Goshen News, Goshen, IN

November 7, 2013

GCS referendum: Why it passed

PAC, meetings among reasons cited in project approval

BY SHERRY VAN ARSDALL sherry.vanarsdall@goshennews.com
Goshen News

---- — GOSHEN — The yays were 2,099 and the nays were 1,341.

Voters within the Goshen Community Schools Corp. boundaries approved a $17.15 million construction project.

Why did it pass when three other referendums around the state failed Tuesday?

“Maybe holding four informational meetings (prior to the election),” said Goshen Community Schools Superintendent Diane Woodworth.

And Woodworth gives credit to the Say Yes Goshen Political Action Committee (PAC) for helping to inform voters about the referendum.

“Our PAC was absolutely fabulous in the work they did to support this referendum,” Woodworth said.

PAC campaign manager Steve Norton spearheaded the political action committee working to support the referendum.

“There were three or four things helpful in passing the referendum,” Norton said.

The four pieces (aspects) included Facebook, the band booster organization, Greencroft Goshen communities, Woodworth and GCS school board members.

“The Facebook page was one piece. We ended up with between 500 to 600 likes by the end of last (Tuesday) night. A lot of people would post on the page and then share other posts on their own pages,” Norton said. “Another piece — the band boosters are a very strong organization. Most of the parents are part of band boosters and that helped get the word out. The kids got involved with hand out window clings and signs.”

Norton said he gave an informational presentation about the referendum to residents at Greencroft and they were able to get the information and share it with others.

“That was another piece. The number of people (at Greencroft) were very much behind the referendum. There was a real strong desire to participate in moving Goshen forward and making Goshen a quality community and because of that they were pro-referendum.”

The last piece he saw that helped voters support the referendum was Woodworth and the school board members.

“They did a very good job of defining what was needed. They knew what was needed and did their homework,” Norton said. “I think that spoke to people and there was no organized opposition in Goshen like Mishawaka and Muncie.”

And having an organized opposition group seemed to be the deciding factor in a $28 million renovation project that was defeated in Mishawaka 2,808 votes to 1,321 votes.

Mishawaka voters were asked for permission to sell up to $28 million in bonds to fund a battery of “safety and accessibility” upgrades and other renovations to several district schools.

There were two Political Action Committees made for each side, a pro-referendum group, Friends of Mishawaka Schools, a group of Mishawaka citizens dedicated to improving Mishawaka schools mainly through the passage of the referendum and the opposition organization, No to 28 Million, headed by Michael Wojtysiak.

“Our message was simple, it would have been a 35-percent tax rate increase. We would have had the largest property taxes in the state,” said Wojtysiak. “None of this money will help put teachers in the class room or help with education. SCM did not do a good job of promoting it and the lack of transparency and an inconstant message. Because of the silence from SCM, the community concern was they were sneaking something in without a representative vote from the community. We felt they had 2,000 yes votes in the bag, so we needed a big turnout to win.”

Wojtysiak said the referendum “was just too much money. We have a lot of elderly, fixed income people who cannot afford $105 per $100,000 of assessed value.”

A budget shortfall referendum failed in Michigan City.

In Muncie, a referendum that a school official said would keep the corporation’s busses running was defeated.

Ana Pichardo, director of communication for Muncie Community Schools, said Wednesday afternoon that a waiver, required by law, will be filed with the state to halt bus service for the 2014-2015 school year due to the failed measure.

Voters were asked to approve a maximum of 39 cents per $100 of assessed value on their properties to help pay to keep the busses in service. Pichardo said that next year, the cost would be 22 cents per $100 of assessed value.

“We had a vocal opposition to the referendum,” said Pichardo. “A local group of Muncie landlords were against the project. Some misinformation was put out Monday night before the election and that didn’t give us enough time to respond to it.”

Muncie is a high-rent city due in large part to Ball State University. The University did not take a position on the referendum.

Pichardo said that not only is the corporation dealing with the bus issues, but also the possible consolidation of the city’s two public high schools, Muncie Central and Muncie South.

“People were told that if they voted no it’d save the schools from consolidation,” said Pichardo. “And that’s not the case.”

The measure in Muncie was defeated with 4,448 (53.89) “no” votes to 3,806 (46.11) “yes” votes.

According to Pichardo, if nothing changes, Muncie will join Franklin Township in not providing busing to students.

Pichardo said Franklin Township attempted to charge a fee for busing but legislation from the statehouse makes that illegal.

Not only does the referendum’s defeat affect students, more than 80 bus drivers will be without jobs. M & M Bus Company is contracted to provide bus services for Muncie schools and Pichardo said Tuesday’s night’s loss would essentially put the company out of business.

On the other end of the emotional specturm, since the referendum passed, Goshen High School band director Tom Cox couldn’t stop smiling Wednesday.

“Well, I feel amazing. I really do not know how we would have made it work if it failed. Knowing that a solution is on the horizon is a huge weight being lifted off of our shoulders (music department),” said Cox. “I am deeply grateful that the Goshen community decided to help us. I have always known that Goshen is a great place to teach music and the community support is wonderful.”

And Woodworth shared her thoughts on why the referendums failed in the other districts.

“Maybe our project made sense to people, from an economic standpoint?” she said. “I think (although I am not sure) that the Muncie and Michigan City issues were about operating funds for transportation and Capital Projects Fund, rather than a building project.”

Night editor Daniel Riordan contributed to this article.