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For MV teachers, failure of referendum is no surprise

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FORTVILLE — At least two Mt. Vernon school board members, Bob Hiday and Shelton Oakes, said they were not surprised at the defeat of the property tax referendum in Tuesday’s general election balloting.

Approval of the referendum, which failed 57 percent to 42 percent, would have provided a temporary infusion of extra property tax money to help the corporation out of a budgetary jam.

There was a two-day delay in counting votes from the two McCordsville districts. When the final tally was finally made known Thursday, district teachers, who approached the referendum with cautious optimism, thought they had seen an uneven win. School board candidates Tony May, Jason Shelton and Mike McCarty, who favored the referendum, defeated incumbent Bob Hiday and the anti-referendum slate of Carolyn Flynn, Jim Metcalfe and Ralph Spears.

May, Shelton, McCarty and the referendum had strong support from teachers.

“We’re disappointed with that,” said Misty Hall, second-grade teacher at Fortville

Elementary. “I was holding out hope until the very last minute.”

Fellow second-grade teacher Delinda Deckard said she was disappointed, but in part understood why it failed.

“We were optimistic in believing that more people would vote for it, but still not enough to pass,” she said, adding that the approximately 80 percent of district homeowners who do not have children in the district likely contributed to its failure. The money from the referendum, about $650,000 per year for the next three years, would have paid off loan interest on a potential $3.4 million loan from the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

The increase would have been seen in property taxes and would have been based on the value of property and therefore would have heavily impacted the property taxes of large property owners like farmers.

“I can see why farmers vote against it,” Deckard said.

So could Hall.

“It (would have) impacted them much differently than it impacted the rest of us,” she said. “I understand that.”

The referendum’s failure likely will put teachers on edge, especially since district administrators have been laying off teachers and cutting building use and programs to try and excise even more from an already-strapped budget.

“Each year, when it rolls around in (the spring semester), people (staff) start getting a little nervous,” Hall said. “It’s very nerve-wracking. It affects us before school, and it affects us after school. But then we walk in there with the kids, and it’s like, ‘I don’t have time to think about that right now.’”

A focus on the students and teaching will have to come first, but the district’s money woes will still be in the backs of many local educators’ minds.

“(Success of the referendum) would have helped us get out of that rut we’re in, because right

now, we need the money. That’s it. We need money,” Deckard said.

This referendum’s failure came on the heels of an unsuccessful $7 million referendum in 2010, which was defeated 59 percent to 41 percent.

That resulted in the implementation of a pay-to-participate program for sports and extra-curriculars. Dozens of teachers lost their jobs.

“It is like your sister possibly losing her job, and you feel for

these people,” Hall said. “It’s more than just coming to school. We care about each other, and I think that makes us a better school.”

Hall believes that MV teachers will have to keep their heads down and move forward.

“We’ll go on with business as usual. It’s still about the kids, doing everything we need to do for them.”

That has included years of funding school projects and buying supplies out of their own pockets.

“We already spend our own money,” Hall said. “We’re here for the kids, and nothing changes that.”

Special-education teacher Alyson Huston, in her first year of teaching at Fortville Elementary, has already purchased supplies with money from her own wallet.

“You still spend quite a bit because you have to buy everything on your own,” Huston said.

The teachers get a stipend at the beginning of the school year and support from the PTO. But a lot of them still end up spending their own money, especially if they want to purchase things such as Christmas gifts for their students.

“But that’s who we are and we won’t let the kids fall. If we see

something that they need to help them learn better, we just buy it, as long as it doesn’t take away from our own family,” Hall said.

Come January, May, McCarty and Shelton will join Vernee Eads and Shelton Oakes on the school board. Many of the district’s teachers feel relief that candidates Flynn, Metcalfe and Spears, who expressed their opposition to the referendum and any potential future ones, will not be joining the board.

“We feel like we’re going to have more support from the school board. They’re going to support the programs (and) what we do. I feel like we’re moving in a positive direction,” Deckard said. “Of course, we would have liked to have the referendum.”


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