Election 2020

Voters in Floyd County, Ind. will vote in the Jun. 2 election on a new property tax supporting school safety measures, including mental health supports for students and security upgrades for schools buildings. The ballot measure proposes an 8.5 cent tax per $100 real estate value.

The New Albany-Floyd County school district (NAFCS) says the tax would raise $3 million a year for hiring more mental health professionals, school resource officers (SROs) and adding security features for buildings.

“We want to be an oasis of safety,” NAFCS assistant superintendent Steve Griffin said in an interview with WFPL News. District officials believe that involves supporting students’ mental health and social-emotional growth.

“Kids today are exposed to so much, whether it’s online, home issues, self-esteem issues, there’s just a lot of baggage that kiddos come to school with – probably more than ever before,” Griffin said.

Researchers say adding mental health and social-emotional supports for students leads to safer school environments, with less bullying and less risk of gun violence.

“The reality of school safety is that we know that healthy, whole children do not pose a risk to themselves or others,” Misty Ronau said. Ronau leads the political action committee (PAC) in support of the tax.

Griffin said the district has had success in helping students through mental health issues using a grant to fund a therapist in each school. But that grant expires in 2022.

“We felt like we needed for that to be sustained somehow, but it doesn’t necessarily fit in our current budget,” Griffin said.

At the same time, Griffin said the district wanted to hire more SROs and add safety features to school buildings.

The district says the money would be used for the following:

  • More mental health care providers, including therapists, behaviorists and social workers
  • More school resource officers, or school police officers
  • A school safety office and staff
  • Bullying, suicide, and drug and alcohol abuse prevention
  • “Hardening” of school facilities, such as adding more security cameras, new doors, safety and monitoring software, a mass messaging system, and laminate glass and bollards

Griffin said about two-thirds would be spent on mental health measures, and about a third would be spent on SROs and building upgrades.

Griffin said he expects the pandemic to increase the need for more mental health supports.

“We totally understand the economic downturn happened,” Griffin said. “But the need is not going to go away. The need is going to be even greater.”

Ronau agreed.

“The pandemic kind of like accelerant on a fire,” Ronau said. “Issues like risk of housing insecurity and homelessness, food insecurity, domestic violence, substance abuse — these things these children live with on a day-to-day basis –they’re worse today.”

The Opposition

Those opposed to the school safety tax say they don’t believe there is a need for it. Carol Lamb, president of the group Grassroots Concerned Citizens, said she thinks teachers have been handling students’ social-emotional needs just fine.

“They teach them about bullying and what’s a good frame of reference for a child to have as far as how to treat their peers,” she said. Lamb’s children and grandchildren have attended NAFCS.

Lamb said she does not believe the school system should hire mental health professionals.

“I don’t see that as what our schools are for,” she said.

Others opponents, have argued through letters to the editor of the News And Tribune that mental health should be the responsibility of parents, and that children with mental health problems should be “removed from the general population of the school system.”

Lamb is also generally distrustful of NAFCS spending. She was a member of another group, Greenville Concerned Citizens, that successfully organized against an $80 million tax referendum in 2016.

“They never seem to get enough,” Lamb said of the school system. “And the residents of Floyd County cannot afford everything the schools want.”

 

NAFCS Second District To Pursue New Tax

The school safety tax proposal has been in the works since fall 2019. It is a new tax local school boards can levy under a 2019 Indiana state law in response to a school shooting at Noblesville West Middle School that left two injured.

The state law requires the tax to be approved by voters in a referendum. NAFCS is only the second Indiana district to call for the tax. The first was Carmel Clay Schools, which passed the tax through referendum in November.

“We’re ahead of the curve with what we want to build here,” Griffin said.

If approved, the tax would last for 8 years. The increase of 8.5 cents of tax per $100 of assessed real estate, after a homestead exemption means a homeowner with a home assessed at $100,000 would pay an additional $27.84 a year. The annual tax bill on a $250,000 home would rise by $110.70. You can estimate how the tax would impact your bill here.

The school safety tax would increase district’s tax rate from 99 cents per $100 to $1.075 per $100. The average tax rate for Indiana is $1.06.

How to vote

Voting is different due to the pandemic. Voters can vote by absentee mail-in ballot. The deadline to request one is 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, May 21.

Otherwise, voters can cast a ballot in-person at limited locations on Jun. 2.

You can request an absentee ballot and find your polling location at this website.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.