The Vigo County School Board voted 6-0 Thursday to pursue a $260 million building referendum that calls for new academic facilities and renovated non-academic facilities for North, South and West Vigo high schools.

The referendum would be placed on the May 3 election ballot, although several steps remain before that happens.

Based on Superintendent Rob Haworth’s recommendation, the board endorsed “Option 2,” which means all three schools would be done at the same time if voters approve the referendum.

The board conducted a project and preliminary determination hearing, required by state law if a district intends to enter into a lease or issue bonds for a construction or renovation project of a certain dollar threshold.

Thirty-three people spoke, including several educators, and all but one speaker endorsed Option 2. The one speaker opposed said the increased taxes would hurt those living in poverty.

Among those speaking was Bob Murray, executive director of the Taxpayers Association of Vigo County. Murray said the organization voted to support Option 2.

“Many of our members are business owners who bear the brunt of tax increases. But they are aware of how important it is to upgrade the facilities,” Murray said. Improving high school facilities “is important for the future economic growth of our community.”

Speaker James Twitchell said, “if this community can get behind a casino, I hope to God we can get behind this referendum, Option 2.”

Ryan Easton, West Vigo High School principal, said, “This is not a vote about our buildings. This is a vote about our children and opportunity.”

Easton also said to the board, “I ask you to be game changers in the history and culture of Vigo County. Casinos, convention center, jails are nice, but they do not change the culture of a community. “

The final speaker, Tim Ramseier, urged those attending to become active in helping promote the referendum to secure voter approval.

In advocating for Option 2, Haworth said it addresses high school facility needs “in a significant, significant way,” but It also “allows you to create a 25- to 30-year facility plan for the entire district.”

The district has been consistent in maintaining a 21-cent debt service tax rate, and if the $260 million referendum is approved, that existing debt service rate can be used for elementary and middle school facility needs.

Those who spoke Thursday “did not just want to address the high schools,” Haworth said. “They wanted a comprehensive plan and thought Option 2 was economical and that it will help bring significant changes to the high schools, but also protect our middle schools and elementary schools.”

Looking to the next step, a petition will be circulated seeking 500 signatures from property owners or registered voters who support placing the question on the ballot. That will take place from Jan. 18-21. “If we’re able to do that, then it will get placed on the ballot,” Haworth said.

Getting voter approval will not be an easy task, he said. “I think it will be a very difficult referendum to win. It will take a united effort and collaboration among a lot of different groups. But I sensed a spirit from various groups that looks like they’re willing to work together to get this done.”

Financial details

The maximum borrowing amount would be $261.8 million, with a maximum repayment term of 20 years. The estimated interest expense is $89.3 million, based on an estimated interest rate ranging from 1.6% to 3.7%.

The maximum referendum tax rate is 41.8 cents per $100 assessed value, which is a 25.6 cent increase above the current operating referendum tax rate.

The district proposes ending its operational referendum — approved by voters in the fall of 2019 — earlier than scheduled, with federal ESSER funds filling the gap. It’s also possible because the district has been reducing operating costs.

By ending the operating referendum in 2024 instead of 2027, that would free up the 16.2-cent operating referendum tax rate to be used toward a building program, which would limit additional tax impact.

Under Option 2, for a home with a market value of $200,000, and a net assessed value of $97,750, the annual added tax impact would be $250.

For a home with a market value of $97,500 and net assessed value of $31,125, the annual added tax impact would be about $80. 

MET 011322 VCSC HS GOELLER

Tribune-Star/Joseph C. Garza Potential: Vigo County School Board member Hank Irwin and Vigo County School Corporation Deputy Superintendent Karen Goeller look over an artist's rendering of what could be done with one of the former pool areas in one of the local high schools during the board's meeting on Thursday at the corporation's headquarters.

[Those figures do not include the 16.2 cents currently paid with the operating referendum, which would become part of the new facility referendum.]

For $100,000 of assessed value for commercial/rental property, the annual added tax impact is $256. For 100 acres of agricultural ground, the added annual impact is $330.

A political action committee will promote the referendum and “help move the campaign forward,” Haworth said in an interview.

Board member Joni Wise was not in attendance at Thursday’s meeting.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at sue.loughlin@tribstar.com Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.

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