Friday, April 30, 2010

Crushing Debt at MSD Decatur Township

In 2002, the Decatur School District owed $25.5 million. With the payment schedule in place at the time, that debt would be paid down to $12.0 million by the end of 2009. (Data from the 2002 "Financial Feasibility Report" by H.J. Umbaugh & Associates)

By the end of last year, our debt (principle only) stood at a crushing $266.7 million - not counting the debt from temporary loans. (Finance data from the Indiana Department of Education website)

That means that $254.7 million of new debt was loaded onto the taxpayer's backs in 7 short years. The first round of building projects accounted for $50 million, less what would have been paid back in the intervening 7 years. The High School project accounts for another $85 million. That still leaves over $119.7 million of unexplained debt that Superintendent Don Stinson, Assistant Superintendent for Business Jeff Baer, and the rubber stamping School Board got us into. Judy Collins was on the Board for all of those years - Dale Henson for the last 4 years.

So what? What do those numbers mean?

Back in 2002, the "Financial Feasibility Report" cited above, was commissioned to analyse the amount of debt that the District tax base could handle, without the District dropping below an AA- bond rating. Bond ratings dictate the interest rate and saleability of a governmental unit's bonds. The Report predicted a steady 3.5% growth in the net Assessed Value (AV) of our Township outside of the TIF area - so essentially the tax base from which the School District can draw property taxes. The net AV predicted for 2010 by the report was $1.000 billion. Our actual net AV for 2010 is $1.091 billion - so Umbaugh & Associates did a stellar job with that prediction.

As the net AV grows, the amount of debt that can be carried without losing the top tier of bond ratings grows with it. This is simply because the ability to repay the debt increases as the tax base increases; just like a household qualifies for larger loans as their salary increases.

The "Financial Feasibility Report" used the predicted net AV to calculate the amount of debt the School District could reasonably get into without losing the best bond ratings. The figures ended up that by 2010, we could reasonably handle a total debt of $80.9 million, or 8.3% of our net AV. Instead we have $266.7 million which is a crushing 24.5% of our net AV.

So how do we compare with the other School Districts in Marion County? In 2002, using outstanding debt as a % of net AV to normalize the comparison, MSD Decatur Township was in the middle of the pack. From lowest to highest were: Speedway (with no debt at all), Washington Township, Pike Township, Wayne Township, Lawrence Township, Decatur Township, Perry Township, Warren Township, Beech Grove, and Franklin Township.

How do we compare today? We have, by far, the greatest debt as a % of net AV of any of the other School Districts. Here are the debt loads of all 11 Districts:

Decatur Township = 24.5%
Franklin Township = 15.8%
Wayne Township = 11.1%
Beech Grove = 8.8%
IPS = 8.0%
Warren Township = 5.1%
Lawrence Township = 5.0%
Perry Township = 3.9%
Pike Township = 1.4%
Washington Township = 1.1%
Speedway = 0%

These numbers were calculated from data on outstanding debt provided on the DOE website and the net AV data provided by the Department of Local Government Finance.

This staggering debt may explain the claim that the District owes $3 million interest on a temporary loan of $23 million - an equally staggering 13% interest rate when other taxing units are qualifying for low single digit interest rates.

But for sure, this debt is the source of most of the financial mess we are currently in. The $1.5 million budget cut for Decatur Schools ordered by Governor Mitch Daniels is chump change in the $9.8 million hole. But, all you hear from Stinson, Baer, and the School Board is bad economy and bad Mitch Daniels.

Umbaugh and Associates presented the findings of their "Financial Feasibility Study" to a packed house in the High School Auditorium. Present was Superintendent Don Stinson. Current School Board member Don Huffman was also present. I cannot imagine that Judy Collins, Dale Henson, and Cathy Wiseman missed that meeting, either.

Let me recap - the "Financial Feasibility Study" accurately predicted our net AV and calculated that by 2010 the tax base of Decatur Schools could handle a total debt of $80.9 million. Instead, we are buried in $266.7 million total debt (excluding temporary loans). Less than $147 million can be explained by debt from building projects. Instead of having a prudent debt load of 8.3% of our net AV or tax base, we have by far the highest debt load of any School District in Marion County at 24.5%.

This is EXACTLY why we are in the financial mess we are in. And this is EXACTLY why you should vote for Coffey and Hire on Tuesday.

13 Teachers Recalled at MSD Decatur Township

Here is the list of the 13 Teachers who had been RIFed, but have now been recalled:

Anne Gothe(315) ------------ECC ----------------------Kindergarten Teacher
Melissa Abernathy(308) -----ECC ---------------------Kindergarten Teacher
Erin Mould (336) -------------VM ---------------------1st Grade Teacher
Lisa Schwedler(366) ---------ECC ---------------------Kindergarten Teacher
Cassandra Nichols(364) ------ECC ---------------------Special Education Teacher
Thomas Dennis(348) --------ECC ----------------------Kindergarten Teacher
Michelle Misurac(360) -------HS ---------------------Science Teacher
Joan Tejchma**(343) ---------DDA ----------------Chemistry/Physics Facilitator
Heather Beach**(373) ---------HS/Q&I -----------------English Teacher
Trisha Corbin**(374) ----------MS ----------------------Mathematics Teacher
Amanda Skobel(368) --------HS ---------------------Special Education Teacher
Karen Harwood**(377) --------HS/ICE ------------------Mathematics Teacher
John Kirtland**(378) ----------HS/Choice ---------------English Teacher

Names with asterisks were listed as "non-permanent staff" in the RIF list. The rest were listed as "semi-permanent and permanent staff". The number is the position on the seniority list of 401 - this list also includes administrators. The higher the number the less seniority a person has.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Don Stinson Finalist in Superintendent Search in Baldwin County, Alabama

The commenters on this blog are a font of information. As most of you know by now, the comments have included links to news items from Alabama. Here are some additional ones.

From Local 15 News (NBC), posted yesterday:
The superintendent search for Baldwin County has now been narrowed down to 6 finalists. BWP and Associates, the superintendent search firm working for Baldwin County, received 31 applications from 14 states.

They then list the 6 finalists, including Don Stinson of MSD Decatur Township. The Board hopes to have the new Superintendent working there by July 1.

From the Baldwin County Public Schools website, applications were due by April 19. They are looking for the following qualifications:
Qualifications The Baldwin County Board of Education is interested in attracting a proven educational leader who possesses a good balance of academic preparation combined with depth of administrative and teaching experience. The candidate will need to be a dynamic, energetic individual who has demonstrated collaborative leadership and is effective in building and maintaining strong community support for public education. The successful candidate will be:
An Educational Leader with Integrity
A Skilled Instructional
A Problem Solver
An Effective Communicator
An Effective
Collaborative Leader
Effective Manager of Public School Finance

Baldwin County Schools, with an enrollment of 28,000 students, has only two Assistant Superintendents, according to their website.

From the Mobile Press-Register (click here), posted just 6 hours ago, interviews will be held on May 10, 11, and 13. They say further:

The full board will interview each candidate separately, officials said, in closed sessions. Before each candidate is interviewed, Roberts said, a public reception will give county residents, media and others interested a chance to speak with each one.

After the last interview, board members will vote to narrow the list to the top two or three. On May 24 and 25, Roberts said, finalists will return for interviews. On May 27 and 28, individual members of the board will make site visits to where the candidates currently work.

On June 1, Roberts said, board members will vote to select their new superintendent.
The new superintendent's salary and contract will be negotiated, board members said. Former Superintendent Faron Hollinger's salary was $147,125.

Hollinger left the 27,000-student system in December, more than a year before his contract ended, after Baldwin County Public Schools plunged into the worst financial crisis in its history, according to some. With state and local revenue declining by more than $61 million in a two-year time frame, the system cut hundreds of jobs and closed two schools with additional cuts on the horizon.

The article goes on to mention brief information about the 6 finalists, with Don Stinson's information as:
Donald Stinson, superintendent, Municipal School District of Decatur Township, Indianapolis; system enrollment: 7,000; salary, $280,000; education specialist, Indiana University.

I know we all wish Don Stinson the best for his interviews.

Thanks to the world's best commenters for yet another local news scoop. You know who you are.

Decatur Township's Taxbase - Not to Blame for Fiscal Mess in School District

The incumbent candidates for Decatur School Board, and the District Administration, would love for you to believe that the financial mess that the District is in, is due in large measure not to their buying and spending spree, but is due to the existence of the Indianapolis Airport and the United Tax Increment Finance (TIF) District within our Township boundaries.

The short version, if you just want to take my word for it, is "poppycock". Much like your parents assets, they may sit in full view of you, but the money is being spent elsewhere and will not be yours until it is time. To spend funds as though that inheritance is already yours is plainly and simply irresponsible and WILL get you into a financial hole. But, you will have only yourself to blame.

The longer version, if you don't want to take my word for it, or you are curious how TIFs and public tax-free property work, or you already know all this and just want to make sure I get it correct -- please read on.

The simplest item is the Indianapolis Airport. The Airport owns a huge number of acres both on and around the airport runways. These properties are not subject to property taxes; just like any other government property, school property, or church property. In the case of the Airport, both Wayne and Decatur Township residents and officials have long sought to have the excess property sold to taxpaying groups and businesses so that they will again contribute property tax funds to our two Townships. Businesses located on Airport property, may pay 'personal property' taxes on their buildings and what is inside them, but they do not have to pay 'real estate property' taxes. FedEx, for instance, is located within Decatur's borders, and is our single largest property tax payer, but it is shielded from its full property tax bill because it is the Airport that owns the land, some of the buildings, and some of the equipment inside the buildings, and the Airport does not pay property taxes. It is worth noting that this Airport tax situation has been the same since the Airport's creation decades and decades ago. Not that we should give up our attempts to get the Airport's excess property put back on the tax rolls, but it is silly to blame the Airport for our School District's financial mess. Again, those funds were never given to us, and have never been relied upon to finance our debt. Like the inheritance analogy, these monies have never been ours to spend, and will not be ours until certain events take place.

The United TIF District was formed back in the end of the Hudnut and beginning of the Goldsmith Administration, as I recall. In order to lure United Airlines to locate its Maintenance Center at our Airport, something like $300 million in tax money was pledged to help build the facility and to help sweeten the deal for United. To pay this huge sum, a Tax Increment Finance District was formed using land in Decatur and Wayne, but also Warren and Lawrence Townships. At the beginning date of the TIF, the baseline value of all this land was frozen. All property taxes that were previously being paid out, continue to this day to be paid out to the governmental units in whose territory the property lies. Any new property built in the TIF will pay its share of property taxes, but the money will diverted to pay off the United bonds instead of going to the governmental units in whose territory the property lies. This new property tax revenue is what is referred to as the 'Increment' in the TIF name.

For Decatur Township, the United TIF includes all of the development in Ameriplex except for the two new hotels, the portion of the Pepsi warehouse that is inside Marion County, and the new Greybar building. Last I heard anything specific about this TIF, the bonds were to finally be paid off by 2018 -- if the City didn't refinance and extend the term of those bonds. According to figures supplied to me by Marion County Assessor, Greg Bowes, the TIF District accounts for 13% of the total value of property in Decatur Township. But, again like the inheritance analogy, you might wish that money was yours now, but it is not. It is foolhardy to spend money you do not have and will not have for some time to come.

For property tax purposes, Decatur Township is indeed going to be in a better position some day. But, the School Board and the Administration knew that our tax base had a TIF District and an Airport carved into it. They spent frivolously and now they want you to blame these issues rather than them. Simple as that.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Finally - More Disclosure of Administrative Contracts

The administrator addenda to the MSD Decatur Township contracts was finally handed over to the citizen who made the open records request back on March 11. This person gave me copies of the limited information they received previously, and I noted that some of it in my blog entries "Jeff Baer Without a Contract Since 2006 - Really?" and "MSD Decatur's New CFO - Salary On the Rise". Along with the addenda, Jeff Baer's current contract for 2009-2010 school year is finally turned over.

For this entry, lets just run through the items in the addenda. There are several versions, depending upon the particular administrator.

The 'stripped down model' is as follows:

1. The contract described in the title of this addendum shall be supplemented with all the benefits in the Negotiated agreement between the Corporation and the Decatur Education Association except as modified by this addendum.
2. The term of this contract shall be July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2010.
3. Each administrator shall receive an amount equal to the annual cost of the Hoosier School Benefit Trust family health and family dental insurance plan ($19,812.00 for the 2009-2010 school year) for purchase of Section 125 benefits including 403b/457 or as additional wages as elected by the individual administrator. The "benefit dollar" amount paid to each administrator shall be included in "annual compensation" as defined in IC 5-10.2-4-3(c) and used to determine the "average of annual compensation" defined in IC 5-10.2-4-3(b) and reported to the Indiana State Teacher Retirement Fund for purposes of calculating the administrator's retirement benefit.
4. The Corporation shall provide vision insurance to the administrator at no cost.
5. The Corporation shall pay all premiums less $.01 per year toward a life insurance policy valued at 1.5 times the annual base salary.
6. Administrators shall be covered by a Long Term Disability Insurance Program that provides 662/3% of the administrator's monthly compensation up to a maximum benefit of $8,333.33. The cost of the insurance premium for long term disability insurance is added to the administrator's base pay.
7. The Corporation shall provide administrators contracted for 260 days with 20 paid vacation days. Administrators may carry forward up to 30 accumulated vacation days. Accumulated vacation days beyond 30 days shall be converted to personal illness days.
8. The Corporation shall pay the administrator's membership to his/her professional organization.
9. At the request/approval of the superintendent, administrators may attend a national conference for professional development in their assigned area(s) of school administration.
10. Administrators may transfer all accumulated personal illness days from their previous employers.
11. Administrators are granted personal illness days according to the following rate plus three (3) additional days during their first year of employment:
a. 185-209 contract days ---------13 medical/illness days/year
b. 210-239 contract days ---------14 medical/illness days/year
c. 240-260 contract days ---------15 medical/illness days/year
12. A sick leave bank will be available for administrators who have exhausted all other leave. The merit of each request will be considered by the Board.
13. Administrators are granted personal business days according to the following rate:
a. 185-209 contract days ----------3 personal business days/year
b. 210-260 contract days ----------4 personal business days/year
Unused personal business leave days may be accumulated the following year as person business leave days up to a maximum of five (5). Excess personal business leave days accumulated beyond five (5) shall be added to accumulated medical/illness leave days. If the administrator does not desire to accumulate these days as medical/illness leave days, the administrator may claim each day in excess of five (5) for $100 per day.
14. Administrators contracted for 260 days will be paid for the following holidays: Fourth of July, Labor Day, Fall Recess, Thanksgiving Day and the day following, Christmas Day and the day before, New Year's Day and the day before, Martin Luther King Day, President's Day, and Memorial Day. The superintendent shall designate an alternative day when a paid holiday is a Saturday or Sunday.
15. Administrators shall be paid at the IRS rate of reimbursement for use of automobile.
16. Any administrator who has accumulated one hundred (120) [sic]days of sick leave at the end of their final year of service with the school corporation shall have the sum of two thousand ($2,000) added to their final teaching contract.

This stripped down version of the administrator addendum is the contract version for Susan Adams, Anna Cook, Lisa Cook, Bob Harris, Candace Milhon-Baer, and Rosie O'Brien. All are under contract for 260 days per year, except Anna Cook is 210 days, and that information is missing for Lisa Cook and Rosie O'Brien. No contracts for building administrators, Principals and Assistant Principals, were requested or delivered. So we have no information about these contract positions.

One notch up from this version is one that modifies number 15 - the reimbursement for use of automobile. This second version leaves a blank for the dollar amount that is filled in by hand:

In lieu of mileage allowance, each assistant superintendent and senior director shall receive a vehicle allowance in the amount of $_____.

For comparison, the IRS reimbursement rate allowed is 50 cents per mile. Lillian Youngblood, Wesley Sanders, and Katie Rogers all get a flat $1000 - the equivalent to 2000 miles / year driven on school business (travel to and from work does not qualify). Gary Pellico receives an allowance of $1500, or the equivalent of 3000 miles traveled on school business. All of these are 260 day employees except Katie Rogers, who is a 210 day employee.

The top notch administrator addendum adds an annuity into the mix.

The Board shall pay the administrator an additional salary amount of $6000 for contribution toward a tax-sheltered annuity of the administrator's choice.

Pat Jones receives this version of the contract addendum along with a $2000 mileage reimbursement flat rate - equivalent to 4000 miles logged on district business. Dave Rather and Jeff Baer also receive this version and $4000 mileage reimbursement flat rate - equivalent to 8000 miles logged on district business. Debra Sullivan gets this version of the contract, as well, but the mileage reimbursement line is left blank.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

School Board Candidates Forum

Last night the Decatur Township Civic Council held its School Board Candidates Night. To my knowledge, this is the only forum on School Board issues before the election in one week. Here is my take on the main points that were discussed.

All five candidates were in attendance, but Cathy Wiseman, running unopposed in District 1, declined to participate in the forum and answer the voters' questions - although she did kibitz from time to time from the audience. All four District 3 candidates participated for a full hour of questions; incumbents Dale Henson and Judy Collins and challengers Natalie Coffey and Bobby Hire.

It was clear that all four are sincere people - but with very different takes on how the School District is doing.

Communication - The challengers felt that the School Board meetings needed to be changed. Coffey noted that the public cannot tell what is being discussed, have no detailed information on what items are even on the agenda, and that the public is "afraid to speak". Hire mentioned that the Board should do a better job of presenting what issues are being discussed, echoing Coffey's point that the public in attendance at the meeting cannot tell what is being discussed because of the way the Board is conducting its business. He suggested that comments could be taken during the course of the meeting, perhaps giving time limits to those who wished to comment.

The incumbents saw little problem with keeping the School board meetings as they are now. Collins expressed surprise that the public is afraid to speak up at these meetings. While both Coffey and Hire voiced interest in giving the public more opportunity to know what was being discussed at the meeting and a better format for the agenda to accommodate the public comments, the incumbents felt the meeting was 'their' meeting and 'it has always been done this way'. Collins suggested that perhaps they needed more public question meetings like those held recently, but noted that she would not change the regular meeting format, otherwise they'd "be there all night". Henson noted that they "seem to work alright".

I would say that the School Board meeting hasn't always been conducted this way. The public use to got responses from the Board members. And, I would add also, that if the current format of the Board meeting does not serve the public interest, then it needs to be changed. The public is speaking loud and clear that communication is not what it needs to be both between the Board and the public and the District and the public. I was not convinced last night that the incumbents yet get that point.

Graduation Rate -- The graduation rate and how to improve it came up several times during the evening. For those who do not know, the graduation rate since 2006 to 2009 has steadily been declining - from 81% to 73%. Meanwhile, the State average has been increasing steadily - from 78% to 82%. The incumbents blamed the formula for calculating graduation rates as it does not allow for inclusion of students who graduate after 5 years of high school. Henson wants the public to wait another 3 to 4 years to see an improvement in graduation rates because of changes the Board is implementing now. Collins mentioned that full day Kindergarten has caused the curriculum in first grade to be beefed up and that in turn has led to the curriculum in second grade to be beefed up and that eventually that will improve graduation rates.

The incumbents put a premium on improving graduation rates. Coffey noted that attendance rates decrease with increasing grade level and that we are not matching state standards or state averages on that score, either. She said that kids are being left behind, that we must get the teachers rehired and drop the class sizes. Hire echoed that the teachers need to get rehired because increasing class size makes it more difficult on the students and on the teachers delivering a quality education.

I would chime in that the other schools in this state have found a way to improve graduation rates NOW and maybe we need to ask what they are doing, rather than waiting 3-4 more years or, heaven forbid, waiting 10 more years for what we are doing to pay off in improved graduation rates. As for the formula for calculating the rate, all school districts are using the same formula so it does not put Decatur at a disadvantage at all. Its just another excuse.

Selling Property -- The topic of selling excess property brought a range of opinions from the candidates. Coffey thought that the Board should take a serious look at selling the property and how much of a loss would be taken on a sale. Collins doesn't want to sell any property, saying it is a one shot infusion of money and "what if you need to build an elementary down the road". Hire thought the property should definitely be sold so that the District can get the teachers back to work and that "you've got to sell the property to take care of the problem". Henson said no to selling the land, but was interested in selling the former Concentra Building - indicating that the District is actively looking for a buyer.

You all know I think we should sell the excess property, even if we lose money on the deal. This is a tough financial time for the district and this money will help get us through the worst of it. Its all about priorities. The Board didn't care that they were overpaying for the properties when they bought them. Now they are pretending to be prudent by not selling them for a loss. As for a one shot infusion of funds - true. And now is exactly when we need that infusion. We have been told that $3 m of the cuts are a one time deal - so there is some parity with a one time sale to fix a one time cut.

Class Size -- All candidates expressed a desire to get all of the RIFed teachers back on the job as soon as possible. The incumbents both mentioned that the Board had "charged" the Administration with not laying off any teachers. No mention was made as to how they evaluate his performance on this point. Collins that we just need to cut funds, that there are only so many dollars, and that we should "run the course" and "we'll get through this". Henson said he didn't want to see class size get any larger than it is today. He said they have already recalled 13 of the 61 RIFed teachers and will be bringing back even more. Even so, he said his calculations show that, in the worst case, class size would rise by only about 5 students and he doesn't agree with the figure of 49 students per class that has been mentioned by others.

Coffey said that smaller class sizes work for educating the kids and that all available funds need to be applied to rehiring the teachers. Hire noted that any time you have smaller class sizes, the kids will learn better and that we need to get the teachers back to work as soon as possible.

My two cents is that class size will rise if only because Lynwood is closing as an elementary school and there is no extra classrooms for the two dozen teachers there. Add to that the 23 retirement and the 61 RIFs and you will have a calamity - no matter what calculations you do. It is good that 13 teachers have been recalled, but we must not close Lynwood as an elementary and we must recall the remaining RIFed teachers. Again, $3 m was the savings goal the Board gave to Stinson - the Concentra building alone could bring that amount in and we will have bought at least one year of saving our class sizes with that one step.

There were other questions asked and answered. Overall I would repeat that all candidates were sincere. But, it is obvious that the incumbents still don't get the anger and frustration of the public, are not engaged in independent review of the Administration's job performance, not responsive to the public, and therefore are not looking to make the improvements that are so very much needed in this District.

The election is in one week. Talk with your neighbors and friends, make time to get to the polls or vote early, and lets wake up May 5 with a new Board of Education in Decatur Township.

Monday, April 26, 2010

MSD Decatur's New CFO - Salary on the Rise

Bob Harris was hired to overlap with the departing Jeff Baer as Assistant Superintendent of Business for the Decatur Township School District. At the time, Don Stinson, Superintendent of the District, told the Mooresville-Decatur Times that Harris would be paid $15,000 less than Baer; yet another cost cutting measure implemented by the phenomenal Don Stinson.

As I reported in an earlier blog entry ("Most Administrators Saw Increase in Salary and/or Benefits"), the actual difference in salaries, according to documents the District submitted to the State Board of Accounts, was $11,500.

Well, the gap is closing. The limited contract information received by a private citizen who requested the records (see "Jeff Baer Without a Contract Since 2006 - Really?"), and which they provided to me, shows that in February Bob Harris managed to get a raise.

The public document provided for the Harris contract was a 'Contract Worksheet' covering pay periods 2/12 through 6/30 2010. The annualized salary is now $130,533. What the SBOA document showed was an annualized salary of $128,927. So, congratulations go out to Bob Harris, who now makes only $9,936 less than Baer. Can't wait to see what his next contract looks like !

Sunday, April 25, 2010

City-County Council to Take Up Water Company Sale

At Monday night's City-County Council meeting, two Proposals will be introduced related to the sale of the Water Company and the sewer utility to Citizens Energy. Both will be referred to the Rules Committee, which next meets on May 4th at 5:30 pm in Room 260 of the City-County Building.

The digest of Prop 131 reads as follows:

authorizes the transfer of the waterworks and the sewage works of the City of Indianapolis to Citizens Energy Group

The Memorandum of Understanding is incorporated into Prop 131. Also of interest are a few documents posted at The list of links includes Q&A of Council questions, which has a lot of information in it.

The digest of Prop 132 reads:
authorizes the issuance and sale of revenue bonds to procure funds to be applied to the costs of the construction, renovation, rehabilitation and installation of improvements to the public ways, including roads, streets, alleys, trails, sidewalks and other public facilities, appropriating the proceeds derived from the sale of such bonds, modifying the amount of payments in lieu of taxes payable by the sanitary district

I suggest we get a lot of folks reading this one. It seems to be authorizing the issuance of not only $189 m in bonds, but $189 m in bond anticipation warrants, so that the City doesn't have to wait for the bonds to issue. I assume this is because Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) will secure the bonds and we can't be sure of the PILOT money until the IURC okays the sale of the water and sewer utilities. It also seems to be saying that $9 m in sewer utility PILOT money that currently goes to fund public safety will go to repay these bonds instead -- but somebody correct me if I have that wrong. This particular Proposal is a tougher slog to read through than usual. So, post here what you think it means.

Star reporter, Francesca Jarosz has a very good article in today's paper regarding the issues revolving around the proposed sale. For the life of me, I can't find it on the IndyStar website, so maybe its one of those paper edition only stories. I'll look at the Star site in another couple of days and see if it suddenly appears and post a link then. [edited on 4-27-10 to add link to IndyStar article: click here]

There are a couple of important issues that haven't been locked down, in my view, that really need to be. In no particular order:

1) For what will any proceeds from the sale be spent? The original intention was for streets and sidewalks. Now, I have heard included, streets, sidewalks, alleys, economic development, community gardens, downtown streetscapes for the 2012 superbowl, trails, 'other public facilities', and stormwater drainage. The longer the list, the less I am personally interested in supporting the sale.

2) How will the funds be dedicated so that they are spent on just those things promised? As an example of what can happen when funds are not properly dedicated, we have the annual discussion of why the community was promised $5 m in crime prevention grants for a portion of the income tax increases implemented by former Mayor Peterson and the Democratically held Council. After the Mayor's office and the Council switched control to the Republican party, they declined to spend that money as promised. What Councillors Vaughn and Hunter have been saying in response to questions is that the proposal was not written on the proper Council form and thus was never guaranteed to be spent as promised. Well, what assurance does the community have that these monies will be spent as promised? Without dedication of the funds, I will hesitate to support the sale.

3) How can the City stop the sale of the water company and sewer utility by Citizens Energy in the future? Alternatively - can the City take them back?

4) There needs to be a public process created for local input into water and sewer utility matters by the community. Citizens Energy may be open and interested in such input, but it is not mandatory. The IURC oversight provides little comfort in this arena, as they are viewed as too cozy with the utilities that they regulate.

5) This sale basically finances a 4 year blitz of projects with water and sewer rate increases - and then the money is all gone but the rate increases remain. In addition, the taxpayers of Indianapolis lose control of the most valuable of all natural resources, water. There must be assurances, perhaps in the form of clawback authority by the City, that the water cannot be sold outside of Marion County, no matter how high a price is offered by other municipalities or states in the future.

Those are my thoughts. There has already been much discussion, so make sure you look over exactly what the Council will be voting on - because if it isn't in writing, it does not count.

List of Decatur Retirees and RIFed Teachers

I received the list of those teacher retirements and layoffs approved by the Decatur School Board at its last meeting from District spokesman, Gary Pellico.


Cathy Burns ----------- DILC/Blue -----------5th Grade Teacher
Larry Grubb -----------DILC/Gold -----------Technology Teacher
Mary Bellner -----------LW -------------------3rd Grade Teacher
Linda Rather -----------LW -------------------3rd Grade Teacher
Carol Winkler ----------LW -------------------1st Grade Teacher
Pam Herman -----------LW/SD ---------------Media Specialist
Sondra Fenoglio --------VM -------------------4th Grade Teacher
Janet Spencer ----------VM -------------------Special Education Teacher
Wanda Brinkerhoff -----MS -------------------8th Grade Science Teacher
Marilyn Bunner --------MS -------------------8th Grade Social Studies Teacher
Greg Dillon -------------MS -------------------7th Grade Social Studies Teacher
Mike Gillin -------------MS -------------------Physical Education Teacher
Marsha Hedgeman -----MS -------------------8th Grade Language Arts Teacher
Maureen Madden ------MS -------------------8th Grade Language Arts Teacher
Linda Ryan ------------MS --------------------8th Grade Social Studies Teacher
Bruce Simon -----------MS --------------------8th Grade Social Studies Teacher
Donna Duhamell -------HS/Q&I ---------------Language Arts Teacher
Janet Lambert ---------HS/ICE ---------------Business Teacher
Robert McCoy ---------HS/Q&I ---------------Mathematics Teacher
Donna Uhlenhake ------HS/ICE ---------------Science Teacher


"The following teachers are recommended for contractual cancellation (semi-permanent and permanent staff): "
Dean Adler------------ HS ---------------------Industrial Technology Teacher
Kristina Criswell -------HS ---------------------Spanish Teacher
Michelle Misurac -------HS ---------------------Science Teacher
Jo Ann Moore ----------HS ------------------Family & Consumer Science Teacher
Kristen Pineda ---------HS ---------------------Art Teacher
Amanda Skobel --------HS ---------------------Special Education Teacher
Quincy Wallace ---------HS ---------------------Physical Education Teacher
Mary Ann O’Neal ------DDA --------------------Special Education Teacher
Kristi Hodges ----------DILC/Blue --------------Special Education Teacher
Kristina Langley -------DILC/Blue --------------6th Grade Teacher
Cheryl Smyth ----------DILC/Blue --------------Art Teacher
Mary Davey -----------DILC/Gold --------------6th Grade Teacher
Megan Johnson --------DILC/Gold --------------5th Grade Teacher
Megan Mathew --------DILC/Gold --------------Physical Education Teacher
Megan Murrell ---------DILC/Gold -------------5th Grade Teacher
Elaina Gibbs -----------LW ---------------------2nd Grade Teacher
Michelle Kite -----------SD --------------------- 3rd Grade Teacher
Allison Hite ------------VM ---------------------3rd Grade Teacher
Ashley Lipps -----------VM ---------------------1st Grade Teacher
Erin Mould -------------VM ---------------------1st Grade Teacher
Rachel Slagle -----------VM ---------------------Physical Education Teacher
Molly Newland ---------WN ----------------------2nd Grade Teacher
Melissa Abernathy -----ECC ---------------------Kindergarten Teacher
Kelsey Bales -----------ECC ----------------------Kindergarten Teacher
Thomas Dennis --------ECC ----------------------Kindergarten Teacher
Ashley Dyck -----------ECC ----------------------Kindergarten Teacher
Anne Foster -----------ECC ----------------------Kindergarten Teacher
Anne Gothe ------------ECC ----------------------Kindergarten Teacher
Ashley Klassen ---------ECC ---------------------Kindergarten Teacher
Rachael Many ---------ECC ----------------------Kindergarten Teacher
Cassandra Nichols ------ECC ---------------------Special Education Teacher
Lisa Schwedler ---------ECC ---------------------Kindergarten Teacher

"The following teachers are recommended for contractual non-renewal (non-permanent staff): "
Heather Beach ---------HS/Q&I -----------------English Teacher
Justin Dixson ----------HS/New Tech ------------Social Studies Teacher
Kyle Enright -----------HS/New Tech -----------English Teacher
Erin Gettinger ---------HS/Choice ---------------Special Ed Teacher
Jeremy Griffith --------HS/Choice ---------------Social Studies Teacher
Karen Harwood --------HS/ICE ------------------Mathematics Teacher
Chris Hutchison --------HS/Q&I ------------------Mathematics Teacher
John Kirtland ----------HS/Choice ---------------English Teacher
Elizabeth Carpenter-Wilson ---DDA --------------Art Facilitator
Lisa Carroll ------------DDA ---------------------Spanish Teacher
Joan Tejchma ---------DDA ----------------------Chemistry/Physics Facilitator
Jane True -------------DDA ----------------------Science/Music Facilitator
Cari Hair ---------------DEC ----------------------Social Studies Teacher
Laurie Sheldrake -------DEC ---------------------Mathematics Teacher
Trisha Corbin ----------MS ----------------------Mathematics Teacher
Howard Esterlin--------DILC/Blue ---------------Special Ed Teacher
Catherine Jones --------DILC/Blue --------------6th Grade Teacher
Rebecca Starnes -------DILC/Blue ---------------6th Grade Teacher
Jennifer Geiger ---------DILC/Gold --------------Special Ed Teacher
Lauren Brake ----------SD -----------------------2nd Grade Teacher
Kate Ferguson ---------SD ------------------------Special Ed Teacher
Katherine McFadden---SD -----------------------2nd Grade Teacher
Janette Mikulsky ------SD ------------------------Special Ed Teacher
Stephanie Werne-------SD ------------------------4th Grade Teacher
Stevie Bruzas ----------VM -----------------------4th Grade Teacher
Brittany Caldwell ------WN -----------------------2nd Grade Teacher
Rebecca Jones ---------WN -----------------------1st Grade Teacher
Erin Whitfield ---------ECC -----------------------Kindergarten Teacher

While Superintendent Don Stinson originally said that there would be one RIFed teacher position saved for every retirment, he is now saying that only 13 RIFed teachers on this list will be reinstated, even though 23 teachers are now retiring. The number of retirees reported here is obviously incomplete, but would be the ones accepted by the Board at their last meeting.

Decatur Township Civic Council To Host Candidates Night

The Decatur Township Civic Council will host Candidates Night for School Board Candidates this Monday, April 26, beginning at 7:00 pm in the Large Group Instruction Room of the Decatur Middle School.

All District 2 candidates have accepted the invitation - incumbents Judy Collins and Dale Henson and challengers Natalie Coffey and Bobby Hire.

Questions are taken from the floor on 3 x 5 cards and a moderator will ask the questions of the candidates.

This is your opportunity to ask the questions you have been wanting to ask. So, take an hour of your evening and come listen to the answers.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Now That Planting Time is Upon Us ....

Here it is Earth Day, when we remember what a fragile, yet bountiful planet we live on. It is also planting time, when we gardeners over sow, over plant, and over commit ourselves to future weed control. Ah, Spring !

For the purposes of this blog entry - please think down the road for a month or two, or all summer through to the first frost. What are you going to do with all the extra vegetables you get from your garden this year? We all have our usual outlets for what we aren't going to eat, can or freeze for ourselves. We give the extras to neighbors and coworkers, until they begin to turn away from us when they see us approach with yet another bag of tomatoes and zucchini. So, what after that?

How about you bring the extra extra abundance from your garden to your local senior center or food pantry or soup kitchen? Many people don't garden for any variety of reasons and they truly appreciate the taste of fresh picked, vine ripened, vegetables and spices. Call ahead to be sure if they accept fresh food and when you should bring it over.

And, if you tend to only reap exactly what you planned on, how about planting just one more. Plant just one more plant, or just one more row - if you garden in the yard. Plant just one more square foot - if you garden in a tight space. Plant just one more pot - if you garden on your patio or balcony. Then, give the produce from that 'just one more' to the senior center or food pantry or soup kitchen?

As we have fun with our gardening and we get our personal satisfaction from every pod and leaf and ear we pull from our gardens, we can also spread our extras just a bit further with very little extra effort. A little here, a little there, and pretty soon you are talking about a great resource our collective back yards, patios and balconies really are.

Enjoy Earth Day. Enjoy the Springtime. Enjoy your garden.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Jeff Baer Without a Contract Since 2006 - Really?

A concerned citizen contacted me regarding trouble they were having getting contract information from the MSD Decatur Township. They had asked for a number of administrator contracts, only to receive incomplete information and what was supplied had areas whited out. These same areas of the contract were not whited out when the district supplied Superintendent Stinson's contract to the Star. I guess I'd have to ask, why were these whited out areas of the contract deemed public record when the Star asked for the information and denied as public record when a mere citizen made the request?

This person sent me the information they did get and has requested that the State Public Access Counselor rule on the remaining information.

In this entry I'd like to focus on the aspect that surprised me the most about the information the District did give this citizen. The request had been for the current contract for various individuals, including Assistant Superintendent Jeff Baer. All documents turned over, except for Baer's, were indeed current and for the 2009-2010 school year.

The document supplied for Jeffrey S. Baer was a two year contract from July 1, 2004 through June 30, 2006. Really? That's the most recent contract? Really?

Are we to believe that Assistant Superintendent Jeff Baer has been working without a contract for nearly 4 years now? How then, do you explain that the limited information provided by the district even with the old contract showing a base salary of $122,269.09. Documents submitted by the District to the State Board of Accounts provide data for Baer's 2008-2009 salary to be $136,027 (see "Top Decatur School District Salaries for 2008-2009 School Year") followed by a raise to $140,469 this school year (see "Most Administrators Saw Increase in Salary and/or Benefits")? How do you get a raise without a contract?

The document supplied by the District is the "Regular Teacher's Contract" page, but no addendum that adds benefits available to only Administrators. (see the Star copy of Superintendent Don Stinson's contract to see what I mean). Those benefits would include pension payment details, health insurance details, any annuities that are over and above the base salary, and the like. Even with this old contract, the public has the right to know the employment package deal that they are paying for with each and every Administrator, including Jeff Baer.

But, like other pieces of important information about how the MSD Decatur Township operates, it is hard to decide quite what to believe. Is Jeff Baer really receiving pay raises even though he has had no contract with the District for almost 4 years? Or, is the District trying to keep the real contract under wraps? And, why don't they disclose the entire contract - old or not?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Retention Pond Standards Simply Must Change

A Decatur Township retention-detention pond claimed the life of a 5 year old girl yesterday.

WRTV, Channel 6, reports it this way (click here for article and video report):

A 5-year-old girl drowned in a retention pond on Indianapolis' southwest side late Monday night.

Indianapolis police were called to the 4300 block of Ten Oak Drive, just west of Kentucky Avenue, at about 9:20 a.m.

The parents of Chesney Allen told police that when they called a home where the girl had gone, accompanied by her older brother, to play at about 5:30 p.m., they found that she wasn't there.

"The friend she was going to play with was in time out, and Chesney had been sent home," said Sgt. Matt Mount.

When officers arrived, neighbors told them that the girl had been seen playing near a retention pond nearby with several other children.

Police checked the pond but didn't find the girl. When they checked for a third time after 11 p.m., officers and firefighters found Allen's body floating about 12 feet away from a dock, Mount said.

A firefighter pulled Allen out of the water. The girl was taken to Riley Hospital for Children, where she was pronounced dead early Tuesday morning.

There is quite a bit of tall grass around the pond, but there is no fencing. Authorities weren't sure when the girl went into the pond.

Nobody wants to see a life lost in a detention pond; not developers, not property owners, not City officials, not the community at large. We are all saddened and shocked and dismayed. But, that is not enough.

Several years back, a retention-detention pond in the Seerley Creek subdivision claimed the life of a young boy. Considering that Decatur is not all that developed, this should be a huge wake-up call to all of Marion County.

Our City ordinances require that swimming pools be fenced and locked, but nothing regulates fencing of man-made storm water ponds. An addtional approach to safe water retention is using underground pipes instead of depressions in the ground for holding storm water.

The lack of a fencing requirement just lowers the cost of development - in a dollar and cents sort of way. It doesn't doesn't weigh appropriately, the cost of a life lost.

I am all for development, but not development at any price. The City codes and the City ordinances need, no - must, be changed to required either fencing with access to rescue workers, or underground water retention facilities. We simply cannot afford the loss of any more children just to save a few dollars.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Let's Turn the Focus on the Election

Let's begin looking forward to May 4th, Election Day throughout Marion County and the day Decaturites can send a loud message about which direction we want our school district to travel. But, while it will benefit all of us, it will take a little effort from each of us. Add to this list, please, but this is my to-do list for Decaturites over the next 15 days.

1) If you are registered to vote, but will not be in town on May 4, you can vote by mail (aka absentee voting) or in person at the City-County Building (aka early voting). To vote by mail you must fill out and send in an absentee voting application form and you will need to state a reason - like you will be out of town, you can't get off work the full 12 hours the polls are open, you are 65 or older, etc, etc, etc. The official reasons are listed on the application and you check the correct one. The application is due by April 26 - so not much more time to get that in. Voting in person at the City-County Building has been made easier - in that the entrance to the building from Pennsylvania Street is straight to Election Board office (inside the Clerks office), and you do not have to go through security screening - and there are some weekend hours available in addition to ample hours to vote during the week.
click here for the Election Board description of voting by mail and for the application and for the Election Board hours for voting in person at the City-County Building

2) If you live on a busy street or the corner lot of a busy intersection, put a sign in your yard. Call or email Natalie Coffey (455-9886 and Bobby Hire (856-7015 for a sign.

3) Volunteer to work the polls for Natalie and Bobby. This can be as little as one hour at your own polling place. There are 10 voting locations in Decatur Township. The polls will be open from 6 am to 6 pm. Perhaps there is an hour or two before or after work where you could ask folks to vote for the challengers. Before and after work are the busiest times at the polls, as common sense would suggest. So, even if it seems like a small bit of time to help, it can be the most effective time to help. Again, call or email Natalie Coffey (455-9886 and Bobby Hire (856-7015 to volunteer a small bit of time to push for a change.

4) Talk to your friends and family members about voting for the challengers and why it is so important. This is a powerful way to help.

5) On May 4, if you haven't already done so, VOTE. Vote only for Natalie Coffey and Bobby Hire. The ballot will allow you to also vote for Cathy Wiseman in District 1. But, unfortunately, she is unopposed and should she remember to vote for herself, she will be reelected. The larger the difference between the votes Natalie and Bobby get over the votes of the incumbents, the louder the message that we're not going to take it any more. So, don't just vote to help the challengers win, vote to help them win by the widest margin possible.

In all of this, you must be registered to vote, in order to vote. The polling place locator is now up and working, and it checks your registration if you want to enter your birth date along with your address. You can also view sample ballots, check who your elected officials are, get directions and a map to the polling location, and much more. It's pretty neat, really. click here for Voter Information Portal Please note that you must click the button that says 'verify address' before the 'search' button becomes available.

When you vote, if you ask for a Democrat or Republican ballot - you will have to turn the ballot over to vote on the School Board race. So, silly as it sounds, remember to turn the ballot over. If you ask for the School Board ballot only, which you can do if you don't want to declare a party affiliation, it has only one printed side, so you're all set.

Two years ago, the Election Board website had a real time vote tabulation page. After the polls close, the election workers will do all their closing paperwork, count the paper ballots, and pull the smart cards from the voting machines. Then two of the workers bring the smart cards and all the other materials to the County Election officials. The smart cards are used to quickly transmit the info to the Election computers. It is really this data dump that is being shown on the tabulation page. I'll inquire if this feature will be available again this year, as it was kind of fun to use.

So, please add your suggestions now, as I know you'll come up with some great ones.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Back to Back - Kara Kenney Puts Spotlight on Decatur Schools Again

For the second consecutive night, WRTV reporter, Kara Kenney, shone a bright light on the Decatur School District.

Last night's report was based on Department of Education data, which the district submits to the DOE btw, showing MSD Decatur Township spent 11% of its General Fund on Central Office Administrative costs during the last full school year, 2008-2009. Most other districts in Central Indiana spent 1-2% of this fund on such expenses.

Here's the link to the article and video - again not identical.

For this report, Kenney asked School Board candidate, Bobby Hire for his reaction. She also interviewed DOE State Board Administrator, Jeff Zaring, for the piece. MSD Decatur Township superintendent, Don Stinson, was "not in the office" and could not be interviewed.

Another excellent report by Kenney. Just one more thing - a shoutout to one of the many awesome commenters to this blog. It was the sharp eye of anon 8:33 in the blog entry "MSD Decatur Township Administration Play Blame Game in Audit Response" that first brought this extraordinary spending out of the dusty data vaults of the DOE and into our view. So, thank anon 8:33 - great job, too.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Kara Kenney, WRTV, Puts Spotlight on Decatur's School Audit

WRTV reporter, Kara Kenney, has turned a bright spotlight on the Decatur School District's recent audit. The State Board of Accounts audit of the district's books from July, 2007, through June, 2009, showed that they failed to get their fund balances to agree with their bank statements in any month during the two year period. See my blog entry "Decatur Schools Audit Shows Sloppy Bookkeeping".

Click here to read the article with an embedded video stream of last night's broadcast of the piece. The article has overlapping information and is not identical at all to the video. You can leave comments on this page.

I tried to find a way to embed the video here, but could not make it happen. If you go to this link, there is an option to post a link on your facebook page, on twitter, etc.

The video has a great interview with Natalie Coffey on this issue. And the interview with the State Board of Accounts Examiner, Bruce Hartman, is also informative. His final word on the subject is :

Hartman said members of the public have the ultimate oversight of schools' budgets, with their voice at public meetings and their vote.

"If (school leaders are) not doing the job, maybe someone else should be put in there to do the job," he said. "It's important for fiscal cash management to know what you've got and what you don't have. Failure to do that can really lead you to have some problems."

We are working on it Mr. Hartman. Thanks for all the work you do at the SBOA. I know I for one, appreciate it. And, thanks to Kara Kenney for the great reporting !

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Decatur School Board Feasts Just Before Putting Teachers on the Street

Prior to last night's regular meeting of the MSD Decatur Township Board meeting, the school board and the Superintendent, Don Stinson, feasted on a catered meal. Three carts of steaming hot food were wheeled into the meeting room at the Gold Academy for their dining pleasure.

This is just moments before they were to vote to lay off 61 teachers, even though 20 agreed to retire early. (I am so stunned by this news that I have submitted an open records request to verify that they axed so many despite their claims of caring about the education of Decatur's children.)

Back to the great catered meal that the Dale Henson, Judy Collins, Cathy Wiseman, Don Huffman, Doug Greenwald, and Don Stinson shared. How can a decent person spend even a penny of taxpayer money on such things - moments before putting other decent people into the unemployment line and leaving their family finances in shambles? How can they even swallow?

There is a reason that the phrase "Let them eat cake" has survived for over two hundred years. It has become the epitome of people who are so ignorant of the situation in the real world around them, that they cannot comprehend the excesses of thier own world view.

The excessive teacher RIFs, the unconscionable treatment of the bus drivers and custodians, the unwillingness to sell excess properties to help buffer the impact of digging out of a financial mess these folks created - these are all clear demonstrations that the Board and the Administration are ignorant of the situation in the real world around them and that they cannot comprehend the excesses of their own world view. These catered meals for the Board just before lowering the boom on other human beings is their version of "Let them eat cake".

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Did You Go to Tonight's School Board Meeting?

Any thoughts, observations, comments you'd like to share?

General Administration Expense for Marion County School Districts

I was setting to post a new blog entry about something else, when a commenter noted that the general administration expenses for MSD Decatur Township schools was really high compared with other school districts in Marion County (see anon 8:33 in the last blog entry "MSD Decatur Township Administration Play Blame Game in Audit Response"). I tracked down a summary of all expenditures of all Indiana school districts for the 2008-2009 school year on the Department of Education website as a result of that post. Thanks for the heads up, anon 8:33.

Here's the link to a goodly list of information and data on the Department of Education, Office of School Financial Management website :

The particular information I will post below came from this document "General Fund Summary of Expenditures by Program and Per Pupil Costs" .

The document defines "General Administration" as "expenditures in support services-general administration programs/legal services, community relations, and superintendent's office (all accounts 23110-23290)". This would be Central Office administrators and expenses, and would not include building administrators, like Principals.

I have used the figures for the size of the general fund and the number of students in each district to calculate percentage of general fund expenditures and per pupil costs for the General Administration (GA) expenses in each school district in Marion County. These are the results:

MSD Decatur Township -- spent $4.1 million on GA,
which amounted to 10.7% of the general fund expenditures
and $674.35 per pupil.

Franklin Township Community School Corporation -- [edited on 4/16/10 to correct FTCSC numbers - these are the corrected figures] spent $1.1 million on GA,
which amounted to 2.1% of the general fund expenditures
and $126.84 per pupil.

MSD Lawrence Township -- spent $1.5 million on GA,
which amounted to 1.6% of the general fund expenditures
and $101.10 per pupil.

MSD Perry Township -- spent $0.9 million on GA,
which amounted to $1.0% of the general fund expenditures
and $65.29 per pupil.

MSD Pike Township -- spent $1.2 million on GA,
which amounted to 1.8% of the general fund expenditures
and $113.62 per pupil.

MSD Warren Township -- spent $1.4 million on GA,
which amounted to 1.8% of the general fund expenditures
and $123.24 per pupil.

MSD Washington Township -- spent $1.7 million on GA,
which amounted to 2.8% of the general fund expenditures
and $172.66 per pupil.

MSD Wayne Township -- spent $1.5 million on GA,
which amounted to 1.6% of the general fund expenditures
and $107.23 per pupil.

Beech Grove City Schools -- spent $0.9 million on GA,
which amounted to 6.1% of the general fund expenditures
and $389.32 per pupil.

IPS -- spent $8.1 million on GA,
which amounted to 2.7% of the general fund expenditures
and $236.56 per pupil.

School Town of Speedway spent $0.3 million on GA,
which amounted to 3.0% of the general fund expenditures
and $207.35 per pupil.

At this point, if you aren't outraged by the fiscal irresponsibility of the MSD Decatur Township Administration and School Board, you simply have not been paying attention.

Monday, April 12, 2010

MSD Decatur Township Administration Play Blame Game in Audit Response

The most recent audit of the MSD Decatur Township books (spanning July, 2007, through June, 2009) by the Indiana State Board of Accounts reveals one of the hallmarks of the school district's Administration - blaming somebody else for their failures.

All findings of the SBOA audit team are presented to representatives of the governmental unit prior to publication of the audit. Any response to the findings by those representatives is included in the final document in the form of a letter attached at the end. This letter and its contents are not reviewed by the SBOA for the sense or nonsense of its contents; it is simply attached at the end.

I have previously noted how the audit found sloppy bookkeeping and the Administration response to that. Here I would like to focus on the audit findings that the district spent more money than the School Board appropriated and that the district overdrew several fund balances.

Here's what the audit says about spending more than was appropriated:

The records presented for audit indicated the following expenditures in excess of budgeted appropriations:

Fund Year ExpendedExcess Amount
Debt Service2008$ 1,282,858

A similar comment appeared in prior Report B32087.

IC 6-1.1-18-4 states in part: ". . . the proper officers of a political subdivision shall appropriate funds in such a manner that the expenditures for a year do not exceed its budget for that year as finally determined under this article."

As noted above, the district spent more than the School Board appropriated in earlier years, as well. In fact, for the 4 years preceding the two years covered in this audit - I noted this in my blog entry "Decatur School Administration Broke State Law by Spending More From Funds Than Had Been Appropriated by Board" - they also over spent. The process of budget review and appropriation of money for specific purposes is a state mandated process intended to keep the review and expenditure of taxpayer money in the public eye. If, during the year, more money becomes somehow available, the district needs to go through the process for those added monies in order to spend it legally. Yes, it is a violation of state law to spend more than the School Board appropriates - but, unfortunately for the Decatur public, this is not unusual in our School District.

The SBOA had this to say about overdrawing funds:

The following funds were overdrawn at June 30, 2008: Debt Service, Retirement/Severance Bond, Local Rainy Day, Construction, Vehicle Repairs/Misc., Textbook Rental, Challenge Learning Center, DTEF Small Grants, GQE Remediation, Early Childhood Center Preschool, Star Grant/DCHS, DWD Biomedical Science Grant; Title II Part A, and Reading First 2008-2009.

The following funds were overdrawn at June 30, 2009: General, Debt Service, Retirement/Severance Bond, Special Education Preschool, Construction, Vehicle Repairs/Misc, Textbook Rental, IMI 2007-2008, Challenge Learning Center, DTEF Small Grants, Early Childhood Center Preschool, School of Ideas, Title I School Improvement, Title III English Lang. Acquisition, Title II, Part B Math and Science.

A similar comment appeared in prior Report B32087.

The cash balance of any fund may not be reduced below zero. Routinely overdrawn funds could be an indicator of serious financial problems which should be investigated by the governmental unit. (Accounting and Uniform Compliance Guidelines Manual for Indiana Public School Corporations, Chapter 9)

Now, I didn't go into it before, but this criticism was also leveled at the Decatur School District in the audit that spanned July, 2005, through June, 2007. At the end of the fiscal year (June 30) 2006, there were 7 funds overdrawn leaving a negative balance. At the end of fiscal year 2007 12 funds were overdrawn. And this audit reveals that at the end of fiscal year 2008 14 funds were overdrawn and at the end of fiscal year 2009 15 funds were overdrawn.

The response letter to this audit's findings was signed by Superintendent Don Stinson and the Chief Financial Officer signature is hard to read, but might be Robert Harris, Jeff Baer's replacement. The parts related to appropriations and overdrawn fund balances reads:

The records presented indicated expenditures in excess of appropriations. As a result of the mandated reassessment in 2007, Marion county has been woefully behind in property tax collections and distributions to the units of government. Therefore, the budgets for this audit period were approved by the State of Indiana over one year late. This means that the budgets for M.S.D. Decatur were approved after the year ended. Obviously, there will be overspending in some funds when the budget is approved "after the fact". Hopefully, going forward, Marion County property tax collections and distributions will be timely thus ending this issue.

Overdrawn Cash Balances;

There were overdrawn funds during this audit period. Once again, because of the 2007 mandated reassessment, Marion County was delinquent in their property tax distributions to the units of government. Even after excessive borrowing, there will be funds that are overdrawn because of late distributions from the county. As was stated above, the funds were received as much as one year late. Timely property tax collections and distributions from the county will remedy this situation.

It cannot be ignored that these two problems are chronic problems in the MSD Decatur Township and did not begin with the state mandated property reassessment ordered in 2007. More importantly, they attempt to lay the blame for these two problems on somebody else. So, lets look at their logic more closely.

The School District drafted a budget for the two fiscal years 2008 and 2009. They would have received guidance from the State Department of Local Government Finance for how much revenue to expect from property taxes - even though the property taxes would be collected late and sent to the district late. Using this guidance, the district not only knows how much to budget, it knows how much to borrow in a 'temporary loan' or 'tax anticipation warrant'. With all of that information in hand, the School Board appropriates the money that may be spent in each fund.

But, the district spent MORE money than the budget called for. That has nothing whatsoever to do with late property tax collections. They spent MORE money than the budget called for. The funds balances were allowed to go negative. They spent MORE money than the budget called for. It doesn't matter when the DLGF certified the budget - the budget was approved and the money appropriated by the Decatur School Board before they spent MORE money than approved and appropriated.

Stinson just wants to blame anybody else that he can. This excuse doesn't hold water.

Its just like when I asked about the temporary loan included in the retirement pension fund (see "And They Wonder Why...") and they said it was a coding error by the Department of Education, and after being called out on that statement by the DOE they blamed it on some person who no longer works for the District.

Its just like the former Concentra building. First the public was told that they weren't buying the building, just leasing some space. When pressed further, they said they were leasing to own, but it would be relatively inexpensive to turn it into an elementary school; that was the reason to buy it. Now we are being told that they can't think of selling the building even as they lay people off, because the economy is sour. When the solid truth all along has been that Stinson and his cronies don't want to be in their tiny offices in their tiny Central Office; they want to move into the fancy building across the street and impress people.

It is just one thing after another with this Administration. And they always have a poor excuse or have somebody else they would rather the public blame. Well, I don' think the public is buying their excuses and finger pointing any more. The SBOA audits have provided us with enough concrete information to know that it is time for a change in the way this School Board and the Administration do things.

Decatur School Board Meets Tomorrow - RIFs to Be Finalized

The MSD Decatur Township School Board meets tomorrow, April 13, at 7:00 pm. The meeting has been moved to a larger venue - the Community Room of the Decatur Intermediate Learning Center on Mann Road.

The agenda has been posted (click here) and includes finalization of Teacher layoffs. Also on the agenda is a curious item, 'additional special board meetings'. Wonder what mischief they are up to now.

Remember all the while, the Administration and the School Board have decided it is better to close Lynwood as an elementary school and reduce the number of teachers district wide, than sell the Southwest Pavilion (former Concentra Building). Superintendent Don Stinson and his cronies so covet moving into new offices that they are quite willing to let class size climb, fully knowing that that is the single worst thing you can do when it comes to the quality of education delivered to children.

If you wish to speak at the meeting you must sign up before the meeting begins.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Free-for-all Time

I'm stuck in between things right now and figured this would be a fine time for a free-for-all.

Anything on your mind? Anything happening? What would you like to see covered on this blog?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Upcoming Dates to Mark on Your Calendar

A couple of dates for Decaturites, and Marion County residents as well, to note.

Today, Monday, April 5, is the last day to register to vote in the May 4 Primary and School Board elections. You can call voter registration at 327-5040 to check if you are on their rolls at your current address and under your current name (newly married ladies take note). If you are not on their list, they can tell you the best way to get registered TODAY. Wherever you register to vote, do keep your receipt and bring it with you on Election Day in case there are any difficulties locating your name in the books. You may also have to bring certain documents with you to prove you live at the address shown, if you are a first time voter at your current address. So, be sure to ask voter registration about that, as well, when you call them.

Today is also the first day for early voting at City Hall. They will be open for voting in the Clerk's Office, on the first floor of the City-County Building, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Beginning with the week of April 26 they will extend hours from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. They will also offer weekend voting hours from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, April 24 & 25 and May 1 & 2. Early voting will end on Monday, May 3 promptly at noon.

If you want to vote by mail, you will need to send in an 'absentee ballot application', which you can obtain online by clicking here. Upon receipt of your application, the Election office will send you a ballot in the mail. You have until April 26 to get your 'absentee ballot application' into the Election office. You must return the actual ballot by by election day, May 4. (In neither case will postmarks on the days of the deadlines work for you. The application and the ballot must actually be in the Election office by the deadline.)

Tuesday, April 13 is the date of the next Decatur School Board meeting. I am told it will begin at 7:00 pm in the Community Room of the Decatur Intermediate Learning Center, on Mann Road. No agenda is yet posted on the District website, but Teacher layoffs must be finalized that night.

Monday, April 26, is Candidate's Night at the Decatur Township Civic Council. This meeting will begin at 7:00 pm in the Large Group Instruction Room of the Decatur Middle School. All candidates running for seats on the Decatur School Board have been invited. Written questions are taken from the floor. So, come to ask questions or to (finally) hear answers from those running to represent you on the School Board.

Of course, Election Day is May 4, and all the polling locations will be open for voting. Once the list of these sites are posted, I'll make a link so you can check to see where you would go to vote.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Meet Bobby Hire

I had interviewed Bobby Hire a few weeks ago, but couldn't locate my notes when it came time to write it up. So, I sat down with him again the other day. This is what I gathered from that interview.

Now 71 and retired, Bobby has worked hard all his life. As a young man, he was actually a pro-wrestler. But, after moving to Indy with his family in 1973 and locating in Decatur Township, he worked primarily as a butcher and an independent trucker. During both of these careers, Bobby was a union member. As part of the Meat Cutters Union he served on numerous contract negotiation teams. As an independent operator with his own truck, he ran his own small business.

He and his first wife, Lucille, raised two children, both of whom graduated from Decatur Central High School. After losing Lucille to cancer in 1997, he met and married Brenda, with whom he is enjoying retirement.

Asked why he is running, he responds that with the way things are going in the School District, and how bad taxes have gotten, he'd like to get a close look at how the school system operates, find out what the problems are, and help to fix them.

Asked what he would do with the current budget crisis, he says that he would do everything he could to keep teachers. He would sell the excess property first, and then see what cuts had to be made to fix the remaining budget gap - but cutting teaching positions should be the last resort. He also would like to find ways to improve the situation for bus drivers and the other employees in the district.

I'll end with one full quote: "I would work hard for the people. Not for myself, but for the people."

Friday, April 2, 2010

Decatur Schools Audit Shows Sloppy Bookkeeping

The State Board of Accounts audit of MSD Decatur Township's books, covering the two year period from July 1, 2007, through June 30, 2009, has now been completed and published on the SBOA website.

Thankfully for all Decatur taxpayers, the District did not buy any more property during this audit period, dramatically reducing the length of the audit findings.

The audit finds that the bookkeeping was sloppy enough that at no time during that two year period did the District's books match the bank statements. The audit mentions this in two places and they are quoted here:

The following deficiencies relating to the recordkeeping were noted. A similar comment appeared in prior Report B32087.

Bank Reconcilements were attempted monthly, but the bank balance did not equal the record balance for any month during the audit period. Differences varied from $27,208.35 long to $33,699.74 short (cash necessary to balance).

Numerous corrections and adjustments were made in the records by use of negative entries.


The monthly depository reconciliations of the fund balances to the bank account balances were incorrect during most of the audit period. The monthly reconcilements are showing significant cash necessary to balance from September 2008 until the present. Each month's reconcilement is off by a different amount.

Controls over the reconcilement were insufficient. The reconcilements are performed by the deputy treasurer and are not regularly reviewed in detail by management. The deputy treasurer makes most of the posting entries so there is also a lack of segregation of duties.

The School Corporation should devote more resources to resolving the short and performing the monthly bank reconcilements. We recommended that another employer or member of management aside from the deputy treasurer be involved with the reconcilements on a monthly basis. The monthly bank reconcilements should be reviewed by management.

Governmental units should have internal controls in effect which provide reasonable assurance regarding the reliability of financial information and records, effectiveness and efficiency of operations, proper execution of management's objectives, and compliance with laws and regulations. Among other things, segregation of duties, safeguarding controls over cash and all other assets and all forms of information processing are necessary for proper internal control.

Controls over the receipting, disbursing, recording, and accounting for the financial activities are necessary to avoid substantial risk of invalid transactions, inaccurate records and financial statements and incorrect decision making. (Accounting and Uniform Compliance Guidelines Manual for Indiana Public School Corporations, Chapter 9)

IC 5-13-6-1(e) states: "All local investment officers shall reconcile at least monthly the balance of public funds, as disclosed by the records of the local officers, with the balance statements provided by the respective depositories."

The schools response, which is always included in these audits but never reviewed by anyone for sense or nonsense, states the following:

Since the monthly depository reconciliations of the fund balances to the bank account balances were incorrect during most of the audit period, we are going to implement the following controls;

1. We will research all records to bring account balances up to date and reconciled.

2. We will devote more resources to resolving the shortage and performing the monthly bank reconcilements. We will have another employee or member of management, aside from the deputy treasurer, be involved with the monthly reconcilements. Each month, the Chief Financial Officer will approve the reconciliation.

We feel that these improvements will help control the accuracy of receipting, disbursing, recording, and accounting procedures.

No name is shown as signing this response.

Two questions arise - how good a job could Jeff Baer have been doing that the books never matched the bank statements during the two year audit period - and they 'fixed' it by just changing the books to match without finding the source of the errors ("Numerous corrections and adjustments were made in the records by use of negative entries")? And, why did it take the SBOA audit to get such a basic flaw recognized and a plan created to actually fix it?

Unbelievable !

SBOA Audit of Decatur Schools Now Available

The Indiana State Board of Accounts audit of MSD Decatur Township books from July 1, 2007, through June 30, 2009, is now posted on their website. I am reviewing and will post something as soon as I can, but, as always, you are encouraged to review on your own.

MSD Decatur Township audit