Sunday, February 28, 2010

Recommending - "Welcome to My Tea Party"

Dana Vice has been chronicling the escapades of the Washington Township School District on her blog - Welcome to My Tea Party. I suggest that weary Decaturites take a look-see, if only to feel that we are not alone. I have added this blog to my blog list in the left side panel for your future quick-link.

Friday, February 26, 2010

MSD Decatur Township Needs New Superintendent

MSD Decatur Township Superintendent Don Stinson does not have the leadership skills to pull the District through this fiscal mess that he created. Lets forget for the moment that he chose to close Lynwood as an elementary school, which will cause teacher layoffs no matter how many choose to retire, and will cause elementary class sizes to rise by about 25% - over selling the Southwest Pavilion (former Concentra Building). Lets forget for the moment that he allows Susan Adams to mistreat the custodians AND is granting her a "promotion", likely with more money, to run amok on the bus drivers and security personnel (more on these in later posts).

On Thursday, the morning after the Board's Special Session where they voted to close Lynwood as an elementary school and asked for a list of 50 - 60 teachers to lay off, Stinson sat at his computer and typed out the message below and had it sent to all employees in the District. Does he commiserate with the employee's fear of loosing their jobs in this tough economy? No. Does he lay out any framework for pulling together as a team to survive the chaotic times? No. Does he begin to express how near the District is to the bottom of the mess and how some tiny ray of hope can be seen that the childrens' education will remain unscathed? No.

Here is Superintendent Don Stinson's message to all employees at this horrid time in the District's history:

February 25, 2010
Decatur Staff,
Last night at the school board meeting, a portion of the enrollment management recommendation was approved by the board. We will immediately begin preparing to move the ECC to the Lynwood building and create five 1-6 elementary schools at Blue, Gold, Stephen Decatur, Valley Mills, and West Newton. In the very near future, you will receive information about the school designs that were recommended by the Enrollment Management Design Team. Although we will not be implementing the school designs next year, implementation is anticipated to take place over the next two to three years.
Listed below are the elementary schools, the principal assigned to the school and the school design.

SCHOOL --------------- PRINCIPAL ------------- SCHOOL DESIGN

Blue Academy ---------- Matt Prusiecki ---------- STEM/Creative Arts

Early Childhood Center-- Susan Bryant------------ Kindergarten

Gold Academy---------- Nan Wiseman------------ School of Inquiry – Global Studies/ Creative Arts

Stephen Decatur-------- Robert Kehrein ----------Expeditionary -Balanced Calendar

Valley Mills------------- To Be Posted------------- Project-based Learning

West Newton---------- Janet Larch ----------------Creative Arts

He is actually setting up themes of instruction for each school while the transportation budget is being cut in half. These types of open schools require huge expenditures in transportation as any child in the District can attend any school in the district. He offers no solace. He offers no details of how the next steps will be taken. He offers no leadership. He offers themes to take effect before the community can put in a new majority on the School Board.

The current School Board needs to get Don Stinson to leave. He made this huge financial mess. He has chosen to lay off teachers, force bus drivers to take a big cut in salary or leave entirely, and raise class size - while protecting administrators and their new digs at the Southwest Pavilion. AND if that weren't enough reason to ask him to leave. He has no leadership skills with which to combat the dismal morale his actions have caused. And, he does not have the continued support of the community. He is taking actions that he may see as securing his legacy - but they are NOT in the best interest of Decatur or Decatur's children.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Your Turn - Wednesday's Special Session

Many comments about last night's Decatur School Board's Special Session have been added to the last post. So, please check there as well. But, if you went last night - what happened? What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Decatur School Board Meeting Tomorrow - February 24

The Decatur Township School Board is meeting in Special Session tomorrow night, Wednesday, February 24, 2010, beginning at 6:00 pm in the Board Room. The agenda is posted on the District website.

It appears that the closing of Lynwood as an elementary school is on the agenda. This should be of concern to all parents and teachers as this will directly cause class size to rise for all grades 1 through 6, and will generate about two dozen teachers who cannot be accomodated with a classroom elsewhere in the district - which will necessitate layoffs.

It is simple to redistrict and to sell of the Southwest Pavilion Office Building (former Concentra Building) to buy a couple more years to keep Lynwood open.

I discussed this very issue in more depth in "Lynwood State Takeover Fable", "Will Teachers Union Try to Save Lynwood Elementary?" and especially "What's Behind Closing Lynwood Elementary".

Monday, February 22, 2010

Uh-Oh --- No Slam Dunk For Precinct Committeemen

Well, there seems to be a lot of Democratic panties in a bunch over contested Precinct Committeemen (PC) elections this year. The blame has been lavished upon Brian Williams, announced candidate for Mayor in 2011. Seems Williams brought a stack of PC candidate forms into the Election Board on Friday, just before the noon filing deadline. The 'Behind Closed Doors' column in the Sunday Star said he brought in 200 forms. The word Friday night was 175. All agree they are his supporters. The Star reports that there are 590 total precincts in the County.

So, I looked over the spreadsheet posted on the Election Board website to see what I could see. I filtered and sorted the data and I found that overall, 216 PC slots are uncontested and 152 are contested. 47 of the contested slots have more than two candidates. 08-002 and WAS-050 each have 6 folks running.

Looking at the data from the perspective of when the slots became contested, 47 were contested before Williams dropped his stack on the 19th. And, 23 of the 105 that became contested on the 19th have more than 2 candidates. Now if we think Williams is a smart man, which I do, then I have to guess that he didn't submit more than two candidates for any one PC slot.

Here's how I see the numbers. Roughly a third of all contested PC races were contested prior to Williams showing up in the Election Office. Also, a third of all contested PC races have more than two candidates. This suggests to me, either another agency promoting their own set of PC candidates have been at work, or there is a goodly amount of widespread dissatisfaction with who is in those slots now.

In my opinion, it would be good for the party to see if there is anything it needs to fix before it hoists all manner of derision on Williams.

Lets be frank here. The County Democratic Party was marching in a line to anoint Melina Kennedy as its candidate. Williams actions suggest he wasn't content to go to slating with PCs selected by the 'system'.

Every time I say that slating must go, I am rebutted with the claim that the PCs know the candidates best. Now I am hearing folks that I respect, say that they won't vote for Williams - not because his ideas for Indianapolis are bad - but because he bucked the system. The preservation of the system should not be the goal. We have lost a lot of good people from the Marion County Democratic Party 'system' because those in a position to make changes have not wanted to do so. That is a crying shame.

In any case, here are the numbers Township by Township (I don't know how many precincts in each township, so be aware that these are only the ones for which a person put their name in as a candidate) --

Center (I believe old city limits actually) - 76 uncontested -- 70 contested
Decatur - 6 uncontested -- 4 contested
Franklin - 9 uncontested -- 3 contested
Lawrence - 18 uncontested -- 19 contested
Perry - 18 uncontested -- 8 contested
Pike - 21 uncontested -- 12 contested
Warren - 13 uncontested -- 11 contested
Washington - 34 uncontested -- 15 contested
Wayne - 20 uncontested -- 10 contested

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Meet Natalie Coffey

I have asked the two Decatur School Board challengers to introduce themselves. Here is what Natalie Coffey provided to me:

The voters have asked who I am and quite simply put, I am one of the many voices of our community. I am no different from the majority of you reading this. A wife, mother of three, Girl Scout leader, Graphic Designer, first time stay-at-home mother and most recently a candidate for the Decatur School Board. How did I get here? Honestly, I was told by one of the mother's in my troop, "You should run!" Here I am. It was a whirlwind of a week getting the nomination form completed but in those few short days I spoke to many neighbors and parents who conveyed their frustration regarding our situation that we have been placed in by the current board.

"If there's something wrong, those who have the ability to take action have the responsibility to take action." This is one of my favorite movie quotes from National Treasure and it seems very appropriate at this moment. This is me taking on the responsibility to take action in order to make a difference for all of us in Decatur Township. I will listen, I will respond, I will fight for change and most importantly follow the law. I don't know about you but in our household not following the rules constitutes a reason for grounding. Not following the law while doing your job means you should no longer hold that position. It is time for change.

Frustrated by excessive spending, bad budgeting and a board that refuses to listen to the very people that elected them to their positions has everyone in an uproar. The parents I speak with at functions, in the neighborhood, that I run into while shopping or eating out are outraged by the deep hole that our school district has been placed in and how our children are paying the the ultimate price. We entrusted this board and administration with structuring our school system properly and the results speak for themselves. Things can be turned around but it has become apparent that the current board is unable to do so. Our board and administration has become notorious for improper planning and not following the laws placed before them. I have no personal agenda for being a board member. My goal is simply to make sure that my children - that all children of Decatur Township - are given the best education and opportunity for success that is available. They are, after all, our future and future board members themselves. What example do we set if we allow the current board and administration to continue on this downward spiral?

Natalie Coffey

City Council Meets Monday

The Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council meets this Monday night. Unfortunately, the Council link to this agenda does not work. Nor are any of the proposals to be introduced Monday night available on their website.

So, all I can mention here is that two Proposals that are of interest to my eye, that are indeed set for a vote tomorrow night, are the consolidation of Franklin Township Fire Department with IFD (Prop 43) and the appropriation of the $5 million abatement clawed back from Navistar (Prop 35). Prop 39, the guns in parks proposal authored by Councillor Ed Coleman, is on the Parks committee agenda for Thursday night, February 25, at 5:00 pm in room 260 of the City-County Building.

If you live in Franklin Township, you might want to take a thorough look at Prop 43, as it appears that the Township loses assets, retains debt, and loses a portion of the County Option Income Tax revenue stream to IFD. It also must pay to change the decals on the equipment and the signs on the stations. IFD does appear to be required to assume all pension obligations.

Prop 35, passed out of committee last week with a vote of 4-1. Republican Councillors Cardwell, McQuillen, and Malone, were joined by Democrat Moriarty-Adams. The lone no vote was cast by Democrat Councillor Evans.

This proposal appropriates $5.5 million in abatement money that is being returned to the City by agreement with Navistar. I have addressed this issue before in "Abatements -- Scary Loopholes Need Closing". The short of it is that when a company is granted an abatement, certain goals in hiring and/or investment are set. Should the company not meet those goals, some portion of the forgiven property taxes are to be paid back to the City.

The returned money should be allocated back to the taxing units by the same formula as property tax revenues are allocated. In this case, the Navistar plant is in IPS territory and just over half of the $5 million should go to IPS, in my view. But, the City is taking advantage of the lack of governing law or policy on where returned abatement money should go. Also, no matter how much the City spends of these funds, they surely should not be spending it on the Indianapolis Economic Development, Inc., and the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association. The former is the group that funds Mayor Ballard's trips abroad and now a clear line links tax money to Ballard's trips. The ICVA already gets almost $10 million a year in tax payer funds to operate. Meanwhile we have potholes, streets, and sidewalks that need repairing - and Mayor Ballard has appointed a task force to look at raising money for those needs, including the sale of assets owned by the taxpayers. Meanwhile we have a Parks budget that was slashed by $5 million this last year. Meanwhile crime prevention grants to be announced tomorrow night, will total $4 million - down from the promised $5 million 'because we just don't have the money'. Meanwhile we have a City-owned water company looking to raise rates by 35% on top of its recent raise in rates. Meanwhile we have a mass transit plan being hawked around the region with its concomitant increase in sales taxes and diversion of money we use to repair streets. Meanwhile we have people living under bridges in our fair city. Meanwhile we have a whole lot better things to do with that money than toss it to IEDI and the ICVA.

I'll post more on the proposals to be introduced once the Council website issues are fixed. This is unusual for them, so I'm guessing it will be taken care of Monday morning.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Two Challengers Filed

Mark Tuesday, May 4, on your calendar with the note "VOTE VOTE VOTE"

As of right now, two challengers have stepped forward and filed to be candidates for Decatur School Board from District 3. Judy Collins and Dale Henson, incumbents, filed for re-election yesterday.

Noon is the deadline, and sometime tonight we should know if anyone else is running in Decatur.

The two challengers are Natalie Coffey and Bobby Hire, both of Camby.

For my part, I am putting some yellow ribbon on my shopping list. I intend to 'tie a yellow ribbon' around the trees in my front yard as a sign of solidarity with the challengers. The yellow ribbon, as you know, symbolizes an awaited homecoming. In this case, bringing Decatur schools back to the Decatur public. It irks me no end that only 1 administrator out of 28 respects our community enough to live here and educate their children here. It irks me further that it matters not to our incumbents.

Many thanks to Natalie Coffey and Bobby Hire for stepping forward for our School District and our community.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why YOU Should Run for School Board

Over at Ogden on Politics, the header statement is this quote from Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia :
“Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.”

Now that might be quite a bit of hyperbole for School Board, but consider it for just one moment.

"The inaction of those who could have acted..." That's YOU, my friend.

The existing situation at the Metropolitan School District of Decatur Township is roundly criticized in our community. We have the perfect opportunity to put a new majority in place on the Board - to right the wrongs, make the necessary changes, and put our District on a fiscally secure path whose end goal is the best education for Decatur's youth.

Rumor has it that we have two candidates out gathering the necessary signatures - one in district 1 and one in district 3 (see "How to File to Run for School Board" for a map of the districts). That leaves one more seat - a person from either of those districts - to fill. That's YOU.

Let me pause just a moment here, to thank all of the folks who have expressed an interest in running, only to find that they are not qualified this time around because they live in district 2. We must have had 10 people make serious inquiry. That bodes well for the school board race in 2012 and for the ultimate chance to make long lasting improvements in our School District.

Back to YOU and why YOU should run.

The current school board is violating state law by not reviewing bids in public.

It is violating state law by not voting on and signing contracts entered into by the District.

It has violated state law by not requiring appraisals on property it intended to purchase and by overpaying for property.

It has overlooked the practice of nepotism in hiring of Administrators, mechanics, and others in the district and even participated in the practice itself.

It overlooks intolerable working conditions for the District's custodial staff.

It has signed off on the obscenely bloated salary of Don Stinson and other Administrators.

It refuses to discuss in open meetings, issues raised by the public.

It sat by while Superintendent Don Stinson and Assistant Superintendent Jeff Baer dug our district into a $8.4 million hole. Add to this the 3% cut ordered by Governor Daniels, and we have to come up with $9.8 million. Our entire yearly budget only runs about $75 million - so that's a huge hole this irresponsible Administration and rubber stamping Board have dug.

They are content to close the ECC, move Kindergarten to Lynwood, and thereby increase class size throughout grades 1-6.

They are content to keep the Southwest Pavilion (former Concentra Building), and let the Administration move into its palatial offices.

They turned over authority for budget cuts to Stinson and Baer - washing their hands of any real accountability to the community.

They allowed the Central Office to suffer no real cuts in Administrator positions while pushing $3 million in undefined cuts onto the Teachers Union.

And nothing they have done has improved the education of Decatur's children. NOTHING.

All YOU have to do is want to correct one of those things and our School District will be better off with YOU on the Board.

With a new majority, the first step should be for the Board to hire a lawyer obligated to them, not the Superintendent, and get back to acting in compliance with state law. That lawyer should be present at all meetings of the Board, ready to give advice when asked and to review legal matters such as contracts on behalf of the Board.

The new majority can reset priorities and use its authority to keep Lynwood open.

The new majority can insist that the Board will have an open door policy to confront the fact that we have employees afraid to speak out, parents who have legitimate complaints, and a public who needs to be heard on these matters.

That's just the start.

A new majority only takes YOU to take action. The deadline to submit the forms with signatures is noon Friday. We will all help you gather those signatures. We'll take the forms downtown if YOU can't get off work to do it yourself. YOU must be a registered voter in either school board district 1 or district 3. YOU only need to want to improve our School District on behalf of our community for YOU to be the person we need on the School Board.

My email address is

"The inaction of those who could have acted..." That's YOU, my friend.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Evan Bayh will not seek re-election

According to an alert from WIBC, Evan Bayh will not seek a third term. Press conference at 2:00 this afternoon.

Any Democrat interested in getting all those signatures from around the State by noon Tuesday? If so, step up now.

[edited at 1:08 pm to add: Do you think this is why Joe Hogsett took his name off the Indy Mayoral candidate list?]

New Bloggers In Town - Indeed

Posted this morning in the comments section of the last blog entry was the following:

New bloggers in town Indy Political Stock Exchange tracking the winners and losers in the marketplace of ideas.

I checked it out and my personal opinion is that it is a fun and refreshing approach for local politics watchers. If the ticker symbols don't drive you mad, you just might get hooked ! They seem to bring personal experience to the table, but the authors remain anonymous, so no vetting their IPO with any surity.

I deleted the comment from the post, anyway - per personal policy of no ads. But, I did add the blog to my blog list.

Keep up the entertaining perspective. This one could catch on nationwide ! Very clever !

Friday, February 12, 2010

Many School Board Offices Still Await Candidates

I know that there have been comments about folks not running, as of yet, for Decatur's School Board. Well, for good or evil, that is not unusual in Marion County. According to information on the County Clerk's Election Board web pages regarding offices on the ballot and who had filed to be a candidate as of yesterday, Thursday, February 11, 2010, I report the following races:

Beech Grove City Schools -- 3 At-Large positions open -- no candidates
Decatur Township School Board -- 3 district positions open -- no candidates
Franklin Township School Board -- 2 district, 1 at-large positions open -- no candidates
IPS -- 1 district 1 position open -- no candidates
/// 1 district 5 position open -- 1 candidate
/// 1 at-large position open -- 1 candidate
/// 0 district 3 position open -- 1 candidate (? oops)
Lawrence Township School Board -- 1 district 2 position open -- 1 candidate
/// 1 at-large position open -- 4 candidates
Perry Township School Board -- 3 district 1 positions open -- 2 candidates
Pike Township School Board -- 3 at-large positions open -- 4 candidates
Warren Township School Board -- 3 district 1 positions open -- 3 candidates
Washington Township School Board -- 2 district seats open -- 2 candidates
Wayne Township School Board -- 4 at-large positions open -- 1 candidate

I refer you back to my blog entry "How to Run for School Board" for a map of Decatur's School Board Districts, a link to the other school districts in Marion County, and where to get forms. The forms must be in by noon Friday, February 19 - one week from today. If you get them in before that time, they will call you should you end up without 10 qualifying signatures. That way you still have a chance to get the last signatures needed. The closer you press the deadline, the more you need to have a full set of qualifying signatures -- so get 20 just in case.

Your Turn Again

Did you go to the Decatur School Board meeting last night? Any thoughts about what happened or didn't happen? Do you think the School Board did it's job by leaving the actual cuts decisions to the Superintendent? Did they allow patron comments? If so, what did the public have to say?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Lynwood 'State Takeover' Fable

MSD Decatur Township Superintendent, Don Stinson, is trying to sell the closing of Lynwood as an elementary school by blaming No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the Indiana Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) school improvement programs. Often we are told that school choice forced on Decatur is just too hard to achieve. We are told that redistricting won't work, even though numbers supplied by the District show that less than 10% of students opt for choice. And, we are told that Lynwood is poised to be taken over by the State.

So, what happens when a school does not meet the State standards? Well, it all depends on whether that school gets money from the Federal Government under Title 1 to help schools in low income areas. In the Decatur District, only Lynwood and Stephen Decatur schools get these funds. If I am reading the State Department of Education information on AYP correctly - there is no penalty, other than the requirement that the AYP information be made public, for schools that are not Title 1 monetary recipients. Schools and School Districts that receive Title 1 money do face 'Interventions' according to how long they have failed to meet the AYP goals (click here for IN DOE information). I'll get to the District interventions later.

In the case of Lynwood and Stephen Decatur, they both have had to offer school choice, offer tutoring, create an improvement plan, use 10% of their Title 1 money for professional development, and accept advice from the District as well as the State Department of Education on how to improve, since 2005. Since 2004, Lynwood did achieve the AYP goals one year, and Stephen Decatur two non-consecutive years. Stephen Decatur met the AYP goals last school year and has a reprieve from moving forward in the 'intervention' schedule. Since Lynwood did not meet the goals for 4 years, they also had to offer their faculty online courses which are sponsored by the State DOE, and send a school team to a State sponsored 'Supporting Student Learning Conference'. Should they fail to meet the AYP goals this year, Lynwood will have to draft a plan to carry out in the 2011-2012 school year that includes one of the following:
"1) replace relevant school staff
2) sufficiently extend school day or year
3) hire full-time literacy or math coach
4) hire English language learner specialist."

Even if Lynwood failed to meet the AYP goals through 2014 and beyond - the harshest intervention is that they must 'receive a State Support Team' and use state-provided reading/math diagnostic assessment tools. Never is there a mention of a state takeover of the school.

Meeting AYP goals has been a target since 2002. So how are all of the Decatur schools doing on that front?

Lynwood met the goals in 2002, 2003, and 2006 - and did not meet the goals in 2004, 2005, 2007, and 2008 school years.
Stephen Decatur met the goals in 2002, 2003, 2006, and 2008 - and did not meet the goals in 2004, 2005, and 2007.
Valley Mills met the goals in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, and 2008 - and did not meet the goals in 2005.
West Newton met the goals in 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007, and 2008 - and did not meet the goals in 2004 and 2005.
The Gold Academy has not met the goals since opening - 2006, 2007, and 2008.
The Blue Academy has not met the goals since opening - 2006, 2007, and 2008.
Decatur Middle School met the goals in 2004 - and did not meet the goals in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008.
Decatur Central High School has not met the goals since AYP began - 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008.
The District as a whole met the goals in 2004 - and did not meet the goals in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008.

Now, there are interventions for School Districts who receive Title 1 money. Prior to this year, they had to notify the community about their status, develop an improvement plan, and spend 10% of Title 1 money on professional development. This school year, they also had to "under the state's direction, the corporation must review and analyze curricula and instructional practices within the corporation and make changes based upon the findings". But, here is where things get interesting. I'll just quote the DOE's information.

"Corrective Action - State maintains the option to implement any of the following additional corrective actions if previous interventions do not result in progress:
1) Defer programmatic funds or reduce administrative funds.
2) Replace corporation staff relevant to the district's inability to make AYP.
3) Remove individual schools from the corporation's jurisdiction and arrange public governance/supervision of these schools
4) Appoint a receiver/trustee to assume the administrative duties of the corporation's superintendent and school board.
5) Abolish or restructure the school corporation."

It is the District's failure to meet the AYP goals that could cause Lynwood to be removed from the District (item #3). Of course, other districts have done worse on the AYP than Decatur - and none of the possible actions have been taken by the State DOE. But, I find myself a bit partial to number 4 right about now.

All of this is a long way around to the conclusion that the closing of Lynwood as an elementary school is being blamed on NCLB and AYP, but it just isn't true.

[edited on Feb 11, 2010 to add : I have made a mistake. The school board minutes on 7-10-07 show approval of a new contract that gave a 3.5% raise in 2007-2008 and a 4.5% raise in 2008-2009. I slipped the dates by mistake.
I apologize for the error and I thank the teachers for sending me back to my notes to double-check the information.]

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Will Teachers Union Try to Save Lynwood Elementary?

The Teachers Union will be meeting again today with the MSD Decatur Township administration to try to reach an agreement on job cuts and wage reductions.

The administration is proposing a 5% salary and benefits reduction and hope for 17 early retirements. They say that up to 60 teachers would be laid off if the cuts and retirements are not agreed upon. The proposal is unclear if another 17-20 teacher layoffs will occur even if an agreement is reached. (see my blog entry - Cliff Notes for Decatur School District Plan).

I have suggested that by putting excess property up for sale - the Southwest Pavilion Office Building (former Concentra Building) being the lion's share of the value of these excess properties -- and other cuts (see How to Minimize the Impact of Decatur School District Cuts), AND by redistricting as suggested by former School Board member Mike Kugelman, we can avoid closing Lynwood as an Elementary School and thereby increasing class size.

In that scenario, the teachers would have to agree to the cuts, but teacher layoffs could be avoided with as few as 5 retirements. The teachers and the administration got a 3.5% increase last school year followed by a 4.5% increase this school year. In addition, last school year Decatur teachers were the 4th highest paid in the entire state of Indiana.

The administration should be asked to give up more than just 5% of salary - especially if the teachers are being asked to give up 5% of salary plus benefits.

Hopefully the Teachers Union will only agree to the cuts with the stipulation that Lynwood remain open as an elementary school and no teacher layoffs happen. The full $9.8 million in cuts can be achieved without that happening. But, it will take some effort on the Union's part to make it happen.

Protecting the students' education from increased class size should be everyone's main objective.

[edited on Feb 11, 2010 to add : I have made a mistake. The school board minutes on 7-10-07 show approval of a new contract that gave a 3.5% raise in 2007-2008 and a 4.5% raise in 2008-2009. I slipped the dates by mistake. I apologize for the error and I thank the teachers for sending me back to my notes to double-check the information.]

Decatur School Board Meets Tonight and Tomorrow Night

The Mooresville-Decatur Times is reporting that the MSD Decatur Township School Board will hold a work session tonight, February 10, beginning at 6 pm in the Central Office - presumably the Board room. The paper also reports that the School Board will hold two back to back meetings tomorrow night - an executive session at 5:30 pm at the Central Office, followed by its regular monthly meeting at 7 pm at the High School - presumably the cafeteria.

Wonder if their executive session will be catered again?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Decatur School Board Should Demand More Administrator Cuts

The MSD Decatur Township School Board meets this Thursday night, beginning at 7:00 pm in the Board room at the Central Office. If you plan to speak, you will have to sign up.

At that meeting, further cuts will be voted on - this time in full view of the public. But, the cuts made on January 28 were insufficient. You will recall that at the public comment meeting on the evening of January 27, the public was told that the following evening would be only a work session and that public comment would not be taken. That, as it turns out, was false. It was an executive session followed by a special session followed by a work session - all held outside of the regular Board room - which was a violation of state law.

At the special session the Board voted to cut Superintendent Don Stinson's salary by 15 %, although the district press release would have us believe he asked for a 20% cut. The Board should vote to increase Stinson's salary and benefit cuts to 20%. Number 1 - he got us into this financial mess. Number 2 - he likely will resign before the cuts go into effect, anyway. Number 3 - Stinson is the 2nd highest paid Superintendent in Central Indiana, which is ludicrous. Cutting 20% would still give him over $166,000 in salary plus cash benefits.

On the 28th, the Board also voted to cut all administrator salaries by 5%. They should up that to 15%. Alternatively, they could cut all administrators back to $100,000 a year - saving even more.

Also at the meeting, the Board voted to cut two positions in the Central Office -- and the press release said that Asst. Superintendent Jeff Baer's resignation counted for one of those. For those who do not know, Baer's successor has already been named. So, there really is only one administrator job cut in the Central Office. There can easily be more. Lets say that Candice Baer's position is the lone cut already offered. She is intent on leaving and the position was created just for her anyway. But, we can add Dave Rather's retirement as another position. I have already made the argument that we can get professionals to fill Susan Adam's and Gary Pellico's positions (head custodian and public information officer, respectively) for a fraction of their salaries.

This should be the first order of business for the School Board on Thursday night; bigger cuts in Administrative positions and salaries. That is a real loss of 2 positions and a downgrade of 2 others. And, lets face it, this still leaves the Central Office fat with 9 Administrators making huge salaries. Compare that with closing one of our four elementary schools and it seems downright generous.

see also: More Violations of State Law by Decatur School Board and Administration
Decatur School Board Votes at Work Session
Top Decatur School District Salaries for 2008-2009 School Year
How to Minimize the Impact of Decatur School District Cuts

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Decatur School Board Feted With Catered Executive Session

If you were worried that the drastic cuts being leveled at the Metropolitan School District of Decatur Township was going to negatively impact our School Board - fear not. They continued their tradition of having Executive Sessions as catered affairs. School cafeteria workers catered and served the Board and the Superintendent, Don Stinson, last night. As a extra special treat, the School Board ordered a special cake to be baked especially for Stinson. Isn't that sweet.

Ahhh !! Its a good life if you're Don Stinson, Dale Henson, Don Huffman, Judy Collins, Cathy Wiseman, or Doug Greenwald. No sense pinching pennies just because you are about to lay other people off.

Councillor Plowman Involved in Police Probe

Vic Ryckaert of the Indianapolis Star is reporting that Councillor Lincoln Plowman, who represents Franklin Township area on the City-County Council, has turned in his badge, gun, and car while he is being investigated.

Here is the latest from the website:

Council member Plowman under investigation
An Indianapolis police commander who also serves on the City-County Council was placed on administrative leave while he is under an internal investigation, city leaders confirmed Wednesday.

Lincoln Plowman, an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department major and a Republican member of the council, turned in his gun, badge and car, said Public Safety Director Frank Straub.

Straub would not say what Plowman is being investigated for.

Efforts to reach Plowman were unsuccessful. His attorney, James Voyles, declined comment.

Plowman commands IMPD's support service branch, which oversees reserve officers. He was with the Marion County Sheriff's Department before the merger of the police and sheriff's departments in 2007.

Plowman was elected to the City-County Council in 2003. He represents the 25th District, which takes in Franklin Township.

Plowman became the council majority leader in 2007; he held that post until this year.

Gary Welsh is posting this on his Advance Indiana blog:

Exclusive: Another City-County Councilor Under Investigation
A well-placed source tells me FBI agents showed up at IMPD today to question City-County Councilor Lincoln Plowman, a high-ranking officer in the department. I'm told Plowman quickly lawyered up. Chief Michael Spears ordered Plowman suspended according to my source. He was forced to turn over his badge and gun and received a police escort home. Mayor Greg Ballard had originally promoted Plowman to head up IMPD's Investigations division. Plowman was quietly removed from that position without explanation a short time later. Plowman holds the rank of Major in the administration division. I'll update you as I learn more on this developing story.
UPDATE: FOX 59 News' Russ McQuaid just confirmed from an IMPD spokesperson that Plowman has been placed on administration leave because of an FBI investigation. He says the FBI would neither confirm nor deny an ongoing investigation of Plowman.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Kent Smith to Resign Council Seat

From the Council Office --

Indianapolis - City-County Councillor At-Large Kent Smith submitted his resignation to Council President Ryan Vaughn and Marion County Republican Party Chairman Tom John on Tuesday, February 2.
Councillor Smith will be holding a press conference today in the 2nd floor lobby of the City-County Building at 2:15pm. Smith will deliver a short statement and take questions from members of the media.

edited to add:

Gary Welsh reports on his Advance Indiana blog, that Kent Smith is resigning due to "new Department of Defense rules on reservists' participation in political activities."

There's a Pothole Crew on MY Street !!!!

Well, I'll be ! I emailed in a pothole - really a line of potholes - to the Mayor's Action Center about a week ago. There's a pothole crew walking behind an asphalt truck, inspecting and filling and inspecting and filling and inspecting and filling.... on MY street !!!

I am truely amazed. Thanks pothole crew ! Thanks MAC ! Thanks DPW ! Thanks Mayor Ballard !

City-County Council Met Last Monday

I am behind on my regular posts. Belatedly, here are the proposals introduced at Monday night's City-County Council meeting that I found interesting.

Going numerically: Proposal 35, sponsored by Council President Ryan Vaughn and assigned to the Economic Development Committee which next meets on February 17 beginning at 5:30 pm in room 260 of the City-County Building. Prop 35 is the appropriation of the $5 million abatement money clawed back from Navistar, plus another half million clawed back from other abatements gone bad. I have written about the Navistar clawback previously, Abatements - Scary Loopholes Need Closing. The lion's share of the money, $3.5 million, would go to "operating the business of and the preparing additional sites for economic development by Indianapolis Economic Development Inc." It further donates $1.5 million in what the proposal language calls "matching funds for Indianapolis Convention and Vistors [sic] Association (ICVA) to develop a public-private partnership private foundations by leveraging grant funding from these outside sources for the purposes of ICVA", whatever that means. A token $175,000 would go to "to fund personnel and other start-up costs of the Office of Educational Innovation within the Mayor’s Officec development". $138,000 of the last amount would go to personnel costs. All of this is contingent upon the City spending money that should have gone to all of the taxing units and the Council deciding that a) that's okay with them, and, b) the money cannot be better spent.

You all know about the 'guns in parks' proposal authored by the Council's lone Libertarian, Ed Coleman. The only way this one could have more drama is if it were introduced next year, when both the Council and the Mayor are up for reelection. Prop 39 has been assigned to the Parks Committee which next meets February 25, at 5:00 pm -- again in room 260. The article in today's Indianapolis Star, by Francesca Jarosz, suggests this proposal might not be heard right away. Susie Day Chairs that committee and she can be reached at or 787-2417, if you want to be sure when it will be heard.

I do have to say, after reading Jarosz' article that reports Mayor Greg Ballard will veto Prop 39 if it gets to his desk, that this is a rare time the Mayor has shown a glimmer of leadership on any issue. While that is a very good thing and should be encouraged from all quarters in theory, his stand is not sitting well with his base. See Paul Ogden's blog Ogden on Politics (here and here). In the end, leadership is what we elect a Mayor to "do"; not just pick up the trash and plow the snow. So, good going Mayor Ballard !!! Keep it up !! Even when somebody disagrees with the Mayor, he should be out in front on more issues.

Prop 39 will be interesting to watch. The Republicans on the Council have been carrying the Mayor's water meeting after meeting for quite some time. On this one they might push it - at least to the number just needed to defeat the proposal at the full Council. Of course, for fun, we could see the Democrats provide just enough votes in favor to get the Council vote over the 15 needed to pass the proposal - just to watch the Mayor have to veto it. We'll see. Lots of drama on this one, as I said.

Getting to be more mundane with each new Fire Department, consolidation is now in Franklin Township. Prop 43, sponsored by Councillors Plowman and Hunter, is being assigned to the Public Safety Committee, which meets tonight, February 3, at 5:30 in room 260. Prop 43 is on the agenda.

And finally, Prop 48, which is the certification of a public referendum for Speedway Schools, sponsored by Councillor Pfisterer. If certified, the question would be on the May 4 ballot and read, “For the next seven calendar years immediately following the holding of the referendum, shall the School Town of Speedway impose a property tax rate that does not exceed fifty-nine cents ($0.59) on each one hundred dollars ($100) of assessed valuation and that is in addition to the school corporation’s normal tuition support tax rate?” Prop 48 has been assigned to the Rules & Public Policy Committee which next meets on February 9 at 5:30 pm in room 260.

Monday, February 1, 2010

More Fiscal Mismanagement at Decatur School District

The fiscal mismanagement at the Metropolitan School District of Decatur Township is mind boggling. Between the spending spree Superintendent Don Stinson and Assistant Superintendent Jeff Baer have been on and the rubber stamping School Board, our School District has come to face a nearly $10 million hole.

As I noted in my last blog entry, I have been reviewing the minutes of the School Boards regular meetings, which are posted on the District website. At issue in this post is the interest paid on a 2008 tax anticipation warrant (termed by Assistant Superintendent Jeff Baer as a 'temporary loan').

As background, a couple of years ago, you will recall that Mitch Daniels threw out the property value Assessment done by the various Assessors in Marion County. All properties had to be reevaluated for value and thus we began several years of delayed assessments. Since there were no official assessments, property tax collections had to be delayed. As you also are aware, with the property tax bills payable in 2010, we will finally be back on schedule.

But, during these few years, all governmental units in Marion County (and elsewhere in the State) had to get loans, called Tax Anticipation Loans or Warrants. These loans were for the amount of property tax revenues that unit expected to eventually receive. Once the property taxes for that year were finally collected, the money was delivered to each governmental unit, which then repaid the loans. Interest on the loans had to be paid from other funds in each unit's bank account. Not a good situation, but a common situation nonetheless.

In the minutes for the regular School Board meeting on March 11, 2008, Superintendent Don Stinson said that due to the delay in Assessments and property tax receipts, the district had to borrow money in 2007. "The interest on this borrowed money cost Decatur $900,000. If it is necessary to continue borrowing money this could impact the schools by $1,500,000 to $2,000,000 in the 2008 school year."

Later that year we find the following mention in the October 14, 2008, minutes:

"Dr. Baer asked permission to begin the process for pursuing temporary loans in the amount of $23,000,000 for 2009. He explained that because of the status of the state budget and the fact there has been no collection of property taxes it has become necessary to borrow against local tax monies. At present, the school corporation is not scheduled to receive any property tax money until June of 2009."

There was never mention of the Board receiving information about the terms of the loan, like interest rate.

Okay - fine - the District got a $23 million temporary loan to make ends meet until the property taxes for that year were collected and distributed. But, here's the shocker. We see in the March 4, 2009, minutes:

"Dr. Baer presented claims 6953 through 7137 in the amount of $12,291,264.24 for board approval. He explained that $10,000,000 of this claim amount was for reimbursement of interest on the temporary loans."

What? How did the interest on a short term, temporary loan of $23 million get to be $10 million? Where did they get their loan? The nearby Payday Loan place? What's wrong here?

For comparison, I asked the City Controller for Indianapolis and Marion County, David Reynolds, what the principle and interest had been on their tax anticipation loans for the past few years. His Deputy Controller, Jason Dudich, replied with the numbers. For 2008 they borrowed about $282.5 million and paid about $5.2 million in interest. For 2009 they borrowed about $212.8 million and paid about $3.1 million in interest. And in 2010 they expect to borrow about $163 million and expect to pay about $2.5 million in interest.

But here in Decatur we are supposed to believe that we borrowed $24 million but paid $10 million in interest ????? Given the City's principle and interest figures, we should have been paying no more than about half a million in any one year.

The fiscal mismanagement has been staggering and each revelation shows that mismanagement to have been even worse than we imagined previously.