FISHERS, Ind. (AP) — Suburban Indianapolis school districts strapped for cash under statewide property tax caps are teaming up with local governments to cut costs by sharing resources and selling property.
School and government leaders say the collaborative approaches are necessary if communities are to diversify their tax bases with new businesses, because businesses follow residents, and residents are drawn to quality schools.
“Most people choose a city to live in based on the ability to educate their children in a safe and productive way,” Fishers Town Manager Scott Fadness told the Indianapolis Business Journal. “If you do not have that core element in your community, it becomes very challenged and starts to spiral downward.”
Fishers and Hamilton Southeastern already share a fuel depot for their public vehicles. The district also saves money by the town to handle its grounds maintenance and snow removal.
The district could benefit even more if the town approves a proposal to spend $3 million to buy school property for future public use.
That would help Hamilton Southeastern, which recently cut $2.8 million from its budget and still faces a shortfall next year.
Fishers resident Brad DeReamer, a former Greenfield mayor, said he opposes the exchange of cash because it won’t solve the long-term problem. He thinks the town, which becomes a city Jan. 1, should instead focus on shoring up its infrastructure.
“Don’t take $3.1 million in city tax money and give to another taxing unit . when our roads are falling apart,” DeReamer said.
DeReamer might be in the minority.
Zionsville has promised to share tax revenue generated by a new corporate park with the school district, which used leftover bond money to acquire the property last year.
And the Westfield City Council is contributing $2.5 million toward construction of a football stadium at Westfield High School. The existing athletic fields will then be used for commercial development.
“A lot more of these discussions are happening now,” said Denny Costerison, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Business Officials. “I see it as very positive. We should be working together. If something helps the schools out, it helps the municipalities and other units of government.”
Zionsville officials say school districts rely on local government to be both gatekeeper and cheerleader.
“We’re clearly eating from the same trough,” said schools Superintendent Scott Robison.
Republican State Sen. Luke Kenley said school districts have long collaborated with local government on cost-saving arrangements such as bulk purchasing agreements, but he said it makes sense to deepen the conversation and address how best to serve the community.
“Eventually, they have to cooperate with each other,” Kenley said. “We’re starting to see that now.”