Refer(end)um: Expiration of current referendum could end some AP programs and staff positions

Expiration of current referendum could end some AP programs, staff positions

Emily Dexter, News Reporter

Since the current referendum for the school district will expire on Dec. 31, a special election will occur on May 2 where Carmel citizens will vote on a new referendum to take its place. If this referendum fails, according to Superintendent Nicholas Wahl, programs not required for graduation, such as the AP program, could be cut back, and hundreds of teachers and school employees could potentially lose their jobs.

According to Wahl’s presentation to the Board of Education on Jan. 23, if the referendum fails, 260 total employee positions would need to be cut across the school district. At CHS, staff reductions would affect 77 employees, including teachers, instructional assistants, custodians, administrators and others. With fewer teachers, the average class size at CHS would increase from current levels of 28 to 30 students to 35 to 40 students.

According to Wahl, if the referendum passes, it will replace the current referendum tax rate of 16 cents with a higher rate of 19 cents, which will keep the flat school tax rate at 83 cents. These costs reflect the amount taxpayers must pay per $100 of assessed property value. For a property with an assessed value of $300,000, for example, once standard deductions are taken into account, the owner would pay $315 in school taxes instead of the previous amount of $265.

Wahl said via email, “We hope (taxpayers) can appreciate the top-notch education Carmel Clay Schools provide to their children and realize that we can’t continue to do what we do without this very important source of funding.”

For a dose of perspective, according to Wahl, the school system’s funding per student ranks as the second lowest in Indiana.

Michael Wang, AP state scholar and senior, said he would be disappointed if the referendum failure requires cuts to the AP program.

“Without having more challenging courses, school could become a little more boring or less meaningful, and it’s nice for students like me or my peers to be able to have classes that keep them engaged or challenged during the day,” Wang said.

The potential cuts to the AP program do not reflect trends in student participation. According to the counseling center’s presentation from Eighth Grade Transition Night, CHS student participation in AP courses from 2012 to 2016 increased from 1,457 to 1,580 students.

Also revealing an upward trend was the statistic of how many AP students scored 3’s or higher on their AP exams. That number climbed from 81.3 percent of students in 2012 to 88.8 percent in 2016.

Social studies teacher Jennifer Ellery said she has noticed student participation in AP European History, the course she teaches, decrease since she began teaching at CHS. However, she cited the introduction of new advanced programs and classes, such as ACP, IB and additional AP courses, as the reason for this trend, and not because of a lack of interest.

“There’s definitely perks to having so many course offerings,” Ellery said. “There’s just a lot of things beyond the core classes that this school has to offer. (Those classes) may not give weight, but they may help educate you for what you want to do or what you don’t want to do if you end up not liking it. Does that help water down the marketability of courses? Yes, but I think it’s a good problem to have because it’s an opportunity if you look at it from the right perspective.”

Ellery declined to comment on the referendum.

According to Wahl’s presentation, beginning after the 2009 recession, school operating funds began to come from state taxes instead of both state and local taxes. In response to this change, some communities, including the Carmel Clay school district, have passed referendums to preserve their educational programs.

“The worst-case scenario would be (if the referendum) fails,” Wahl said. “If we don’t have a new referendum in place, we’ll be forced to make some pretty tough decisions.”

Wang said, “If they decide that they really do need to cut back on the AP program, I hope that they make sure that they preserve a variety of different courses. Even if you have to cut courses, don’t cut all the art courses; don’t cut all the chemistry courses. Make sure all students still have high-level classes they can take, even if it’s fewer in the number of classes.”

Wang said it is important to maintain a variety of AP classes to match the large spectrum of students’ interests and subjects they would like to pursue in higher education.

Wahl said, “Strong schools beget strong communities. And strong communities drive higher property values. If this referendum fails, the impact will be felt farther and wider than our classroom walls.”