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Ind. Schools Turn to Voters, Fundraising Amid Cuts

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School districts battered by state budget cuts are turning to referendums and even private fundraising to pay for the basics of public education.

Several school districts have referendums on the May 4 primary ballot, and other districts are considering fundraising foundations as a way to preserve teacher jobs and programs.

"As sad as it seems, I think this is what we're going to have to do," said Angie Campbell, a mother of three children in Tippecanoe School Corp. who leads the fundraising committee for the Friends of TSC. "I still want my kids to have not just an education, but to have art, to have music, to have cheerleading in the middle school. My drive is to be there to support the teachers and help any way I can."

Many schools find themselves in a bind as a result of the recession and changes in how the state funds schools. Money for general funds, which once came from a combination of property, sales and income taxes, now comes only from state income and sale taxes. Those revenues have fallen sharply since the recession began, and Gov. Mitch Daniels ordered $300 million in education cuts.

That has forced districts to get innovative.

Last year, West Lafayette parents and patrons donated $217,000 to the West Lafayette Schools Education Foundation to save teacher jobs. That was never its intent, said founder Dianne Sautter.

Rather, she said the group formed to raise money for scholarships and classroom grants.

Saving teachers "became the intent for a one-time shot. But there's no way the foundation could do that on a repeated basis."

West Side Superintendent Rocky Killion agreed.

"Lots and lots and lots of people knocked on doors and put in days, weeks and months into the fundraising, and we're very appreciative, but it falls way short of what we need to solve the funding formula issue in our school district."

West Lafayette is one of many school districts statewide with referendums on the May 4 primary ballot. Carmel Clay schools north of Indianapolis is asking voters to approve a $12 million general fund referendum, Noblesville is seeking $5 million and Clarksville schools in southern Indiana are asking voters to approve a special property tax rate of up to 24 cents for each $100 of assessed valuation through 2018.

"Without the referendum, we'd probably have to look at program elimination," said Clarksville Interim Superintendent Kim Knott.

She said another option would be to consider consolidating schools, which isn't something the district wants.

"That referendum is about keeping Clarksville Community Schools a community school as much as anything," she said.

Tippecanoe School Corporation Superintendent Scott Hanback said the district's attorney is looking into the idea of a referendum and of a foundation to handle fundraising.

But Hanback said there's no guarantee fundraising will save jobs.

"Any dollar helps," Hanback said. "But we're not in a position to make guarantees if X amount is raised, then X number of personnel and programs are put back. We're educators, not fundraisers."

Dave Sternberg, a faculty member at The Fundraising School at Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy, said public schools nationally are turning to fundraising to offset education cuts.

"Rather than raising money for a classroom grant of $100 for this or $500 for that scholarship, they're being seen as a real enhancement to school district budgets, the nuts and bolts," he said.

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