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EDITORIAL

School districts learning how to ask for money

Friday, December 27, 2013 - 12:01 am

When voters hear a sensible proposal, they will approve.

School districts in Indiana have gone to voters 92 times since 2008 seeking approval for property tax increases. The majority of requests – 53 percent – have been defeated.

That figure might seem discouraging to Hoosier educators. But breaking down the results shows a slightly different story, says Andrew Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, writing in The Indianapolis Star. In 2008 and 2009, districts put 26 referendums before voters; 16 of them, or 62 percent, failed. In 2012 and 2013, there were 21 referendums, and 13 of them, or 62 percent, passed.

“This suggests,” Downs says, “that supporters have learned how to get the referendums passed. In other words, they have figured out that these are political campaigns and have begun campaigning.”

We suspect, though Downs doesn’t get into it, that districts are learning what to ask for as well as how to ask for it. As we noted after Fort Wayne Community Schools lost a referendum on an extravagant bond issue and won approval for a more modest one, if voters are presented a realistic proposal clearly explained, they are likely to respond affirmatively. But shoot for the moon, and they’re apt to conclude that the district has been wasting their money and will continue to do so.

As school districts continue to feel the pinch caused by changes in state tax laws, they will need more referendums. They’re likely to feel a growing resentment at having to beg voters for bailouts. But they will also understand the growing need for modesty and honesty when it comes to dealing with those voters.

Voter participation in the process is a beautiful thing, not something to be feared. Because we live in a representative democracy, it’s neither wise nor necessary to seek voter approval for every little thing the way California does. That just encourages a tyranny of the majority. But some things are important enough to take to voters. How much of their money is spent is at the top of the list.

Boycotting the boycott

Indiana University and Purdue University have joined the dozens of colleges and universities denouncing the anti-Israel boycott launched by the American Studies Association and two smaller groups. Good for them.

For one thing, Israel is America’s strongest ally in a dangerous part of the world where friends are hard to come by; boycotting the country is stupid. For another, this kind of boycott is a grievous attack on academic freedom.