ZCS Situation - Managing Increasing Enrollment
Increasing Student Enrollment
Families want to raise their children here. Eagle and Union Townships of Boone County are welcoming family-oriented communities that are no longer well-kept secrets. The positive, safe, livable atmosphere of our school communities creates a beautiful context for those looking for the perfect place to call home.
Just northwest of Indianapolis is Zionsville Community Schools (ZCS) - one of the top-performing K-12 educational institutions in the state of Indiana. Engaged parents, hard-working students, innovative instruction, small class sizes and highly trained educators elevate the academic and other growth opportunities for youth served by Zionsville Community Schools.
Within our school corporation boundaries lie two fast growing communities, Zionsville and the Eagle Township portion of the Town of Whitestown. Their combined population has more than doubled since 2010. Many of the families enrolling in our schools tell us our reputation is the foremost reason they moved here. As a result, our enrollment has increased by 3,000 students since 2006 to 7,300. And growth will continue. A demographic study by the Indiana Business Resource Center at the IU Kelley School of Business projects enrollment growth of 200+ new students each year for the coming decade.
Previous ZCS leadership planned ahead and we haven’t needed major facility changes since our last construction bond in 2005. Now, enrollment growth is having a real impact on school operations. Partnerships with Skillman Corporation and Fanning Howey Architects have yielded years of comprehensive study regarding facilities care and capacities. Facilities studies show that all of our elementary schools will be full by 2023. Some will be at or over capacity much sooner than that, with one projected to hit 105% of capacity by August of 2019.
Zionsville Community High School (ZCHS) has already outgrown hallways, cafeteria space and lockers, and is nearly out of classroom space. By 2023, ZCHS is estimated to be short 32 classrooms.
School Revenue Challenges
Savvy debt management (strategic refinancing in 2014 and no construction debt for 15 years), tax rate reduction (20% since 2014), and other research and planning involving finance experts who live here and do work throughout the region have yielded clean external audits and the highest credit rating of all Indiana school districts.
Our success comes despite being the lowest funded school district in Indiana, receiving the lowest state funding amount on a per pupil basis of any school district in the state. Indiana funding from our 2012 operating referendum (which was approved by voters in 2012 and extended in 2015) is supporting about one-third of our teaching positions.
Board Considers Solution Options
Our plan to address our challenges is as follows. In order to accommodate growth and facilities needs to best serve the students in Zionsville Community Schools, we are exploring a two-pronged approach. We are asking the ZCS Board of Trustees to consider running both a Capital and an Operating Referendum on the November 2019 ballot.
A CAPITAL REFERENDUM would pay for a new elementary school, a high school addition, and renovations recommended by the facilities study for the other 1.7 million square feet ZCS uses to educate more than 7,000 students. Because debt is being paid off, the proposed facilities tax rate of 19.69 cents per $100 of property value would still bring the aggregate school tax rate to a lower level than the current rate. (To $1.268 from this year’s $1.298)
An OPERATING REFERENDUM pays for teachers, counselors, and other core mission professionals. We are proposing to extend the current referendum, which has already been approved twice by voters, for another eight years. The current referendum term would end, and a new eight-year term would begin, all at the exact same tax rate that cannot be raised by ZCS. The operating referendum extension would continue paying for 1/3 of all teachers and counselors, adding staff to serve 200 new students coming each year for the next decade, and provide financial stability needed to adequately staff new facilities proposed in the capital referendum.
What This Means to Taxpayers
The total school tax rate would drop by nearly five cents, but please bear with us - this is complicated. In 2019, $0.2264 is paid ABOVE the tax cap on the ZCS tax rate and $1.0716 below the cap. If the proposed referenda were put on the ballot by the school board and passed by voters in November, $0.4213 cents would be ABOVE the tax cap and just $0.8268 cents below the cap in the example year 2023 shown by our analysis. So, the tax rate drops from $1.298 in 2019 to $1.2481 in 2023. A tax calculator will be placed on the ZCS website to help determine impact for individual taxpayers.
Consequences if the Referendum is not Approved
There are a number of options we could consider for accommodating enrollment growth, though none of them would maintain our current level of service to students.
- Increase class sizes
- Change elementary attendance boundaries frequently to balance school enrollment size, and even though this disruption to families, neighborhoods, and students’ continuity of school experiences, we are simply growing too fast to not outgrow our five elementary schools
- Add portable classrooms
- Alter delivery of programs like STEM, art, and so on to free up dedicated classroom space for other courses (again, this is a stopgap measure that damages important programs for kids and will not suffice to accommodate our rapid growth)
Regardless of these solutions, common spaces, such as cafeterias, gyms, hallways and lockers, would need to accommodate more students than the schools were built to handle.
If the operating levy extension is not approved, referendum revenue would continue through 2021, at which time we would have to reduce our staff by approximately one-third, driving up class sizes and forcing difficult decisions about which ZCS programs and services must be cut immediately.