Primary Election is Over- Big Winner? HSE Schools

I was still in Noblesville election night, waiting for the final vote tallies, when I talked to Hamilton Southeastern (HSE) School Superintendent Allen Bourff.  Even though it was a phone conversation, I could detect a smile in his voice.  He had a right to be smiling, ear-to-ear, after the HSE Schools funding referendum passed with over 70% approval.

Bourff said the next steps will be actions HSE staff and parents have been waiting for.  His administrators  will be setting up a strategy to post new jobs, including additional teachers.  He and his staff will be working on how to start world language programs.  He will be looking at collective bargaining with the local teachers association to work on the teacher compensation package.

In other words, work will start right away on the school corporation making good on the promises made when the funding referendum was first proposed.  This will be the beginning of a process.  LarryInFishers will be keeping you updated on all these developments.

Meanwhile, one local political candidate is looking back on his unsuccessful campaign for Hamilton County Commissioner.  Local restaurateur Bill Smythe challenged incumbent Commissioner Mark Heirbrandt in the Republican primary.  Heirbrandt won nearly 57% of the vote.

“I want to thank everyone that helped me and worked the polls today,” Smythe wrote in a Facebook message. “I also want to thank you all that voted for me. I realized from day one we had a huge lift but we represented well and brought light to the problems in the county.”

The Hamilton County Council election was close all evening.  The final total showed Rick McKinney receiving 25% of the vote.  Second place finisher with nearly 23% of the votes was Jeff Hern.  Brad Beaver was third, with nearly 21% of the ballots cast.  Retiring Fishers Police Chief George Kehl came up short as a council candidate with just under 20%.  Bill Dennis finished in last place with 11.3% of the vote.  The top three – McKinney, Hern and Beaver, will all be on the November Republican ballot.  As of now, there are no Democrat candidates on the general election ballot for council.


2016 Primary Election Results


217 Precincts of 217 Precincts in all of Hamilton County


HSE School Referendum

Yes       23380        71.42%

No         9356          28.58%


Hamilton County Commissioner

Mark Heirbrandt    34038       56.95%

Bill Smythe               25734      43.05%


Hamilton County Council

Brad Beaver             30221      20.92%

Bill Dennis                 16337      11.31%

Jeff Hern                   32934       22.8%

George Kehl             28764       19.91%

Rick McKinney        36218      25.07%


Busy Early Hours of Voting in Fishers

I started my rounds of polling sites at mid-morning election day.  Here’s what I found.

Voting lines were long in some places early as people cast their ballots before heading to work.  As mid-morning approached, many of the long lines disappeared but a steady stream of voters continued at the polling places I visited through midday.

At one stop, I saw Fishers City Councilman Pete Peterson, a backer of Hamilton County Commissioner candidate Mark Heirbrandt, standing near the other Commissioner candidate Bill Smythe.  Witnesses told me there had been some good-natured ribbing at times between the two Republicans who are sometimes on the opposite ends of public issues.  But both joined me for a live Periscope video broadcast (sadly, the Internet connection was not strong there and the video picture wasn’t the best).  They both agreed how good it is to see so many people showing up at the polls for a primary election.

I saw a number of Advance HSE supporters, urging voters to vote yes on the school referendum.  I did see a few signs urging a no vote.  The sign has an Internet URL which features  a 2-page handout scanned and a link to a general Web page on school funding.  I would have been happy to talk with these people and question them on their views, but no one knows who is behind this. When you surface days before an election and do not disclose who you are, it’s hard to take the argument seriously.  Again, their opinion is respected, but hard to take seriously when its done in an anonymous fashion.



Hamilton County GOP Primary Election

This year’s primary election is about more than presidential politics and a U.S. Senate race.  There are important offices up for grabs in Hamilton County that have an impact on people living in Fishers.

The most important is the election for county commissioner.  Most Indiana counties have 3 commissioners and they act as the mayors of the counties.  They make most of the administrative decisions and are key to choosing county government priorities.

Hamilton County’s Commissioners are Christine Altman, Steve Dillinger and Mark Heirbrandt.  Altman is not up for re-election this year.  Dillinger has no primary opponent.

Heirbrandt is running for his first full term as commissioner.  Doug Carter was elected to that commissioner seat in 2012, but shortly after that election, he was appointed Indiana State Police Superintendent (Carter is a former Hamilton County Sheriff).  There was a Republican caucus to fill that opening and Heirbrandt was elected by the precinct officials voting.  Therefore, Heirbrandt has served all but a few weeks of this 4-year term.

Local Fishers businessman Bill Smythe is opposing Heirbrandt.  He has been involved in local politics for many years but has yet to serve in elective office.

Smythe and Heirbrandt are a contrast in their approaches to government.

Smythe has two overriding campaign issues.  His slogan of “Voters over Vendors” is a reference to the amount of Heirbrandt’s campaign cash raised so far and where the money is coming from.  Smythe also is emphasizing “Rehabilitation over Incarceration,” saying we must treat those addicted to drugs and alcohol, rather than locking them up in the prison system.  He also wants what he describes as more transparency and public input on proposed projects.

Heirbrandt insists his campaign contributors simply share his vision of governing and that many never bid on a county contract.  He was caught up in a controversy over an e-mail exchange with a St. Joseph County Commissioner when he discussed campaigns and a bid for a contract.  Heirbrandt insisted in a podcast interview with me that he was “caught in a political snare.”  He touts endorsements from mayors and city council officials in the county, as well as organizations representing local police and firefighters.

You can listen to my Podcast with Mark Heirbrandt at this link, and the Podcast with Bill Smythe at this link.

The county council has jurisdiction over money matters.  They approve budgets for the commissioners, their projects and for departments of county government.

There are three at-large Hamilton County Council seats at stake in the primary election. Brad Beaver and Rick McKinney are incumbents seeking reelection.  There are two new challengers, both with ties to Fishers.

Long-time Fishers Police Chief George Kehl is set to retire in September of this year, and is a candidate for a council seat.  Fall Creek Township Trustee Jeff Hern is also running for one of the at-large council seats.

McKinney claims he found Hern’s cell phone near campaign signs McKinney claims were stolen.  You can read the latest Indianapolis Star story on this at this link.

With four candidates, the top three in votes cast will win the GOP nomination.  That means one of the three will not be on the November ballot.

It should be noted that no Democrats have filed for any of these offices, although the party chairman may appoint candidates to appear on the ballot if done so before a deadline this summer.

Even though those of us living in the City of Fishers just consider ourselves governed by our mayor and city council, county government has a lot to do with our daily lives as well. As you enter the voting booth, take the time to learn about the candidates and vote for your county officials



The Most Important May 3rd Vote for Fishers Residents



Indiana is rarely a player during the presidential primary process in either party, but during this election cycle, Indiana is important to both party nomination processes.  But even with all the attention heaped on the presidential primaries, the most important decision for voters in Fishers (and some adjacent areas in the Hamilton Southeastern School {HSE} School District) lies in the first item appearing on your voting machine.

That item is a yes or no vote for the HSE Schools.  Yes means you are voting in favor of a property tax increase to fund the local schools.  A no vote means our local school corporation will take a huge financial hit.

My wife and I chose to live in Fishers after our marriage in 1991.  We didn’t choose to reside here because of the schools, but we knew a strong school system leads to a vibrant community and at least stable property values, if not increased value over time.

Then our twin daughters came along in 1994 and that settled it – we were in Fishers to stay. We knew the local schools were top-notch and wanted our daughters to be educated here. It was a good decision.

Both girls were educated in HSE Schools from kindergarten through their senior year of high school. They will both admit their education prepared them well for university-level courses.  Both are set to graduate from college May 7th.

The wonderful education my daughters received from HSE Schools is now endangered for the students of today.  A serious budget crisis is facing our local schools, and the HSE School Board is now acting by placing this referendum on the May 3rd election ballot.

The state of Indiana provides most of the money that pays local school staff, with a large share of that cash going to teacher compensation.  The property taxes we pay fund the buildings, some maintenance, transportation and some other odds and ends, unless an operating referendum is approved.

The state of Indiana funding for local schools uses a complex formula, and allows more funding per student in districts with higher percentages of kids on free or reduced lunch programs (translated: students from lower-income families).  As a result, HSE Schools, with a lower percentage of free and reduced lunch students, is third from the bottom in the entire state for per-student financial support from the state legislature.  Only Carmel and Zionsville get less state support compared to HSE.

The state did provide some relief in the most recent budget cycle, but that didn’t remedy years of state support far below the annual increased cost of doing business.

The HSE School Board asked voters to approve a 10 cent property tax increase in 2009. School officials sold that plebiscite by promising new and enhanced programs for students.  The referendum passed.

Then, as a result of the severe economic downturn going on at the time, Governor Mitch Daniels was forced to slash state support to local school corporations late in 2009.  Many school districts were forced to slash spending, lay-off staff and close buildings.  HSE didn’t get the enhanced programs promised by the 2009 referendum, but our local schools never suffered like others around the state because of the referendum money in place.

Referendum votes to support operating expenses only last for 7 years.  The 2009 referendum will expire at the end of 2016 (remember, 2010 was year one, 2011 year two, etc.).

There is a great deal at stake in this referendum vote.  If this referendum fails, HSE will lose the 10 cents per $100 of assessed valuation in place the past seven years, and will not receive the increase of 12.75 cents being requested in this vote.

If this vote fails, HSE will lose 50 teaching positions next year and 50 teaching positions the following year.  That’s 100 fewer teachers over the next two years.  Class sizes would skyrocket.

There will certainly be cuts in academic programs and extra curricular activities.  In short, the cuts, should this referendum fail, will be very painful.

But, on the other hand, if the referendum passes, more staff can be hired.  Class sizes will be reduced.  Fees and payments called Pay-to-Play would be reduced, and in some instances ended.  Book rental fees will be reduced, based on my Podcast interview with Superintendent Allen Bourff.

HSE Schools will also be more competitive for teachers with a better compensation package.  Our teachers would be at about the Indianapolis-area average in compensation if the referendum passes.

The Political Action Committee advocating for a yes vote, Advance HSE, has a calculator to determine how much your property tax would increase if the referendum passes.  You can access that calculator at this link.

Yes, my taxes will increase too if this referendum receives a majority yes vote.

There are a number of facts that you must consider as you decide how to vote on this school funding referendum.  I have tried to look at the facts.  I have summarized many of them already.  Here are two more for your consideration.

There has been no organized opposition to this referendum.  This is a bit of a surprise.  But it speaks volumes that no group of people has chosen to get together and oppose this referendum

After covering the school board for a few years now, I know the long list of tough decisions that have been made in recent years to cut spending.  This board has cut everything possible, and has tried mightily to spare the classroom as much as possible.  This has become more and more difficult with each passing year.  This board is composed of some fairly conservative people.  They were very careful in making the decision of asking for a funding referendum, and have been just as careful in deciding how much to ask from local taxpayers to fund the schools.

Some people have asked why I have not covered opponents of this referendum.  The reason is – I have found very few.  I covered two public meetings by the school district to discuss the referendum, and have summarized objections raised at these meetings.  Bottom line is this – there has been little public opposition to this referendum.

I am not in the business of telling people how to vote.  I would ask you to consider this.  I no longer have any children in the local schools.  I know my taxes will increase…not a lot, by there will be an increase.  I have looked at all the facts.  The local school officials have made a compelling case for a yes vote.  I would ask that you look at the facts, and make an informed and educated decision on your vote.

Lunch Concerts Coming to Downtown Fishers

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The green area behind Fishers City Hall will be the center of music on Wednesdays at lunchtime this spring.  With all the restaurants now in place around the downtown area, local residents and downtown workers can enjoy a series of concerts at midweek fron noon to 1pm.

The city has just announced this lineup of musical acts:

  • May 4 – Jon Barnard
  • May 11 – Kelly Isenhower
  • May 18 – Zach Day
  • May 25 – Fishers Music Works Mudsock Jazz Combo
  • June 1 – Jon Barnard
  • Jun 8 – Kelly Isenhower
  • June 15 – Zach Day
  • June 22 – Jesse Lacy
  • June 29 – Fishers Music Words Mudsock Jazz Combo

The Nickel Plat mobile phone app will feature lunch specials just on the concert days.