pro-referendum group – approved a similar measure on Feb. 11.

“This states as a town council that we support the schools in their efforts to undertake an operating referendum in the primary election on May 6,” McCordsville Town Councilman and Redevelopment Commission member Larry Longman said at the town council meeting on Feb. 11.

Longman is also helping to spearhead the group called GraduateMVCSC, a grassroots campaign designed to support the referendum through meetings and social media until it is decided on by voters.

“What I wanted to convey as a town council and RDC (member) is our support for our schools when it comes to economic development and the value of our community,” Longman said.

Sentiment on the Cumberland Town Council was similar.

President Joe Siefker said it’s important the council back the school because it will help referendum supporters gain votes.

“It’ll give them support going out into the community, saying, ‘The towns are behind the school; businesses are behind the school.’”

Siefker made a $200 donation to the school shortly after a referendum failed in 2012, saying he wanted to donate what he would have paid under higher property taxes anyway. That led to the school opening up a fund so others could give.

But Siefker said Wednesday it’s important the referendum pass this time around, regardless of whether people have been supporting the school with donations.

Councilwoman Anna Pea agreed, saying if the schools are successful, Cumberland will be successful in its goals for growth.

 “The better the schools, the better our chances are for economic development,” she said.

Some residents in the northern and eastern parts of Cumberland attend Mt. Vernon schools.

Mt. Vernon’s referendum will seek $2.5 million over a period of three years. The money will be used to help eliminate the district’s short-term debt.

The first two Mt. Vernon referendums failed in 2010 and 2012. Going through the process again would not have been necessary if the school had received its expected loan of $2.5 million from the state’s Distressed Unit Appeals Board, which denied the loan in late 2013, citing in part the lack of community support for Mt. Vernon based on the two failed referendums. The money would have come from the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

Members of the Distressed United Appeals Board commended Mt. Vernon for undertaking cost-cutting measures that resulted in positive debt reduction while still maintaining high academic standards.

Mt. Vernon has gone through extensive cost-cutting measures but still is carrying an operating deficit. Officials are hopeful the third time is the charm for the referendum.

The school board officially voted to pursue a referendum on Monday, Jan. 27.

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