Friday, June 12, 2009

Quality Schools and the Price of Rapid Growth 12/17/08

On January 9th, Noblesville residents will vote on a referendum for a school building project. The $59.5 million project will add approximately $150 to the annual property tax bill of the average homeowner. The project is being put before voters as a result of property tax reform State legislators passed last year. Voters must now approve big, taxpayer-funded projects.
The proposed school project is necessary and voters should support it. But we should also be angry with current and former city leaders who made it necessary.
Why should you vote Yes?
A first class community must have first class schools. Rapid growth has been forced upon our school system. We should be proud of how they’ve performed in the past and appreciate the thoughtful plan they’ve put forward to deal with the subsequent increase of students.
The plan:
1) Move 5th graders back to elementary schools, move 6th graders into the middle school, and therefore eliminate the need for an Intermediate School, which is now a 5th & 6th building. This will require . . .
2) building a new elementary school on Hague Road to handle overflow from existing elementaries that will have to accommodate 5th graders.
3) Enlarge North Elementary to make room for 5th graders.
4) Reconfigure the Middle school to accommodate sixth graders
5) Add new space and reconfigure existing space at the High School to accommodate growing enrollment.
This plan is not only more economic in its arrangement of students, making one less building change between elementary and high school, but better times the transitions to childhood development.
It’s clear how those taxpayers with children will benefit. Yet others might say, “ I don’t have kids in school. Why should I vote yes?”
Because it’s in your self-interest.
We all benefit from good schools. It produces a better work force and more informed voters. Want to know what it does to your property value? Ask homeowners in the IPS school district how their property values are effected by underperforming schools.
And those of you who are retired? Remember, when you were raising your kids, there were retired property owners paying to help educate them.
Why should you still be angry?
In 2005 and 2006 Noblesville issued building permits for 2,026 single-family homes, and 805 condo and apartment units. The average Noblesville home has .6 children. So the growth in just two recent years could account for an additional 1,700 school children, added mostly to Noblesville schools with a small percentage sent to Hamilton Southeastern.
These new students didn’t show up by accident. They were invited by a decade of city leaders who thought no amount of growth was too much. Every time a city council member raised their hand and voted for another new subdivisions, they were charging part of that growth to you. That’s reasonable and manageable when the number is modest but increasingly expensive as the number grows. When there’s not limit on growth, there’s no telling what it will cost you for roads, parks, fire and police service, and especially schools. This school project vote is just one example how city leaders can force Noblesville residents to subsidize rapid growth.
I’ve asked school leaders if City leaders consult them before approving subdivisions that will grow our school population. Then answer: “No”
A city needs growth much like our bodies need food. Food nourishes our bodies. Growth nourishes the community. But an unlimited amount of food works about as well for the body as an unlimited amount of growth works for a town. It feels good going down, but there are costs to pay. When we step on the scales we have to confront the cost of unlimited eating. January 9th is a stepping on the scales moment for Noblesville.
And in fact the costs have been there all along. But in years past, the school system went ahead with the projects, charging us for the actions of our city leaders without our direct approval. Thanks to the state legislature, we must now confront the real cost of uncontrolled growth by saying yes, or no.
The story actually gets worse.
In the year leading up to this vote that will raise your taxes, your city leaders were handing out one tax abatement after another to new businesses planning to expand or locate here. Even a new city councilman got a tax abatement for his company just weeks after taking the oath of office.
When you go into the voting booth on January 9th, you would be a fool to vote no. We must make sure our community has first class schools. Voting no wouldn’t hurt the politicians who caused this; it would only hurt our kids. But you should be hopping mad at former and current city leaders who forced us into this corner.
One last point: This $59.5 million is just one installment. The school system is quite up front in saying that this plan will only accommodate kids who are already here. It doesn’t account for the kids who will populate unfinished subdivisions when the economy rebounds.

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