INDIANAPOLIS — Hoosier voters approved referendums Tuesday for Decatur and Wayne township schools in Marion County and districts serving Duneland, Franklin, Frontier and River Forest schools.

Four other school referendum initiatives failed, in Elkhart, Plymouth, Hanover (Lake County) and DeKalb County.

Of those that passed, four specifically mentioned student safety needs and better compensation for attracting and retaining teachers.

The other two approved referendums were at River Forest, which sought funding for teachers, staff, transportation and programs, and Frontier, which asked voters to approve money to fund programs, manage class sizes and attract and retain teachers.

"It's a little easier to pass a general fund or operating referendum. Historically it does pass at about two-thirds to one-third," said Terry Spradlin, executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association.

"Construction referenda or controlled projects referenda are a little more difficult to sell to the public and taxpayers. Those historically pass roughly 55 to 45 percent."

Indiana State Teachers Association President Teresa Meredith said in a statement Wednesday that declining state funding of public schools had prompted referendums across Indiana.

"Although we are happy for the six school districts that passed their referendums, we acknowledge the tough decisions that will have to be made in the four districts who did not," Meredith said.

"This system of the state minimally funding our public schools and forcing many ... to ask for additional funds from sometimes already struggling communities is deeply flawed," she continued. "We must do better by the 1.1 million students who attend our public schools and the hard-working educators who teach in them."

Hanover and DeKalb sought funds for construction projects, with Hanover citing security upgrades in part. The ballot questions for Elkhart and Plymouth, geared toward general fund revenues, both mentioned school safety and attracting quality teachers.

The Indiana General Assembly increased K-12 funding by $753 million in the budget for 2020 and 2021, including $74 million more for statewide grant programs such as the Indiana Secured Schools Safety program.

But that program has a cap on funding and has been geared more toward addressing threat assessments, technology and hiring school resource officers. The legislature did allow for a provision that schools could seek a grant for mental health services.

That limitation, however, might have led districts, including Plymouth, to seek funding for mental health support in its referendum.

"Some of them included social, emotional learning and mental health services, which we were hopeful that the legislature would fund," Spradlin said. "So districts are saying we need resources now. It's a growing need to provide students with those types of supports and services."

Elkhart Community Schools' plan was defeated by 63 percent of the voters. The proposal was set to address funding for academic programs, managing class sizes, school safety initiatives and attracting and retaining teachers.

Officials there cited economic inflation of 19.7 percent over the last nine years, compared to a 1.67 percent increase in the school district's general fund over that same period.

© 2020 Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.