Thursday, February 20, 2014

Decatur Schools Referendum - Accountablility

I don't know how I will vote on the May 6 Referendum that would increase property taxes for the benefit of the Decatur School District (MSD Decatur Township). 

I do, however, know that I resent having to make this decision.

How did we get to this point? 

Why, of course, through unrestrained, extravagant, spending by former Superintendent Don Stinson, his #1 guy, Jeff Baer, and the Decatur School Board - primarily former member Don Huffman and current members Larry Taylor, Judy Collins, Cathy Wiseman, and Dale Henson.

Most folks are aware of are all the new school facilities.  What most do not realize is that in 2002 a respected accounting firm, Umbaugh and Associates, analyzed the ability of the community to handle various debt loads.  That year the total debt stood at $25.5 Million.  They concluded that by 2010, Decatur Schools could grow the debt to $80.9 Million and the community would be in a good position to afford the taxes.  Instead, our 'trusted' leaders sank us in $266.7 Million in debt by 2009.  This is a crushing debt load - one we continue to pay dearly for to this day.  It is also the primary cause of any need for passage of the upcoming Referendum.

To pay for all the School Building projects, we were told our property taxes would rise the equivalent of a weekly meal at McDonalds.  Instead, our taxes more than doubled.  Thank goodness for the property tax caps that protected us from the full brunt of our wayward School Board.

Not content with all that rubber stamped, irresponsible spending, the School Board also went on a property buying spree. They bought the old Concentra Building (Southwest Pavilion) across Kentucky Avenue from the High School and hundreds of acres of land for which there was no immediate need.  In most instances, they did not get the two appraisals required by State Law in order to protect the taxpayers from malfeasance.  In one case they got a single appraisal and then paid 40% more for the property - another clear violation of State Law.

But, they didn't care.  Somehow the taxpayers were just the chumps at the other end of the debt.

The District took out a short term loan, usually paid back once tax money is distributed by the State.  But, they didn't pay the loan back when they got the tax proceeds.  Instead, they spent the tax money and only paid interest on the loan.  That was until the stuff hit the fan and they could no longer stay on that course.  So, they floated new debt to pay off the short term loans.

Still not content, they raised Administrator salaries with abandon.  Most Administrators saw their salaries double, the Superintendent saw his more than triple.  This caused the escalation of Administrator salaries in Marion County and Central Indiana - as the Superintendents manipulated their Boards and the situation to grow their salaries over that puny District in Decatur Township.  Every grossly exaggerated salary at the administrator level directly impacts how many teachers can be hired and thereby class size.

By 2009, Central Office expenses had ballooned to over 10% of all General Fund expenses - far outstripping other Marion County Districts.

Hyperinflated salaries weren't enough, either. 

Golden parachutes, above and beyond the tidy nest eggs the District already paid for, were devised for 5 'retiring' Administrators.  The total added up to nearly a Million Dollars.  Even today, they also either receive free health insurance or its cash equivalent until they and their spouses reach the age of 65 and qualify for Medicare.  The cash equivalent this year is over $19,000 per family.  Money that could be used better, for sure.

In the case of the loans and golden parachutes, Superintendent Stinson acted unilaterally - meaning without the approval of the Board.  Both times, when the actions were aired in public, the Board retroactively approved his actions.

I could add to this the hiring of relatives, catered meals before each Board meeting, and other small extravagances engaged in by the Board.  I could go on about the redistricting, causing the need to transport children to the opposite ends of the Township instead of to their closest elementary school, driven by the fact that poor school performance threatened the receipt of federal funds linked to 'No Child Left Behind'.

Since its peak, debt has been going down and, of all the excess property, at least the Concentra Building (Southwest Pavilion) has been sold.  Current debt load is just shy of $140 Million.  Still, this leaves our community with the highest tax rate for School debt of any District in Marion County, and much larger than our nearest neighbors in Hendricks and Morgan Counties.

Looking at abutting School Districts, the school debt tax rate for 2014 is  (dollars per $100 assessed value):

Decatur           1.4766     (1.7752 if referendum to increase by 0.2986 had been approved for this year)
Wayne            1.3787
Perry               0.5048     (0.6287 if you include tax approved by referendum)
Mooresville     0.3411
Plainfield         0.6862

Other tax rates for school debt in Marion County for 2014 are:

Franklin           1.1289
Lawrence         0.3040
Pike                  0.2700    (0.2893 if you include tax approved by referendum)
Warren             0.8858
Washington      0.1725
Beech Grove    1.4243     (1.7743 if you include tax approved by referendum)
IPS                    0.4297     (0.5087 if you include tax approved by referendum)
Speedway         0.0856

That's how we got to this point, where now the community must weigh the pros and cons of approving an additional property tax through a referendum.  Is it throwing good money after bad, or will it mend what the School Board broke?

A friend recently asked me how much the School Board members make.  I don't know the current amounts, but they generally get about $2000 per year plus a some amount for each meeting they attend - perhaps amounting to $5000 per year each.  My friend suggested that the least the Board could do is forsake any compensation for as long as they remain Board Members.  That makes a lot of sense to me.

I'd also like to see each of the four active Board members who are responsible for our financial mess, Taylor, Collins, Wiseman, and Henson, stand up in a public meeting and apologize for putting us in these straits.  How else can we be sure they will not just spend the new money with the same lack of fiscal responsibility they spent all the other money we taxpayers have sent their way.

The least they can do is have the common decency to not run for election again.


Anonymous said...

Good stuff! I no longer live in Decatur Township. However, my daughter attends the DDA. She will be graduating this year. Thank goodness b/c "Our School" is on the chopping block. I seriously believe, regardless of the referendum outcome. I, pay for my daughter to attend b/c I believe in "Our School". My son attended and graduated at the DDA as well. My heart breaks, knowing that the DDA will no longer be available for the next generation. It is a sad situation when those who took an oath to teach our children and serve their communities have failed them both. Very disappointed in the entire situation.

Anonymous said...

I think they all need to step down or be removed . They broke the law in purchasing land Costing the distract 40% more then it should have. Their extreme salaries are appalling so is their Flagrant misuse of funds. So now we have to choose higher taxes or close schools . They should be ashamed but they brazenly ask the tax payer for more money .

Unigov said...

First, your typical taxpayer who supports the referendum is like a Jew hurrying to get on the train to Auscwitz.

Second, where's the organized opposition?

Anonymous said...

Unigov - I understand the point you are making, but comparing this property tax referendum to the horrors or the Holocaust is in very poor taste.

Anonymous said...

Although my family maintains ties to the Decatur community we pulled all of our children from those schools years ago. SO many reasons that the district is going downhill and it's just getting worse. Many of our friends have or are talking about pulling their kids from the system. However, if you still live in the district that won't change that you're paying for the school's mistakes. Ultimately if the taxpayers foot this debt it will drive people out of the community and what is a nice area to live in will quickly start to run downhill from people fleeing. The school system is destroying the township! said...

if you want to believe the bs posted here, you probably are a democrat that voted for hussein also. if you want to know what really goes on in your district, here's an idea; go to the board meetings and work sessions. they are publicized in actual news papers. Go to a forum in your schools as they are also advertised in actual news papers. Watch tv - even the infamous Kera of channel 6 who hates decatur township hasn't had a bad report regarding the referendum and again she HATES the leadership and the township as a whole. You cannot listen to all the negative and get a full picture of what is really going on. Nice try andrews but you were voted off the board because you didn't have children as your first priority and the current board certainly does. I say lets educate the people who will be making our laws and nursing home decisions for us when we are as old as you. said...

as far as breaking the law buying land, the state does not, will not and did not allow that to happen. If you would like to confirm that, check in with the CFO and he will show the paperwork on the bids if you want or are smart enough to read them. the board did not double your property taxes either - the incorrect assessment by the assessor did that and again, READ THE PAPER!!!~!! are you all too stupid to understand that this is public record? are all of you knee jerk reactors and want to follow the leader into that gas chamber of Hate?? get your facts straight or you don't deserve to have the right to vote. if you can't read, how the hell can you vote? and they are not brazen and the shortfall is not the fault of the board - look higher into the government. everyone talks about improving education and no one wants to fund it - they add more to do and don't give any additional funds to do it with. board members make less than 2,000 a year but they are WELL informed, they can all read, they ask questions in public and in work sessions you can ask also. but you have to come to the meetings to know what is going on. this is like facebook, you can share your opinion but if you have only one side, how is it a well rounded opinion. listen to both sides and then if you still think the board needs to be replaced you can run for office.

Had Enough Indy? said...

Well, Jean Wise, since you are the only one here who can read, perhaps you'll review the State Board of Accounts Audit of the District's books from July 1, 2005, through June 30, 2007.

It states "The School Corporation purchased four real estate properties during the audit period but did not comply with Indiana Code 36-1-10.5-5 or Indiana Code 36-1-10.5-6. The School Corporation purchased the Southwest Pavilion Office Building for $3,345,000, the Transportation Building for $6,475,961, the 7900 Camby Road property for $458,000, and the 4637 Yuma Drive property for $39,643. There were no appraisals presented for the Southwest Pavilion Office Building and the Transportation Building and only one appraisal each presented for the 7900 Camby Road and 4637 Yuma Drive properties. Also, the $458,000 purchase price for the 7900 Camby Road property exceeded the fair market value price of $325,000 according to the single appraisal."

I think the rest of your comments speak for themselves.

Anonymous said...

Has there ever been a comment from someone supporting the board and the Stinson administration that wasn't full of hate,nastiness and condescension?

It's obvious the sycophants are just expressing the same attitude they've garnered from those amongst the school-board and administration.

I will vote against any tax increases for the school system.

Had Enough Indy? said...

Anon 9:31 - I have spoken with supporters of the old regime who had their honest reasons and could express them calmly and cojently.

I am struck with how different the new Superintendent is - he really is quite the positive change for Decatur.

The fall School Board election will have 3 of the 5 seats up for a vote. The majority can change and the Board can abruptly be put on a new, open & transparent, fiscally responsible path.

I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Unigov said...

February 21, 2014 at 6:58 AM

You're right.

It's hard to think of examples of people voting for their own demise.

A fairer comparison is that School boards and the NEA are to taxpayers, what Europeans were to Native Americans. They will take everything they can get. Then they will take more.

Anonymous said...

The burden of a high debt load and out of control spending is mentioned above.

What role did our "great" recession, individual property tax relief, and other government units (City, Library, Health & Hospital Corp, Township) taxing needs impact

Anonymous said...

assessed values and revenue for the schools?

Had Enough Indy? said...

Anon 8:19 - some, to be sure - mostly expansion of TIFs and perhaps our own Township government. More later on that. We are in this huge hole because of the earlier decisions. Any additional moguls (nod to the Olympics) are just that.
AVs haven't actually changed enough to be a big factor, and the State took over the operating revenue for the district as property tax caps came in.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately I think it will take the closing of schools to make people wake up to the financial mess we're in.

If we ever get out of that hole, maybe we can find the time to talk about transparency/accountability, safety/discipline*, leadership/nepotism, and, oh, maybe education.

*before someone dies

Anonymous said...

I am a homeowner who is trying to decide whether to vote yes or no. I have not ever been to a school board meeting, I sent my children to other schools for what I perceive as a better education. I say that to show I understand it costs money, money I am willing to pay. But the comments and childish name calling from this "Jean Wise" along with her insults are a bewilderment to me. I went to the meeting, I came here for an opposing viewpoint, not to read immaturity. If that is the sum of the professionalism of our school board, then decatur has a lot more problems than money. I remain anonymous because I certainly don't want her wrath!

Had Enough Indy? said...

anon 7:00 - Thanks for visiting. I'll be posting more information you may want to ponder either today or tomorrow.

As for Jean, it clearly is a name made up just to post here on this topic. I have no indication that they represent the school board. And there are a lot of folks already convinced of the benefits of a referendum tax who are much better representatives of that point of view.

It is most important the as many people in our community have discussions, get registered to vote, and then vote on May 6 so that the outcome represents the actual wishes of the entire community. Thanks for being part of that process.

Anonymous said...

so if you don't agree with the referendum then you don't have child's needs in first? Why is Dr. P so interested in trying to cancel busing? Its because he's using it to force people to do what he wants. In his own words "almost 70% of decatur township gets free or reduced lunches & free book rental". this means if these students can't ride the bus then they will not go to school, then the school gets less money from the state. Dr P & the school board doesn't care about kids first like they say, they care about the all mighty dollar.

Anonymous said...

In the meetings I've been to Dr. Prusiecki, claims to have gotten "rid" of 16 bus driver positions, what he fails to mention they have hired over 20 drivers to replace the drivers they let go. They did NOT eliminate 16 bus driver positions. They fired more experienced, qualified & caring bus drivers & are hiring just anyone that comes in off the street. Some of these drivers can barely walk so how will they be able to get our children off the bus in case of an emergency? The buses are so over crowded that most buses have 3 kids to almost every seat.

They did NOT eliminate 4 administrative positions. There are other people in those positions & they even hire the ex-administrators back to sub at any of the schools when they need it.

Why do some of the administrative positions need either a car allowance or the township provides them with a car & gas? That money out of the transportation fund? Non of these people even live in the district. We are paying for their gas to drive our cars & gas out of our district. Why does Decaturs' school security need to drive the township security car to all of his granddaughters sporting events? No matter how far away they are.

Why do we have 5 principals (or as they like to say "department heads') for the small learning communities? The salary for those positions total $519,850.75 a year. Does the small learning communities really help? What are the test results since starting this? Decatur Township grade is a D, the worst in Marion CO.

Had Enough Indy? said...

anon 5:19 - I think some people will try to push the idea 'its for the kids' and that is all you should think about. That isn't anywhere close to what I think. If we try to pretend we got into this mess by some uncontrollable outside force, then we stand a good chance to squander this referendum cash and repeat the serious mistakes made by the school board again.
To be balanced, though, what Dr. P has said at the meetings I've been at, was that he has a list of possible cuts - only SOME of which would have to be implemented to cover the additional $2.5 M deficit the district faces in 2015.

Had Enough Indy? said...

Anon 5:44 - I think you bring up fair points for discussion.

Anonymous said...

I know the board members. And they are a lazy uneducated group. Half the reason the township has fallen into a pit of idiocy and democrat logic of throwing money into the equation "in hopes" the township will improve. You can't fix stupid especially with money. I make educated decisions based on facts, and the facts are evident, unless you have an IQ less than 10, that the township employees haven't a clue how to budget, teach, and plan. I'm not comfortable giving money to people who obviously can't balance a budget. Make the necessary cuts first, then you can talk..

Anonymous said...

I agree! Not only have they taken us down a bad financial path, their choices for the education of our children has turned even worse. I believe this year alone MANY teachers are leaving because of the policies being made by the corp. I asked friends about teachers leaving their school(s) and most said none or maybe one. They know a skunk when they smell one. New board members with a new Superintendent could give our school district a chance.

Byron Smith said...

I just voted thumbs down on the referendum. I wish I could vote to raise my own salary the way school administrators can. It seems they have conferred upon themselves the divine right of kings to our bank accounts. The taxpayers are NOT serfs on the Decatur township plantation.

Anonymous said...

Seriously... this property tax bill we just received reflects the increase. So many lies to get the referendum passed.... we needed this so that we wouldn't lose Bus Service. We were told on the average $70 per year increase but when I ask what average are you basing the increase on the question couldn't be answered. I was told recently by others they said per 100K.. It was all a lie to get us to vote to pay for the previous leaderships screw up. Way to go! I find it hard to believe people went and voted for higher taxes.

Oh... then 2 months later the Franklin Township issue was settle and the final ruling by the judge was that they could not charge for Bus Service.