FORTVILLE — Whether you’re for it or against it, one thing that is often left out of the discussion on the Mt. Vernon school referendum is the students.
GraduateMVCSC, the group of school parents and volunteers advocating in favor of the property tax increase that will be on the ballot Tuesday, is coordinating with high school seniors and will have them spread out on primary election day. At the voting centers, they will attempt to persuade voters to support the $2.5 million referendum.
“To have children in the room might cause people to stop, think and educate themselves about the decision they’re about to make, what the ramifications may be short term and long term and how it impacts somebody else besides just them,” GraduateMVCSC coordinator Jeff Mull said.
But some in opposition to the referendum say using the students is an emotional gimmick that provides supporters with an unfair advantage.
“My first reaction is that it’s exploiting the students,” longtime referendum opponent Jim Metcalfe said. “They’re trying to make it an emotional issue with people.”
However, he did say it was a good idea to have young people involved in voting and paying attention to issues from both sides.
The students themselves say they are getting involved because of the changes they’ve
seen at the school during the past four years.
“You can notice how we have a lack of supporting staff helping the teachers,” senior Shane DeWael said.
He wrote an article for the school newspaper, and while gathering information and looking over the school’s details and the specifics, he came to the conclusion there was only one option.
“When you see the facts, it’s kind of appalling that we don’t have money,” DeWael said. “That’s why I got involved.”
Senior Caitlin Gartrell was in the same boat. She is on the newspaper staff as well and read over DeWael’s work.
“Once I read it and looked at all of the statistics, we really needed this. This is not something we want. This is something that is necessary,” Gartrell said.
She has experience working elections. She helped in November 2012 during the school board election and the referendum by providing materials to voters. She and many fellow students will show up on poll day at voting centers in the Mt. Vernon Schools district to inform voters of the referendum issue and persuade them to vote for it as advocates from the school.
“I’ve encouraged other people to sign up to vote,” Gartrell said. “But I’ve also pushed voting for the referendum, and I had my parents get a sign to put in the yard. It’s something I’m really concerned about.”
Since the students who are involved and voting are seniors, however the referendum vote turns out will not have an impact on them as students.
“For me, it was never so much how it was going to impact me. What happened to us happened to us. I just wouldn’t want it to happen to other people,” MVHS senior Jansen Nicholson said. “If (voters) came to the school and saw how it was now compared to when they went to school, I don’t see how people could vote no.”
One of the things that struck Nicholson the hardest was the pay discrepancy between teachers in similar positions. If a teacher went to a nearby school district such as Southern Hancock, they’d be making thousands of dollars more than a new teacher starting out at Mt. Vernon, Nicholson said.
The pay-to-participate program, implemented in 2011 to offset sports and extra-curricular costs by asking students to pay fees, might be keeping some students out of those programs, the students say.
“That’s holding a lot of kids back,” senior Andrew Payne said. “Even with all of the discounts, it can still be $150 or $160. I’m sure it’s holding a lot of kids back from playing sports.”
One of the things Gartrell noticed was the high teacher turnover rate. Mt. Vernon High School has reduced its staff by about 25 percent.
“We have a different set of teachers every year,” Gartrell said.
Despite that, Mt. Vernon High School was recently named a Four Star School, and a high percentage of elementary school students in the district successfully passed the IREAD-3 test on the first attempt.
“The fact that we maintain that is a tribute to the teachers and students who are committed,” Mull said. “(The school) is struggling, but they’re overcoming.”
GraduateMVCSC has worked to avoid involving the school directly in the campaign. Having the students support the referendum is the only component that directly involved the school, according to GraduateMVCSC coordinator Larry Longman.
Those who remain opposed to the referendum say they don’t necessarily have the access to students like the supporters do. If given the opportunity, Metcalfe said he would hope students could look at the issue objectively.
“I would tell them that there are schools living within their budget. Mt. Vernon spent more money than they had at the time (on the building project nine years ago). People made unrealistic assumptions about the growth of the school,” Metcalfe said. “As far as the kids working at the polls, I think it’s an unfair advantage. But the school doesn’t seem to care about what’s fair or unfair. It’s about what wins.”
WHAT THE REFERENDUM SAYS
Those who live in the Mt. Vernon school district will have a public question at the top of their ballot about property taxes. Here’s the question, as it’s worded on the ballot:
“For three (3) calendar years immediately following the holding of the referendum, shall Mt. Vernon Community School Corporation impose a property tax rate that does not exceed eleven and no/100 cents (0.1100) on each one hundred dollars ($100) of assessed valuation and that is in additional to all other property tax levies imposed by the school corporation?”
If you vote “yes,” you agree with the increase in property taxes.
If you vote “no,” you disagree.