On the November 5th ballot, Center Grove Schools is asking White River township voters to approve a referendum that would fund improved safety, increased security, and add mental health and classroom behavioral supports for the more than 8,700 students we serve. While our core mission is to educate, we must also keep those students safe while they are in our care. We are proud of the investments in safety and security we have made over the last five years. We have added School Resource Officers, School Safety Officers, and security cameras in buildings and on school buses. We’ve also made investments in our buildings to secure vestibules and developed procedures for access to our buildings. But the recent school tragedies in our country from Colorado to Florida to nearby Noblesville and Richmond, Indiana have led us to scrutinize even more deeply the safety and security measures we have in place.
In 2018, we commissioned the Safe Havens International group to conduct a thorough audit of safety and security throughout all school facilities. They found several things Center Grove is doing well, along with recommendations for improvement. Our next step was to survey our parents, staff, and community members to see what they believe is necessary for our schools to improve safety and security, and provide mental health support for our students. Their feedback, along with the needs identified by Safe Havens aligned into three main areas: Live Monitoring, Fast Response/Deterrents, and Mental Health & Classroom/Teacher Supports. Details of the survey and assessment are on our website at www.centergrove.k12.in.us/SaferCG.
For the last decade, White River Township taxpayers have seen a flat tax rate from Center Grove Schools. Thanks to solid fiscal management and planning by the Center Grove Board of School Trustees and Administration, we have funded 13 building projects, including major renovations of the Technology Center, Innovation Center, Center Grove ES, North Grove ES, CGHS, and the construction of the Student Activity Center and Walnut Grove ES without having to ask for additional tax dollars. We have also provided pay increases to our teachers and staff for five of the last six years. That’s even more impressive when you realize Center Grove is consistently among the lowest funded school districts in the state. In 2018, Center Grove’s funding per student was 276th out of 289 school districts. We are also fortunate that we have not had to deal with substantial tax cap losses. But as our home values continue to increase, we estimate we will lose just over $12 million in financial support in the next eight years.
The Board and our leadership team have discussed the importance of investing in the areas identified by the Safe Havens Safety Audit and the Thought Exchange survey. As you may know, state law restricts how schools can spend the money in each of their funds. For example, Center Grove must pay for police and school safety officers out of the same funds used to pay teachers; and upgrades to security out of the same funds used to maintain buildings and pay utilities. We do not want to wait and hope that we will be able to fit these needed improvements into our budget over the next 5, 10, or 15 years. We want to make these investments as soon as possible, so that the students we have right now will benefit from them.
The referendum on November 5th would provide 11.5 cents per $100 in assessed value to support our schools. The referendum would establish a new, separate fund from which Center Grove could pay for safety, security, and mental health/classroom support investments.
Please know that the decision to seek a referendum is not a decision that our school leadership came to quickly. My team and I have spent months reviewing the recommendations from the Safe Havens International Safety Audit and the thoughts shared through our community survey. We have revised our list of priorities to include only the investments that are most important to keep the tax levy as low as possible.
Keeping our students safe is a tremendous responsibility in the world in which we now live. It is a responsibility I take very personally as your superintendent and the parent of two children who attend Center Grove Schools. Putting off these investments is not a risk we want to take.
We appreciate the tremendous partnership we share with our parents and residents of our community as we work to provide exceptional educational experiences for our students. Please vote “Yes” to the Center Grove referendum question on the November 5th ballot.
Richard A. Arkanoff, Ed.D.
Center Grove Community School Corporation