A good leader wears a lot of hats. It’s the very nature of organizing a movement, rallying the troops, and influencing change. It’s something we know all too well as Hamilton County school superintendents. In fact, it’s that very leadership skill that we’ll lean on in the coming weeks as we seek to meet the challenges wrought by school funding.
Each of our school districts is asking for a referendum in the Special Election Tuesday, May 2. Carmel Clay Schools and Sheridan Community Schools are each asking voters to replace their current operational referendums to help cover the costs of payroll and student programs. Westfield Washington Schools will ask for a capital referendum to help manage growth through the renovation and improvement of its school buildings.
We’re not alone. In fact, all but one of the five school districts in Hamilton County relies on referenda. Noblesville, Westfield and Hamilton Southeastern all approved operational referendums in 2016.
Many ask, “How did we get here?” Changes in school funding in 2009 cost school districts millions of dollars. Unfortunately, some of the highest-performing schools, like those in Hamilton County, now receive the least per-pupil funding in the state.
The state gave high-performing, but low-funded school districts like ours the tool of referendum, or public vote, to raise additional dollars. But that too comes with strings. State laws limit the role the districts and its employees can play in the referendum’s passage. Staff cannot advocate a position during work hours. Districts cannot fund their own campaigns. And since our referendums fall in an off-year, the districts must pay for the Special Election.
Now you can see where the many hats come into play. School superintendents are not only educators, but increasingly fundraisers, politicians and advocates. We must carve out time for daily speaking engagements and endorsement requests as well as meetings with our political action committees (PACs) and local lawmakers.
Of course our most important job during this time is to maintain positive morale in a dynamic learning environment. The looming possibility of job cuts, program elimination and portable classrooms can be a dispiriting for our students and staff. It’s important to remind them that they are valued, that they are supported and that they are integral to our future. We must do everything we can to continue to provide a top-notch education in top-notch facilities while we work to find a better solution to school funding.
You can help. Strong schools equal a strong community. While there seems to be early support for these referendums, we cannot take their passage for granted. Dozens of similar referendums have been decided by less than a handful of votes. Simply put – every vote counts.
Please exercise your civic duty to vote. Absentee voting has already begun at the Hamilton County Government and Judicial Center, 1 Hamilton Square, Noblesville. Hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 22 and Saturday, April 29. Polls will be open in your regular voting location May 2 unless you receive a change of voting location notice in the mail.
You can learn more about each of the school referendums at the following links:
Carmel Clay Schools
Sheridan Community Schools
Westfield Washington Schools
See you at the polls,
Dr. Sherry Grate, Westfield Washington Schools
Dr. David Mundy, Sheridan Community Schools
Dr. Nicholas D. Wahl, Carmel Clay Schools