Monday, March 29, 2010

Tully's Sunday Article On IPS-Bennett Meeting A Real Gem

Yesterday's Indianapolis Star had a front page, in depth, article about a meeting between Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Bennett, IPS Superintendent, Eugene White, and 'more than a dozen [of White's] staff members'. This is part of Matt Tully's Manual Project where he has written on various aspects of getting an education at IPS' Manual High School.

[edited March 30, 2010, to add link to IndyStar post of article : click here]

I cannot locate this outstanding piece on the IndyStar website and I fear it has fallen victim to the Star's new practice of omitting some of the favorite columnists from its web version, in an attempt to increase at least their Sunday paper copy buyership. I am told the Star posts the Sunday articles that are print-only some time midweek. I'll post a link as soon as I can.

With that rant over, let me say - maybe the dollar store still has a couple of copies or maybe you can get a copy from a friend or neighbor who still has it, or if you are going to the public library perhaps you can read their copy. It is extremely well written - Tully having massive talents in that arena. It is so good and so important that I would have willingly typed up chunks of it here, had I not learned at the recent Citizen Journalism Boot Camp put on by the Indiana Coalition for Open Government that doing so is a legal no-no.

So here is the inferior gist of Tully's article.

Bennett met with White and others from IPS to discuss whether 8 IPS schools, including Manual, would be taken over by the State Department of Education (DOE) beginning next school year. These schools are Arlington Community High School (grades 7-12), Emmerich Manual High School, Northwest High School, Thomas Carr Howe Community High School (grades 7-12), George Washington Community School (grades 7-12), Broad Ripple High School for the Performing Arts (grades 7-12), Emma Donnan Middle School (grades 7-8), and Willard J. Gambold Middle School (grades 7-8). According to the Indiana DOE website (click here for all school in Marion County with links to their performance) all have been on probationary accreditation.

Tully quotes Bennett as saying

"I want you to be able to have every discussion you have going forward with a framework," he said, staring at White. "And that framework is this: Who do we want to run these schools? I know who I want to run these schools. That's the guy sitting at the other end of the table."

Bennett then turns the conversation to what IPS is will to do differently that will improve education in these 8 schools. Tully says that the State DOE has the legal authority to make sweeping changes, including tossing out teacher union rules, due to a 1999 change in State law. They can also increase the length of the school day and the school year. But, IPS can make those changes on their own, if they can get buy-in from the teachers union.

Again just the gist of Tully's article - roughly 40-60% of teachers in these schools are ineffective, by White's own estimate. The union President, Ann Wilkins, objected to the notion that they protect bad teachers, rather saying that they support the 'process'. Tully notes that even if the State DOE takes over the failing schools, any teachers let go from those schools would be relocated to other schools in the district. That certainly is a valid conundrum.

Tully doesn't put it this way, but I believe it is all about finding some way to improve education in Indiana - improve education in all schools and improve education for all students in Indiana.

We are quite possibly on the threshold of dramatic changes in the way Indiana deals with failing schools, and Tully gave us a rare glimpse of that threshold.

Again, I highly recommend finding a copy of this article. I understand the Star will post this story within a couple of days - I'll keep checking and add a link as soon as I locate the post. This is a gem that should be read widely in Central Indiana, if not the entire state.

Friday, March 26, 2010

What Would You Do Differently?

Communication is not only the exchange of information, but also connotes a respect for the other person and a value placed on the information they can convey.

Until major personnel changes are made, we will not be able to change the attitude that 'outside' input has little to no value. But, we can make suggestions to at least open the communications so that SOMETHING can flow both ways. We can also make suggestions to modernize District communications to best fit today's family and community lives.

To that end, I propose we jot down ways to improve communication in local school districts - including, of course, MSD Decatur Township - but also input from anyone around here for their district.

I'll start off. On school board meetings alone, I can think of a number of improvements.

Allow citizens to sign up to receive email, tweets, facebook posts, whatever - to get notice of upcoming school board meetings, including special sessions.

Post on line a detailed agenda with items that will come up for a vote clearly noted and described.

Allow public comments after board/administration discussion of the issues involved and before the vote - not at the beginning of the meeting.

The board members should respond to the public input, unless to do so would take an enormous amount of time (highly unlikely) or would involve private matters of employees (somewhat likely).

The minutes of the meetings should be more detailed so that when somebody reads them, they actually know what was being voted on, how much it cost, or who was newly hired or fired.

That's my quick list. What would you change or add that would improve communications? Don't limit it to school board, but also parent-teacher, school-community communications are fair game here.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

And They Wonder Why ...

The MSD Decatur Township likes to control information released to the public. We've all seen it. Sometimes from the outside, it appears to be a total block on information and not just spin.

The other day I was going through financial documents published about the District on the State Department of Education website (click here if you like to peruse these things yourself, MSD Decatur Township is district 5300), when I came across a line item for payment of a building lease out of the pension debt service fund. That seemed odd, so I did an open records request for what building lease was involved. I got the following email message back from Gary Pellico, the spokesman for the District.
Pat, FYI
They have coded it incorrectly on the website. We cannot and do not pay for any lease out of that fund. The correct account number is 51000 Principle of debt – bonds.

So, I called the DOE to find out what they had to say. I got a call back today from "Peggy" (I forgot to ask her last name) from the DOE, who said that it was the MSD Decatur Township who had been miscoding the entry since 2004. Peggy said she spoke with Debbie Blessing, Deputy Treasurer for the District, who told her that the person who coded it is no longer with the District and the correct code will be used in the District reports for 2010.

So, why not merely say "oops, we made a data entry error back in 2004"? This level of CYA information dissemination just causes mistrust.

Don Stinson Angry About This Blog

Last Saturday's Mooresville-Decatur Times reported that Don Stinson is angry about this blog, and got "some things off his own chest". (I'd link to the article, but, the Times has a subscription only access to their online newspaper.) The Times' Amy Hillenberg, who filed the report on the March 13 School Board meeting, quotes MSD Decatur Township Superintendent as saying "Some faction in our district has decided, in a Jerry Springer-fashion, to tell lies, spread rumors and make personal attacks on my staff and school board members."

As an aside, the number of blog visitors numbered 200 in during the hour right after that School Board meeting. So, thanks for the 'shout out' Don.

Well then, in case Don has missed it, the statements made in this blog are well supported with documentation. Even the commenters hold themselves to a standard of fact-checking not often observed even in prestigious newspaper letters to the editor, much less the blogosphere. Following is my compendium of the points raised in this blog about the actions of the MSD Decatur Township School Board and Administration, along with the public documents supporting each point.

1) Not content to simply put the facts out there, I have also offered a Plan to dig us out of the hole Stinson, Baer, and the rubber stamping School Board have gotten us into. This Plan minimizes the impact of fiscal cuts on the education of Decatur's children by keeping Lynwood open as an elementary school and cutting no teachers, bus drivers, security officers, or custodians. It does, however rely heavily on selling excess property, including the former Concentra Building that Stinson covets for a new Central Office, and cuts in the number of Administrators running the District.

Documentation : This plan relies upon Stinson's own "Fiscal Restructuring Plan" for cost savings estimates, plus documents from the Marion County Assessor's office, and real estate documents.

Blog Entries : "MSD Decatur Township Should Sell Excess Properties and Cut Administrators", "How to Minimize the Impact of Decatur School District Cuts", "What's Behind Closing Lynwood Elementary?", "Will Teachers Union Try to Save Lynwood Elementary?", "Decatur School Board Should Demand More Administrator Cuts", and, "Let's Back Up and Move in a Different Direction"

2) Salaries and benefits are sky high in MSD Decatur Township for Administrators, and, despite statements to the contrary, raises were given to this class of employee for the current school year.

Documentation : Indianapolis Star's signed copies of Superintendent's contracts, Forms 100R filed by the MSD Decatur Township with the Indiana State Board of Accounts in 2009 and 2010.

Blog Entries : "Top Decatur School District Salaries for 2008-2009", and "Most Administrators Saw Increase in Salary and/or Benefits"

3) Central Office Administrator cuts are largely smoke and mirrors accounting.

Documentation : Mooresville-Decatur Times articles on School Board meetings and interviews with Don Stinson, open records requests filed by me and responded to by Gary Pellico of the MSD Decatur Township

Blog Entries : "Decatur School Board Should Demand More Administrator Cuts", and, "MSD Decatur Township - Administrator Cuts"

4) The Decatur School Board and Administration broke state laws including those regarding opening or reporting bids for contracts in a public meeting of the Board, regarding Board consent to and signing of contracts between the District and vendors, regarding the purchase of property by the District, regarding spending more from funds than appropriated by the Board, regarding where the Board can hold a special session, and regarding the filing of Form 100R with the SBOA.

Documentation : Indiana Code, the SBOA audit for 2005-2007, the SBOA audit for 2003-2005

Blog Entries : "Decatur School Board Broke State Law in Purchase of Properties", "Decatur Administration Broke State Law By Spending More From Funds Than Appropriated By Board", "More Violations of State Law by Decatur School Board and Administration", and "MSD Decatur School Administration Breaking Yet Another Law"

There are many many other statements made in this blog that have been backed up by documents from School Board minutes and documents available on the Indiana Department of Education website, just to name two sources. No, the lack of communication with the public and lack of proffered documentation of claims made is not coming from this blog. Perhaps Don Stinson needs to be looking a bit closer to home....

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

School Town of Speedway Audit

The Indiana State Board of Accounts Audit of the books of the School Town of Speedway is now available on the SBOA website. Click here to go straight to that audit. In the short time I have been poking through these audits, this is the first instance of no deficiencies worthy of comment by the SBOA.

If you are looking for another audit, go to and click on either the "recently released audit reports" in the main photo just under the State Board of Accounts name, or click on "browse our audit reports online" in the right hand column.

Decatur School Board Candidates Profiled in MD Times

Today's Mooresville-Decatur Times has a profile of Natalie Coffey and Bobby Hire, challengers to incumbent Decatur School Board members.

I would provide a link to their website, but it is subscription only. Copies of the paper are available at the various convenience stores in Decatur and the Library has a copy available for the public to read there.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

MSD Decatur Township Administration Reaction to Fiscal Mess - Part 1

Its going to take a couple of blog entries to lay out the response of MSD Decatur Township Superintendent Don Stinson to the looming fiscal crisis over the past few years. The bottom line will be that Stinson saw the crisis approaching, but spent money irresponsibly anyway.

The following was posted as a comment to my blog entry "Let's Back Up and Move in a Different Direction" by anon 8:01 on March 10. Anon 8:01 posted a letter to the public from Don Stinson, followed by their own comment. I'd like to start this series with that March 10 comment.
April 8, 2008
Dear Parents, Guardians and Community Members,

I want to make you aware of a serious situation facing our school district. The Indiana Legislature has put a cap, or circuit breaker, on the Transportation, Capital Projects, and Debt Service Funds of school districts. This measure could mean a loss of more than $2,000,000 in the school years of 2008-09 and 2009-10 to the MSD of Decatur Township.

In addition, the tax reassessment in Marion County this past year has resulted in delayed payments to the schools from the state. This delay in payment made it necessary for public schools to borrow money to pay regular expenses. The interest alone on these short term loans for Decatur schools amounts to $900,000 for 2007 and $1,500,000 for 2008.

We need to reduce more than $2,000,000 out of the 2008-2009 budget now. In order to meet this goal we have to reduce expenditures in all areas of the school district’s budget.

Unfortunately, this necessary restructuring will include cutting both staff and programs. It will mean eliminating some things that will upset people and change some services that we have come to expect. I have been taking suggestions and listening to different groups to get ideas and suggestions on how to reduce our expenses. In our ongoing effort to decrease expenses and save classroom positions, we have reduced administrative positions from 38 in 2001 to 33 this past year.

I want you to be aware that these are not easy days or easy decisions. We recognize that we are a publicly funded institution and must operate within the parameters that we are given. We want to reassure you that none of these changes will have a negative impact on the education that your child receives from the MSD of Decatur Township. This is a challenge but we refuse to give up the Journey Toward Excellence for our young people.

Please feel free to call me at 856-5265 or email me at You can also reach me through the district website:

Donald H. Stinson
Metropolitan School District of Decatur Township
5275 Kentucky Avenue Phone: (317) 856-5265
Indianapolis, Indiana 46221 Fax: (317) 856-2156

This letter was sent in April 2008 just two months before he and other administrators were given a 4.5% raise in salaries. This letter verifies that there were financial problems long before the economy went downhill. The fact that he and the board raised salaries knowing full well that they didn't have the $$$ is unreal. He and others continued to travel around the country and eat high on the hog.

Anon 8:01 is absolutely correct. On 6-10-08, the Decatur School Board approved an across the board 4.5% raise for all Administrators (click here to read the minutes for yourself). Here is the section related to the raises:
Mr. Stinson reviewed the fiscal restructuring efforts that have taken place which includes a reduction in force of six positions for teachers. Due to attrition it is not necessary to eliminate any support staff positions. He recommended to the Board a fiscal restructuring proposal for nonpersonnel items totaling $2,143,716. The proposal includes 4½ % increase for administrators and support staff equal to the 4½ % approved in the Master Contract with the Decatur Education Association.

So, after they RIF'd 6 teachers, allowed support staff numbers to drop through attrition, they had the unmitigated greed and financial irresponsiblity to gave the Administrators and remaining support staff a 4.5 % raise. The proposed 5% cut in Administrator salaries contained in Stinson's Fiscal Restructuring Plan, presented in January of this year, was estimated to save $191,215. Using the numbers presented in that Plan, I conservatively calculate the 4.5% raise has cost a minimum of $344,000 over the past two years.

Although they had RIF'd 6 teachers, somewhere around March or April of 2009, they hired School Board member, Don Huffman's, grandson Jason Dixson to become head football coach, which required also hiring him in as a teacher. Dixson's salary is $49,343, as disclosed in the 2010 form 100R filed by the District with the State Board of Accounts. The former coach, Tim Able lost $12,000 in salary. This would result in a net increase of $37,343.

Since this letter went out, they also hired Bob Harris to not just replace Jeff Baer as Assistant Superintendent for Business, but to overlap with Baer for 6 months at an annual salary of $128,927 plus whatever benefits. It is not usual to pay for an overlap in an Administrative position and it cost the District over $64,000 to do so.

Since this letter went out, they also created two 'Building Director' positions that are somewhere between teacher and administrator positions. This caused an increase in salary between the two of roughly $24,700. (from form 100R)

Since this letter went out, and after the 4.5% raise in 2008, they gave Debbie Sullivan a raise of $14,498, Jeff Baer a raise of $4442, Nan Wiseman a raise of $3390, and Robert Kehrein a raise of $2559, plus an overall raise in cash and/or benefits of $1450 per Administrator (see "Most Administrators Saw Increase In Salary and/or Benefits"). This information, too comes from the forms 100R submitted by the District to the SBOA. Just the 4 raises noted first, total $24,889.

This is just what I have been able to find by reading the minutes and obtaining public records from the SBOA. It totals over $150,000 in increased expenditures, NOT including the 4.5% raise Administrators got two years ago, NOR the overall increase in cash and/or benefits they received last year.

Bottom line : Stinson saw the fiscal storm coming and continued to pad Administrator positions and their salaries.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Any Eyewitness Accounts You'd Like to Share?

I'm working on a couple of other blog entries, but noticed a question posted by a commenter on an earlier entry.

Did anyone go to the spaghetti dinner? Did they keep school politics out of it so that it really was a celebration of Decatur Township, as advertised? Have fun ? Were there meatballs as an even earlier poster was hoping for?

Otherwise, anything else on your mind?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Correction to Assessed Value Information

I have made a huge error thinking two pieces of information were the same data. I have deleted my earlier post so that it does not further confuse people with my error. In short, I posted that the Assessed Value for Decatur had risen dramatically, when it has not.

The Assessed Value of all property in Decatur outside of the TIF district was reported to me as the 'Gross Assessed Value' by the County Assessor. The DLGF uses a 'Certified Assessed Value', which is the gross AV minus the value of all deductions for things like the homestead deduction and mortgage deduction. The gross AV is $1.6 billion and the certified AV is $1.1 billion for the property taxes to be collected in 2010. The certified AV is used to calculate the tax rate.

Our certified AV went up by roughly $80 million between last year's tax bills and this year's. Currently the DLGF is authorizing the MSD Decatur Township School District to raise nearly $19 million in property taxes and transfer just over $2 million from a 'levy excess fund' to the District's transportation fund. The tax caps will not let the District collect all of that $19 million. But, at this point we can't be sure what the difference will be.

The exact effect of the property tax caps will be calculated within the next couple of weeks as each property tax bill for each property is calculated.

Again, I am so sorry to have gotten folks' hopes up with my earlier post. Please accept my apologies and I'll work diligently to be error free in the future.

Some Information Comes Out About Plowman Affair

The Indianapolis Star reporter, John Touhy, has an article in today's paper about some of the events that led to Lincoln Plowman's retirement from IMPD and resignation from the City-County Council.

[edited on 3-21-10 to redact much of the IndyStar article and to add my own summary of it -- as I learned at the Journalism Boot Camp put on by the Indiana Coalition for Open Government yesterday !]

Touhy's spoke with three different sources who all confirmed a similar story. Quickly, Touhy reports that Plowman was approached by a person he trusted, a former informant, who said there was a Chicago developer who wanted to locate a restaurant/strip club in downtown Indy. He asked if Plowman would look into whether a certain site would allow a strip club. Plowman did not know that the supposed Chicago developer was, in fact, an FBI agent.

Plowman agreed to help and asked his friend, Brad Klopfenstien, to look into what was required for zoning. Klopfenstein is a high profile Libertarian and was then sitting on one of the Boards of Zoning Appeals, which deals with requests for variances. After learning what the zoning requirements were and after meeting with the FBI agent, Plowman also enlisted, through Klopfenstein, the assistance of an unnamed real estate agent, who located 50 sites that met the zoning criteria.

At this point I'll just quote Tuohy's article:
In December, sources say, Plowman met the FBI agent, still posing as the developer, for the last time, in a room at the Conrad Hotel Downtown. The FBI agent asked Plowman to do more research. But sources say Plowman said he would need a consulting fee for what he had done and any further help.

The FBI agent then gave Plowman an envelope with $5,000, sources say, and the agent went into the bathroom. Two other agents came through the front door, sources say, and told Plowman he had been caught.
I must still be missing something. Nothing recited in Touhy's article rises to the level of a crime, it seems to me. Checking out the zoning requirements for a specific use? Legal. Researching 50 potential locations for a specific use? Legal. Seeking compensation "for what he had done and any further help"? If as described, legal.

If Plowman had approached a member of the Metropolitan Development Commission or Board of Zoning Appeals about a pending petition - that would have been illegal. If Plowman asked for money to use his influence as a City-County Councillor to rig the outcome of a zoning or variance hearing - that would have been illegal. If he asked for a campaign contribution in return for his help - that would have been illegal.

Is it illegal for a Councillor to accept an envelope containing $5000 in cash in a downtown hotel room? No. Stupid? Yes.

Questions do still arise. Why did Plowman go through so much trouble for an out of town developer? Was the $5000 for something different than described by the reporter? Why were the officials in IMPD and Public Safety about to fire Plowman when he retired? What did the FBI tell Plowman he had been caught doing, exactly?

Plowman hasn't been charged with any crime as of yet. If he had been fired from IMPD, he would have no income. By retiring he has something. His political career is toast, so I can see why he resigned his Council office. Strip club developer? Being on film accepting an envelope fat with cash ? Priceless.

But, if events unfolded exactly and completely as Touhy lays out, I fail to see that Lincoln Plowman did anything illegal. If there are other shoes waiting to drop, then those will have to be evaluated when they finally drop.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Most Administrators Saw Increase in Salary and/or Benefits

The MSD Decatur Township has finally filed is form 100R with the State Board of Accounts (see my post "MSD Decatur School Administration Breaking Yet Another Law") and it reveals that with two exceptions, Administrators saw an across the board increase in salary and/or benefits this school year, compared with last.

The two exceptions are Kathleen Rogers (Central Office, Director of Child Nutrition) whose salary dropped almost $7000 to $85,933, and Scott Opsahl who switched from being a Principal to being back to the classroom as a teacher of Special Education and lost almost $35,000 in the process to $80,416.

Of note for those not in Administrative positions is Timothy Able who dropped just over $12,000 in salary with the loss of the head football coach position to $81,033. As we all know, he was replaced with the grandson of School Board member, Don Huffman. Justin Dixson now makes $49,343. Two others were promoted to quasi-administrative jobs with boosts in salary. Those are : Sheila Estes-Corbin who gained over $16,000 in a move from teacher to Building Director and now makes $87,000 -- Susan Strube who gained almost $8,700 with the same promotion and now also makes $87,000.

The biggest Administrative gains in salary were given to:

Debbie Sullivan (Central Office) whose salary increased $14,498 to $150,525
Jeff Baer (Central Office) whose salary increased $4442 to $140,469
Nan Wiseman (VM Principal and transitional LW Principal) whose salary increased $3390 to $116,434
Robert Kehrein (SD Principal) whose salary increased $2559 to $116,434

By the way, Jeff Baer's replacement, Bob Harris, makes $128,927. The Mooresville-Decatur Times quoted Superintendent Don Stinson as saying Harris would make $15,000 less than Baer. Obviously the difference is more like $11,500.

The rest of the Administrator salaries rose by about $1450. I am told by a confidential source that this is due to the increased cost of the cadillac family health insurance plan. Administrators get a better deal on health insurance than even getting it for free. Their benefits allow them to take advantage of a loophole in the State Teacher Retirement Program. To my eye it is somewhere between working the system and scamming the system. It is perfectly legal - but it is a loophole that allows an artificial inflation of salary for the calculation of yearly pension income and a loophole I would hope that somebody at the State level would close.

It goes something like this -- each Administrator gets enough cash to pay for the cadillac family health plan - about $20,000 a year. They can then opt to buy that plan or any lesser plan. If they opt to by the cadillac family health plan, then the money flows through their salary and the inflated number (roughly 15-20% higher than actual salary) is used when they retire to calculate the amount of money they will get in a pension. If they opt to buy a lesser plan, or no plan at all, they pocket the difference and that Administrator gets both an inflated salary for pension purposes AND a higher salary.

Two examples -- Both Jeff and Candace Baer work for the same employer, of course, and between them need only one cadillac family health plan. Therefore one of them gets to pocket about $20,000 in cash while the other pays for the health plan. Don Stinson is single, so he needs to buy only the cadillac single health plan and pockets about $12,000.

I don't know the family and health insurance details of each Administrator, so I will list their names and salaries below - but each got an increase in cash and/or benefits of roughly $1450 this year as compared with last.

Susan Adams (Central Office, $113,941)
Mark Anderson (Principal, $133,074)
Ron Brothers (Athletic Director, $95,032)
Susan Bryant (Principal, $116,434)
Anna Cook (Central Office, $105,897)
Lisa Cook (Central Office, $90,311)
Nathan Davis (Assistant Principal, $101,491)
Christina Duzenbery (Assistant Principal, $110,291)
Sandra Feeley (Assistant Principal, $102,343)
Jeff Harvey (Principal, $116,434)
Patricia Jones (Central Office, $134,024)
Janet Larch (Principal, $121,516)
Kelly McWilliams (Assistant Principal, $114,150)
Jill Meerman (Assistant Athletic Director, $92,675)
Candace Milhon-Baer (Central Office, $128,680)
Rose O'Brien (Transportation, $80,550)
Douglas Opel (Athletic Director, $107,838)
Gary Pellico (Central Office, $130,180)
John Pietrzak (Principal, $116,434)
Joseph Preda (Principal, $136,469)
Dave Rather (Central Office, $140,468)
Wes Sanders (Central Office, $115,101)
Don Stinson (Superintendent, $221,933)
Catherine Tooley (Assistant Principal, $108,190)
Thomas Wachnicki (Assistant Principal, $110,291)
Thomas Whitfield (Assistant Principal, $107,838)
Lillian Youngblood (Central Office, $115,216)

So much for claims that no Administrators received a raise this year.

MSD Decatur Reaches Deal on Retirement Incentives

Yesterday's IndyStar had the following report on Tuesday's Decatur School Board meeting by Gretchen Becker, titled "Decatur Twp hopes package will save teacher jobs".
The Decatur Township School Board approved on Tuesday a retirement incentive package they hope will save teachers' jobs.

As part of statewide budget cuts, the Southwestside school district is looking to slice its general fund by $5.6 million. On Friday the district handed out 62 notices to teachers that said that they could be fired -- but the district hopes to hire many of them back before spring break.

Teachers who choose to retire who are on the district's insurance plan will receive a one-time $15,000 contribution to their retirement savings plans. Those not on insurance would receive a one-time $20,000 contribution, said Jeff Baer, assistant superintendent.

Each teacher retirement could potentially bring back two beginning teachers, Baer

"We are hoping to get substantial retirements out of the proposal," Baer said. "Friday was the worst-case scenario. We are hoping the actual numbers are much less."

The board also approved a one-time proposal that retiring bus drivers can remain on the district's insurance plan for one year after retirement.

The board will take action on its reduction-in-force notices at its April 13 meeting.
Also Tuesday, the board approved a $743,310 reduction in the transportation fund, which will shrink personnel, gas usage, extra trip runs and contracted routes. The district's goal is to cut a total of $1.2 million from transportation.

Earlier this year the School Board OK'd a 15 percent cut in Superintendent Don Stinson's $189,000 salary and approved a 5 percent reduction in administrators' pay, saving $191,215.49. The board also OK'd a reduction in administrative staff by six and capped the cafeteria employee insurance plan to save $933,000.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

MSD Decatur Township - Administrator Cuts

I must say that Gary Pellico has been very quick to answer my Freedom of Information requests yesterday and today.

This gets a bit confusing to try to relate, because there are positions being eliminated AND a shuffling of personnel to fill the remaining positions. So, the list of Administrator positions being cut is not identical to the list of people whose Administrator contracts will not be renewed.

The names of the Administrators who received notice that their Administrator contracts would not be renewed are:

Anna Cook (Central Office - Coordinator of Special Programs & Literacy)
Jeff Baer - retirement (Central Office - Assistant Superintendent of Business)
Sharon Downing (High School - CHOICE Director or Assistant Principal)
Doug Opel (High School - Athletic Director)
Jill Meerman (High School - Assistant Athletic Director)
Jeff Harvey (DILC - Gold Academy Principal)

Now some of these folks may show up in teaching positions. That we cannot tell from a public record yet.

The actual positions being cut overlap, but are different from the positions held by the folks listed above.

The positions being cut are reported as:

Central Office - Director of Title 1 and ELL
Central Office - Director of Business or Assistant Superintendent for Business
(2) High School - SLC Directors or Assistant Principals
High School - Assistant Athletic Director
One Elementary School Principal

Anna Cook appears to currently hold the title of Director of Title 1 and ELL - so both she and her position have been cut.

They continue to say that Jeff Baer and his position are cut, but, his replacement has already been hired and that's pretty much no cut at all.

It appears that the High School Athletic Director position is still open, but Doug Opel no longer has it. I do not know if Opel is returning to the classroom as a teacher. It has been noted in comments on earlier blog entries that Kelly McWilliams (High School, EDGE Director or Assistant Principal) is being reassigned to the Athletic Director position.

Jill Meerman may also be returning to the classroom, but her Administrator contract will not be renewed and her Assistant Athletic Director position has been cut.

As I understand it, there are currently 5 Director (Assistant Principal) positions at the High School. Next year there will be 3 of these positions with two of the Directors each overseeing two of the small schools within the High School. Again, as I understand it, due to requirements of the Gates grant for the NEW TECH school, that Director will continue to oversee only one small school.

Sharon Downing will not have her contract as CHOICE Director at the High School renewed.

Kelly McWilliams' position as Director of EDGE will also be combined with another Director position, but her Administrator contract will be renewed.

Jeff Harvey's Administrator contract will not be renewed, but his position as Principal of the Gold Academy remains and has been filled by Nan Wiseman, current Principal at Valley Mills and 'transitional Principal' at Lynwood. This begs the question of whether a Principal position is really being cut. The Valley Mills Principal position will be filled by Sheila Corbin, who is currently the Director (Assistant Principal ?) at Valley.

So, the final summary would seem to be -- one Central Office position cut, that of Director of Title 1 -- three High School Administrator positions cut; two Assistant Principals and one Assistant Athletic Director -- and -- one Elementary School Principal position cut, if you ignore the fact that one person holds two of these jobs now.

[edited to add - It has been brought to my attention that Sharon Downing was removed from her position in the District months ago when arrested for allegedly committing forgery unrelated to the School District.]

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Folks are Asking - What Happened at the School Board Meeting

Folks have begun wonder - what happened at tonight's Decatur School Board meeting. Please post your thoughts.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Thank You and Keep Posting

I have much on my plate today, so I will be brief.

I just wanted to say how proud I am of my fellow Decaturites for the high commitment to factual information everyone shows in their posted comments. That helps keep this blog on firm footing as a place to exchange the latest news so all of our community can know as much of what is happening as possible.

This is a big week coming up - student conferences today, School Board meeting tomorrow, and the spaghetti dinner on Saturday. I am hopeful to have information from the state on a document search they are doing for me. And, there is always St. Patrick's Day smack dab in the middle !

Keep up the great communications. And, again, thank you for the caliber of your posts.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hazing in MSD Decatur Township ?

Mike Kugelman shot me an email this morning, calling my attention to the inclusion of Decatur Central High School in today's Indianapolis Star's centerpiece article called "When harmless fun turns into hazing". I'm glad he did, as I had not read the entire piece. I have searched for it in the online version of the Star to no avail - it is in the print version only. That is too bad, as this article is important for the entire Central Indiana community to read.

The subtitle of the article captures the thesis well; "Allegations in Carmel have people talking about the problem and possible reforms". The article goes into the now well known hazing by Carmel students on the team bus, incidents at Lawrence North, Avon, and Whiteland High Schools. This is what the authors Andy Gammill, Rob Annis and Mark Ambrogi wrote that involved students at Decatur Central High School :
One incident viewed two very different ways

A recent visit to Decatur Central High School illustrates varying degrees to which -- even on the same campus -- people regard the seriousness of the situation.

Junior John Tapp said he and his fellow wrestlers target freshmen members of the team for pranks but see it as harmless.

This season, he said, the team held down a freshman and taped him to a locker room bench, leaving him there for the duration of practice.

Older players on the team had endured similar incidents when they were younger, Tapp said.

"I think it's pretty much a ritual," he said, adding that it was taken in a spirit of camaraderie.

But classmates on other teams who heard Tapp tell that story did not think it was acceptable.

Cameron Spall, also a Decatur Central junior, said that would go against the culture of the football team, of which he is a member.

The couching staff, he said, has explained that teammates must respect one another rather than use bullying or hazing to create a culture of intimidation and exclusion. That kind of behavior actually hurts a team's unity, the coaches said.

"Not on the football team," Spall said. "Our coach wants us to be a good person. We don't need this to be a good team."

Gary Pellico, a central office administrator and district spokesman, said the football team's philosophy exemplifies what Decatur Township Schools stands for.

The incident Tapp described would not be appropriate, Pellico said. After hearing Tapp describe that incident, Pellico asked the athletic director to examined possible hazing on the wrestling team and alerted the superintendent to the situation.

"That is certainly not our expectation of what a team sport includes, or any activity," Pellico said. "That tradition must stop."

Pellico is absolutely correct - that tradition must stop. But, I do have to wonder, where were the adults during all of this?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

MSD Decatur Township Gives Out 62 Teacher Pink Slips While Bus Drivers Hammered Out of View

Yesterday the Decatur School District handed 62 teachers their pink slips, indicating that their contracts likely will not be renewed this July. Meanwhile, the bus drivers continue to be screwed over by Superintendent Don Stinson out of the view of the School Board and the public at large.

The 62 pinks slips do not guarantee that a particular teacher will be laid off in July, but this year it is exceedingly likely. The School Board authorized the Superintendent to RIF up to 60 teachers (my understanding of their action - but I await the Board minutes to see if that detail is contained) if the Decatur Educators Association did not agree to cut $3 million from teacher expenditures. Apparently the DEA did not agree to any cuts. If somebody has information otherwise, please note it. If nothing else changes, the number of teachers on the RIF list will be reduced by roughly two teachers for each teacher who chooses to retire. While the Administration and the DEA have discussed retirement incentives, no agreement on that matter is evident today.

So, at this moment the teacher situation stacks up this way - The School Board and the Administration could have decided to sell the Southwest Pavilion Office Building (former Concentra Building) and save all 62 teacher jobs. The DEA could have agreed to an across the board 5% reduction in salary and benefits and saved 28 jobs before retirements are counted in. Or both could have been done and saved all 62 teacher jobs for 2 years - awaiting a better economy.

Meanwhile, the bus drivers still see their hours being cut, even as new drivers are being hired. This is being done without a vote of the School Board. The Administration now claims that only teachers and administrators have the right of appeal of any grievance to the School Board. Thus, bus drivers, secretaries, cafeteria workers, custodians, safety officers, and non-teaching support staff, are being denied the right of appeal to the School Board. The Administration is further claiming it has the right to do whatever it wishes in the Transportation Department without oversight by the Board. Both of these are an outrage and the School Board should step in immediately to rectify these abrogations of authority from the duly elected representatives of the community.

The cutbacks in hours would appear to be designed specifically to get the more seasoned drivers to quit, as they cannot support their families on 4 hours per day. And, with two morning and two afternoon hours, they cannot take a second job, either. Our bus drivers are unsung heroes in this District. They know the children on their route by face and name and where they should be picked up and let off. You often hear stories of a caring bus driver who goes that extra mile, no pun intended, to be sure that the children in their custody are kept safe. There is no way that our bus drivers should be treated this way.

This financial mess has been created by Superintedent Don Stinson and his rubber stamping School Board. Of the $9.8 million in cuts that are needed this year, only $1.5 million is due to the budget cuts ordered by Governor Mitch Daniels. The remainder is due to overspending on properties (breaking state laws all the way), huge raises for Administrators even after the Superintendent knew of the likely impact of the tax caps, going into debt to pay pensions when the budget was not big enough to afford the raises, and the total lack of fiscal oversight by the School Board.

Still there is a way out of this fiscal morass without teacher layoffs, without screwing over the bus drivers or any other employee of the District, and without closing Lynwood and raising class sizes. I have laid it out time and time again on this blog. But, if you want to review it again, see ""How to Minimize the Impact of Decatur School District Cuts", "Decatur School Board Should Demand More Administrator Cuts", and "Let's Back Up and Move in a Different Direction".

Meanwhile the School Board meets this Tuesday evening, March 16, beginning at 7:00 in the Board Room of the Central Office. No agenda has been published on the District website as of this moment. That meeting will be preceded by a behind closed doors Executive Session. No word yet as to whether that will be a catered affair.

Friday, March 12, 2010

ICOG Offers Citizen Journalism Boot Camp

Want to start your own blog? Already have a blog, but want to know what laws impact it? Want to learn how to get hold of public records? Or, are you interested in learning some of the tricks of the trade of being a journalist? On Saturday, March 20, the Indiana Coalition for Open Government is offering a one day Citizen Journalism Boot Camp for folks just like you. Click here to register.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am proud to have been invited to participate on the blog panel, and humbled by the calibre of folks who will be presenting at this event. I am not being paid to participate, although I can attend the whole day's events without paying the fee.

ICOG are the good folks who fight for improved laws for public access to both records and meetings, and for public input into the decisions made by the government. In the side panel of this blog, I keep a link to thier website under "Agents of Change". I also keep a link to their 'make your own' open records request letter.

The Boot Camp is being held on the IUPUI campus and does cost $35 ($20 if you are either a student or an ICOG member), but you get lunch and a one year membership in ICOG along with being able to attend the workshops all day.

Here's how they describe the events of the day:
If you are a neighborhood leader, citizen activist, blogger or would-be blogger, ICOG's Citizen Journalism Boot Camp can help you become a stronger citizen journalist or learn the essentials on how to become one.

The event, which highlights ICOG’s participation in national Sunshine Week, will feature workshops on how to gain access to public information and gather other information as a reporter, understanding the technology you will need to use, and how to set up a blog and keep your readers informed effectively. Session leaders will include veteran bloggers, attorneys and journalists who will walk you through the nuts and bolts of setting yourself up to become your own community watchdog.

Registration fee is $35 for the general public and $20 for students and ICOG members. The fee includes morning coffee, lunch and a complimentary one-year membership to ICOG, a $25 value itself.

Keynote speaker during the lunch will be Jan Schaffer, executive director of J Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism, one of the nation’s leading thinkers in the journalism reform movement. J-Lab administers the Knight Citizen News Network (http://www.kcnn/.org) and other initiatives.

Speakers will include members of The Indianapolis Star’s Starwatch investigative team, who will demonstrate how to generate story ideas, develop sources and collect documents and data that reporters can use to quickly produce news relevant to their communities.

Brant Houston will lead discussion on basic research and backgrounding, giving special attention to using online sources for information. Houston is the former executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors. He now holds the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Chair in Investigative and Enterprise Reporting and teaches investigative and advanced reporting in the Department of Journalism at the University of Illinois College of Media.

John Strauss, a former Indianapolis Star reporter and columnist who is now on the journalism faculty at Ball State University, will demonstrate easy-to-use multimedia tools that can turn anyone into a backpack journalist.

Local blogging expert Erik Deckers will show you how to start a blog in just minutes using readily available online tools. He will be joined by two bloggers who will offer advice on how to get material for your blog and keep the information flowing.

Also, a panel of lawyers will talk about challenges and pitfalls of blogging, strategies for staying on the right side of the law, and the current state of affairs regarding access issues.

Here is the complete schedule for the day:
The Citizen Journalism Boot Camp program has a full day of workshops to help you improve as a citizen journalist or to get started as one.

8:30-9 a.m. – Registration and coffee.
9-10 a.m. – Members of The Indianapolis Star’s Starwatch investigative team share tips of the reporter’s trade in a roundtable discussion. Participants: Mark Alesia, Tim Evans, Heather Gillers, Alvie Lindsay.
10-10:45 a.m. – Brant Houston, former executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors (now holder of the Knight Chair in Investigative Reporting at the University of Illinois), presents a session on information gathering, with discussion on basic research and background and special attention to online sources.
10:45-11 a.m. – Break.
11 a.m.-Noon – John Strauss, former Indianapolis Star journalist and member of Ball State University’s journalism faculty, demonstrates easy-to-use multimedia tools that can turn any citizen activist into a backpack journalist.
Noon-1:30 p.m. – Lunch. Jan Schaffer of the Knight Citizen News Network gives the keynote speech.
1:30-2:30 p.m. – Erik Deckers, vice president of creative services and operations for Pro Blog Service, presents the nuts and bolts of starting a blog.
2:30-3:15 p.m. – Erik is joined by Pat Andrews, neighborhood activist and blogger, and Bil Browning, co-owner of Bilerico Media, for a discussion of their experiences blogging – how to maintain a blog and not get burned out. Audience Q&A.
3:15-3:30 p.m. – Break.
3:30-4:45 p.m. – The Citizen Journalist and the Law. Panel includes Steve Badger of Bose McKinney & Evans, Jan Carroll of Barnes & Thornburg and Dick Goehler of Frost Brown Todd. They will talk about challenges and pitfalls for citizen bloggers, strategies for staying on the right side of the law, and the current state of affairs regarding access issues.

To register for the Boot Camp, click here.

Technology is changing the world for sure. Blogging might be a flash in the pan, or a way to express yourself. It can be anything you want - a Julie & Julia blog, a politics blog, a blog about cars, or a blog just about frogs if that is what interests you. If you think you might want to try your hand at a blog, this Boot Camp could be just what you needed.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Decatur Middle School Wins New Designation

Ran across this article in the IndyStar - it appears some commenters on an earlier post were referring to it. It is an article by Gretchen Becker entitled "Decatur Middle School's engaging approach puts it on a select list".

Seventh-grade math students at Decatur Middle School recently spread out in the classroom and hallways to create a blueprint for a rain forest area at a zoo.

"We're learning about volume, depth, cylinders and cubes," said Tayaba Nadeem, 12.

She and group members Emily Siegman, 12, and Molly Cooper, 13, researched mammals, fish, amphibians, birds and reptiles in the real-life application for math.

"It's a different way to do stuff without using the textbook," Emily said.

That's exactly the point, said Principal Mark Anderson. Getting kids who are used to talking, texting and watching videos engaged in their schoolwork should lead to better test scores, he said.

Decatur Middle School teachers and administrators hope their approach to education will help influence other schools throughout the state.

In honor of their efforts, the Southwestside school has been named one of the state's first three "Schools to Watch."

The program, which was launched in 2002 by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform, recognizes successful schools so that their efforts can be duplicated elsewhere. Every three years, schools must reapply to keep the distinction.

The title doesn't mean the school has soaring test scores. In fact, ISTEP scores at Decatur Middle School are flat, with about 60 percent of students passing each year, Anderson said.

"It's not about test scores," he said. "It's about what you're doing to help the kids."

Decatur Middle School started changing the way it teaches three years ago, including more project-based learning in anticipation that Indiana would become a Schools to Watch state, Anderson said.

Schools don't compete against each other in the program, stressed Debbie Sullivan, a Decatur Township associate superintendent and Indiana Middle Level Education Association group assessor.

Schools first apply on paper and then are evaluated by an association team that visits the school before awarding the honor. Five schools applied in the first round.

"We're working real intentionally with middle schools and looking at exemplary schools," said Sullivan, who did not evaluate Decatur. "It's a process of school improvement, school reform." A redesign team led by teachers revamped
the school's approach to education with a renewed focus on family advocacy, intervention and enrichment, student transitions, 21st-century preparation and
the creation of common procedures throughout the school. Grants also paid for travel to other schools to get ideas.Changes included a dress code, the training of student ambassadors and creation of a parent welcome center, Anderson said.

One period per day, students also began taking enrichment or intervention
classes to help boost academic skills. The enrichment courses include such topics as Japanese language basics or line dancing.

In its STAR program, which stands for Students, Teachers and Relationships, Decatur Middle School offers a homeroom-like setting where teachers meet with students twice daily to help them with their work and keep them on track to graduate.

Many teachers also are employing project-based learning, where students do projects tied into the curriculum instead of just using a textbook. That includes some who are creating magazines to share what they've learned in a social-studies class about sub-Saharan countries.

The school's next goal is to develop community partnerships, Anderson said. Leaders also will share their secrets of success with visiting educators and have been invited to present their program at a national conference in April.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Let's Back Up and Move in a Different Direction

Its time to repeat that there are other paths we can travel to save teacher jobs and the attendant increase in class size.

Let's begin with why it is important to save teacher jobs. The only thing educational research finds over and over is that class size and school size DO MATTER to the learning by children. If we close Lynwood as an elementary school, we guarantee that about two dozen teachers will have to be let go. That is because there are no extra classrooms in the District for them to move to (the ECC would be vacated permanently).

Let me take a side track here for a minute. The latest 'reason' offered by Superintendent Don Stinson for the closing of the ECC is that it is an 'old building'. That is not true. It was refurbished at the same time the new Middle School addition was constructed, and opened as a Kindergarden about 12 years ago. The taxpayers likely are still paying off the bonds on the ECC, as a matter of fact. It is specially equiped with small scale furniture, bathrooms, and storage, to accommodate the tiny student population. See my blog entry "What's Behind the Closing of Lynwood Elementary" for more on the ECC. In addition, the $85 million bond floated a couple of years ago for the High School project and bus barn construction, included $500,000 for an expansion of the ECC. Don Stinson testified at the Department of Local Government Finance hearing on the $85 million bond (July 20, 2006), that any extra contingency funds (excess money built into the construction budget for unforseen expenses) would be used to update the ECC and old high school building. Instead they spent at least $1 million on astroturf for the football field. Go figure.

As I have blogged previously, there are other moves that can be made that would minimize teacher lay offs. (see "How to Minimize the Impact of Decatur School District Cuts" for the most detail, but also "Decatur School Board Should Demand More Administrator Cuts") The first step is to sell the excess land and buildings that the School District bought - much of it without the legally required appraisals (see "MSD Decatur Township Should Sell Excess Properties" and "Decatur School Board Broke State Law in Purchase of Properties")

The District has about $6 million in property not associated with a school campus. Of that, over half, $3.2 million, is tied up in the Southwest Pavilion Office Building (former Concentra Building). Stinson and the Central Office crew are steadfast in wanting to move their offices over to this building. But, they should sell it. Yes, I know that times are tough in the real estate market. But, given the one appraisal for the property at 7900 Camby Road and the fact that the District overpaid for the property by 41 %, it will take us 40 years to recoup our investments anyway. AND we could use the money to preserve class size RIGHT NOW. Its not perfect, but it is far superior to laying off teachers.

Now, even in my scenario, the hole dug by Stinson and the School Board is so deep that some concessions must be asked of the teachers to totally eliminate the need for lay offs. I have stated that they should consider taking a 5% cut in pay - the Administrators should take a 15% cut, and Stinson a 20% cut.

On top of all this, let me add that $3 million of the $9.8 million in cuts is supposedly a one time cut. Stinson continues to say that the $3 million shortfall in the Capital Projects Fund is to repay interest on temporary loans. Now, I'll believe that this is a one time payment. But, it doesn't pass the smell test that we are paying $3 million in interest on a $23 million loan. In my blog entry "More Fiscal Mismanagement at Decatur School District", I talked more in depth about this. The short story is that the City of Indianapolis, by comparison, has taken out temporary loans ten times that amount, but paid similar amounts of interest. 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, this $3 million shortfall in the CPF is a one shot deal. Why ask the teachers to come up with $3 million in cuts - permanent cuts - when the District can sell the Southwest Pavilion Office Building and cover the one time need?

So, lets back things up here. The School Board should rescind their former votes and instruct the Superintendent to sell the Southwest Pavilion Office Building, if not all of its land holdings, keep the ECC where it is, keep Lynwood open, and preserve class size in Decatur Township Schools.

Pink Friday - March 12, 2010

Many commenters to this blog have mentioned Pink Friday - where teachers and students and community members wear pink as a sign of solidarity with the teachers who will be given pink slips that day. The final decision on how many teachers will be layed off will not be announced until mid-April, as per the DEA contract.

I would endorse Pink Friday, if only to make a statement that, if cuts must be made, they should be made equitably. Now, personally, I have proposed a way to minimize, if not eliminate, teacher cuts, the closing of Lynwood as an elementary school and the resulting increase in class size which is bad for education. (see "The Lynwood Takeover Fable", "Will Teachers Union Try to Save Lynwood Elementary?", "Decatur School Board Should Demand More Administrator Cuts", and "How to Minimize the Impact of Decatur School District Cuts" -- as well as my next blog entry)

The administrator cuts are limited only to Principal, Assistant Principal, and Athletic Director cuts; so called building cuts. The Central Office is taking no real hits here. The two CO cuts include, according to Gary Pellico's press release on the matter, Assistant Superintendent for Business, Jeff Baer's position. That's total hogwash as his replacement is already on board. Also, Assistant Superintendent Candice Baer is already slated to leave the position created expressly for her a couple of years ago. So, no real cuts in the CO. Plus they fully intend to move into the spacious confines of the Southwest Pavilion Office Building (former Concentra Building), further feathering their nests.

The closing of Lynwood as an elementary school pretty much dictates that about 25 teachers must be layed off. This is because there are no extra classrooms in the district to house them. So, the closing of Lynwood as an elementary school must be put back on the table and reconsidered.

As bad as pink looks on me (not that I'm all that fashionable in any case), I'll be sporting it on Friday.

Monday, March 8, 2010

City of Southport Audit Now Available

I continue to look through the recently published audits of the State Board of Accounts. For Marion County, an Examination of the City of Southport books is now available. If you are interested in Southport politics, this is a must read.

If you are interesting in audits by the SBOA, their website is a must see. will get you there. The recently released reports a available by clicking the main picture (which says 'Recently Released Audit Reports'. To view the archives, the link is in the lower right hand panel and it says 'Browse Our Audit Reports Online'.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Your Comments and Suggestions Free-For-All

Post a comment on any subject you wish - or leave a suggestion for what you would like to see covered here.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Councillor Mansfield Files Ethic Complaint Against Councillor Plowman

Councillor Angela Mansfield has filed an ethics complaint that asks Councillor Lincoln Plowman to disclose the reasons revolving around his investigation, or take a leave of absence until the issues are resolved.

Here is how WTHR is reporting Mansfield's complaint:

A ethics complaint has been filed against City-County Council member Lincoln Plowman.

The complaint, filed by councilor Angela Mansfield, is seeking the same thing many people have been asking for weeks. What is the nature of the investigation and does it involve any of his dealings as a police officer, or his duties on the City-County Council.

Eyewitness News sources have indicated that Plowman is resigning his seat on the council and position with IMPD on Monday. Because of the investigation, IMPD put Plowman on paid administrative leave on February 3.

Many on the council are concerned that any future involvement in council matters by Plowman could cause legal issues down the road.

"I asked, 'Can Lincoln disclose what it is?' It is not a situation like a grand jury, where the is confidentiality and they said, 'Absolutely, if he chooses to disclose, he can'," Mansfield said. "The other thing I think is interesting is, it was explained to me that the agency that is doing the investigation will neither confirm or deny that there is an investigation, which led me to believe it is not an internal investigation."

The complaint is asking Plowman to either disclose the nature and circumstances of the investigation, or take a leave of absence until the investigation is complete.

I think Councillor Mansfield has struck the right note here - finding a compromise position between Councillor Plowman's rights to due process and the rights of the community to have confidence in the actions of the Council.

Roy Houchins, Perry Township Constable, Found Dead

WTHR is reporting that Roy Houchins, the Perry Township Constable, has been found dead. Here is there report:

A Perry Township constable was found dead in a southside parking lot Friday night.

An IMPD officer was flagged down outside LJ's Pub & Eatery in the 3600 block of S. Meridian Street. The officer found 70-year-old Roy Houchins unresponsive, lying in the parking lot.

Medics from IFD responded to the scene and pronounced Houchins dead. Investigators found no signs of foul play. The cause of death will be determined in an autopsy.

Houchins was under investigation, accused of racketeering and theft for allegedly taking guns from an evidence room and improperly selling vehicles.

Confusion Reigns in Plowman Affair

Confusion is the only word that can describe the state of affairs with Councillor Lincoln Plowman. Today's Indianapolis Star article by Francesca Jarosz "Plowman to leave IMPD, reports say", says Plowman will retire from his IMPD post, but leaves things up in the air as to his Council seat.

Jarosz reports in part:
A city-county councilman and assistant police commander who has been under investigation for more than a month is expected to retire from the department Monday.

But it remained unclear Friday whether Lincoln Plowman's anticipated departure would shed light on the investigation. Details of the inquiry have been kept sealed since he was placed on administrative leave from the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department on Feb. 3.

Also uncertain is whether Plowman, a Republican who represents the city's Southeastside, will remain in his council seat. Some council members say his departure from the department would bring them closer to asking for his resignation.

Meanwhile the new blog 'Indy's Political Stock Exchange' provides a link to a WTHR report that says Plowman will resign both his IMPD and Council positions.

WTHR, in part, reports the following:
Sources tell Eyewitness News that City-County Council member Lincoln Plowman plans to resign from his job on the council as well as his position with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police force.

Plowman has been under investigation over the past several weeks but even he says he does not know what the investigation is concerning.

The 21-year police veteran works as a major for Metro Police. He is currently on paid administrative leave during the unspecified investigation. The 30-day paid leave ended on Friday.

Jarosz further reports in her Star article, that :
Plowman's decision comes as public safety leaders prepare to make a ruling on his future with IMPD. His 30 days of paid administrative leave ended Friday, leaving public safety officials with a choice: reinstate Plowman to the department or suspend him without pay.

The latter decision would have started Plowman's termination from IMPD. The Indianapolis Star's sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, say Plowman chose to retire in anticipation of strong action from the department.

Plowman, who has served on the Police and Sheriff's departments for 21 years, did not respond to e-mails Friday, and his cell phone number was disconnected.

Frank Straub, the city's public safety director, confirmed that he planned to meet with Plowman and his attorneys Monday to discuss Plowman's status with IMPD, but he would not elaborate.

Looks like Monday will be a pivotal day for Lincoln Plowman. I firmly believe that those under investigation are not necessarily guilty of anything. And, I firmly believe that those who get a lawyer are not necessarily guilty of anything. The right of presumed innocent until proven guilty must extend to all of us, including police officers, Councillors, and average citizens alike. But, at some point, the public's right to know needs to be activated because Lincoln Plowman is both a police officer and a City-County Councillor and the public deserves to know if his service on either of those fronts is in question.

To Vote On School Board, You Must Be Registered

The School Board election is on May 4. The deadline to register to vote is April 5.

Many people assume that because the School Board election is held at the same time as the Party Primary elections, that you must declare a Party in order to vote for candidates running on the School Board ballot. That is not true. You would go to your voting location and let them know your only want to vote for School Board and they will give you a ballot listing only those candidates.

But, you must be registered to vote. Two things on this matter. IF YOU THINK you are already registered to vote - check to be sure. I'll tell you how below. IF YOU KNOW you are NOT registered to vote, I have some tips below to ensure your application will be successful.

I have worked the polls for a number of years now and I can tell you that it is common to see two things - folks who have voted year after year who do not show up on the records because they moved or changed their names and did not remember to get their voter registration updated - and - folks who filled out the voter registration form and trusted the BMV to get it to the Voter Registration people.

If you think you are registered to vote, or if you filled out the form and assume you are properly registered, you can call Voter Registration at 327-5040, or drop into their office if you are in the City-County Building. As we get closer to the election, you will also be able to double check on the County Clerk / Election Board website. Once polling locations are determined for the May 4 election, they will have an interactive form that tells you a) if you are registered to vote, and b) where you would go to vote. I will post that link once the feature is available.

If you need to register for the first time, or if you need to transfer your registration to a new address, or if you changed your name (ladies - that can easily be you if you recently got married and took your husband's name) - click here - on this page you have the choice of getting the form in either Word or Acrobat Reader format. Fill out the form. Having worked at the polls on election day, I can tell you that I have never heard of someone who sent their form to the Voter Registration Office who was not on the books as a registered voter. Lots of folks filled out the form at the BMV and never got registered. So, I advise you to either mail it to the Marion County Voter Registration Office (if you live in Marion County) - you will find the address on the form. Or, walk it in to the Voter Registration Office. It is on the first floor of the City-County Building.

If your registration is successful, the Voter Registration Office will send you a postcard that you should bring with you to the voting location, just in case. If you have that card, you will be allowed to vote, even if somehow your name does not show up in the books. If you have not received this card - make sure you double check that you are registered by calling 327-5040.

The deadline to register is April 5. So, if you want to vote on May 4, you must double check your registration before April 5 so that you have time to get the situation corrected.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Decatur School District Culture of Fear

Fear rules the MSD Decatur Township school district. Fear that if you step out of line, you will be gone. Fear that if you speak up, you will be gone. There is no recourse - the School Board just rubber stamps everything.

Superintendent Don Stinson doesn't handle the tools of fear mongering himself. He has Assistant Superintendent Jeff Baer and soon to be Assistant Superintendent Susan Adams for that nasty business. Baer is leaving at the end of the school year. But, according to what Susan Adams is saying around the District, she will be getting a promotion to take over the non-business activities that Baer currently handles, but his successor wants no part of. Adams will relinquish her head custodian job, and become the overlord of Transportation and Safety.

Now, I have heard Adams referred to as 'the dragon lady' a couple of times. And by criteria of how she has treated the custodians, she deserves that moniker. She has trimmed their ranks substantially. She cuts the heat off in the winter and the AC off in the summer - even while the custodians lug around vacuum cleaners on their backs and even while they clean carpets. The freezing cold and the sweltering heat and humidity she subjects the custodians to is immoral in my book. I think they should be complaining to the EEOC about their work conditions, quite frankly. But, they are afraid of doing so lest they be released from their employment as revenge. Don Stinson lets the dragon lady mete out this injustice and is ultimately responsible. Well, let me amend that - the School Board is ultimately responsible. If we had a School Board who actually cared to listen to the employees in the district, they might have a very different work environment - one that respected the dignity of all workers.

I will be referring to this again in the section on Security below - the custodians have been told by the dragon lady, that, should there ever be a bomb threat in a school that causes evacuation of the building, they are to remain behind and search for the bomb. Let me repeat that - should there ever be a bomb threat in a school that causes evacuation of the building, the custodians are required to remain behind and search for the bomb.

Now, should you not be that alarmed about the treatment of decent, hard working people in Decatur Township Schools, maybe you would be interested in another aspect of the no heat, no AC for custodians rule. It turns out that what mold needs to flourish is hot, humid conditions. Say, like the conditions one would find in the summer with the AC turned off and right after carpets are steam cleaned. Thanks to the no AC for custodians rule, the district now has a mold problem in the Early Childhood Center and the Decatur Intermediate Learning Center. The problem in the ECC is being 'solved' by moving the school to the Lynwood campus. There appears to be no resolution on the table for the DILC mold problem. Eventually the taxpayers will be on the hook to reclaim these spaces.

Even before assuming her new duties, the dragon lady and Jeff Baer have been 'working' on the bus drivers. The community needs to become more aware of what is going on in the Transportation Department. That budget is being slashed by Don Stinson - seemingly without any Board action or public disclosures. It would seem that the push is to 1) get senior drivers to quit and 2) cut benefits.

The first steps are in the works as we speak. The drivers' hours are being cut from 6 or 7 per day, down to 4 hours per day. Meanwhile more drivers are being hired so that the bus schedule can continue unabated. Dropping the driver's time immediately cuts their take home pay and puts their ability to get benefits in jeopardy. This again is immoral in my book. The bus drivers have families to support. With only 4 hours per day - two in the morning and two in the afternoon - the drivers are also precluded from taking second jobs. Clearly this is a move to get them to quit their jobs. Yet again I emphasize that I consider this immoral.

But it doesn't end there. Senior drivers are being targeted with 'non-compliance write-ups'. These write-ups claim that the drivers were tail gating or speeding. This will provide a paper trail should Baer, Adams, and Stinson want to remove more drivers than those who voluntarily leave their District jobs.

As mentioned in a comment to a previous blog entry, the drivers have now received letters claiming that the cost of repairing any damage to their bus will come out of their pay. One needs to ask what insurance is for?

That leads me to the Security Department. When the midnight shift in that Department was eliminated, Baer said 'that's what insurance is for'. Susan Adams claims that we can do away with the entire department because 'we have cameras on all the buildings'. As I spoke about in some detail in "Security is First Casualty of Budget Cuts", the dragon lady refuses to give keys or floor plans to the officers, as recommended by national standards promulgated by the Department of Homeland Security. Now she is being promoted over Security, which she believes can be handled by cameras and custodians. This is unbelievable.

As mentioned in comments to other blog entries, the custodians and the bus drivers are not the only employees in the District who are enveloped by this culture of fear. The teachers also must watch their backs and do not feel that they can afford to speak up or speak to the Board about mistreatment. Don Stinson, through Susan Adams and Jeff Baer, has created a hostile work environment, paid for by good hearted, hard working Decatur taxpayers. This culture is not in keeping with the attitudes of our community, and at some point we have to ask why the School Board allows it to continue.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

MSD Decatur School Administration Breaking Yet Another Law

Every year, every governmental unit in Indiana must submit the list of employees, their positions, and the salary received in the month of January. This is required by state law. State law dictates that these salary reports be submitted to the State Board of Accounts by the end of January.

Well the MSD Decatur Township is now over one month late with filing this state mandated report. This is the report I used to post the salaries of school personnel in 2009 (see "Top Decatur School District Salaries for 2008-2009 School Year". I have been trying to get the report for 2010 to no avail.

Unlike the numerous laws broken by the Administration and the School Board which I have previously reported, this one caries a penalty. State law says:
IC 5-11-13 Chapter 13. Executive Officers' Annual Report to State Board of Accounts
IC 5-11-13-1 Personnel report
Sec. 1. Every state, county, city, town, township, or school official, elective or appointive, who is the head of or in charge of any office, department, board, or commission of the state or of any county, city, town, or township, and every state, county, city, town, or township employee or agent who is the head of, or in charge of, or the executive officer of any department, bureau, board, or commission of the state, county, city, town, or township, and every executive officer by whatever title designated, who is in charge of any state educational institution or of any other state, county, or city institution, shall during the month of January of each year prepare,make, and sign a written or printed certified report, correctly and completely showing the names and business addresses of each and all officers, employees, and agents in their respective offices, departments, boards, commissions, and institutions, and the respective duties and compensation of each, and shall forthwith file said report in the office of the state examiner of the state board of accounts. However, no more than one (1) report covering the same officers, employees, and agents need be made from the state or any county, city, town, township, or school unit in any one year.

IC 5-11-13-3 Violations; offense; penalty
Sec. 3. A person who violates section 1 of this chapter commits a Class C infraction. If violated by an elected state officer, the officer is liable to impeachment, and if violated by any other person, the person is subject to removal for neglect of duty under the procedures described in IC 34-17.

Maybe our lawyer friends can interpret the exact penalty and who would be required to file the legal action. Also, if they could interpret who is to be held responsible - the elected School Board, the Superintendent, or the two Assistant Superintendents for Business.

But, the issue for our community is the ongoing and never ending arrogance displayed by all of these people.

Some New Audits For County School Districts Available

Every so often I check the State Board of Accounts Website for publication of the current audit of MSD Decatur Township books. Audits are conducted every other year and we are due for one covering the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 school years. Alas, ours was not up yet.

But three other districts in Marion County were published. Click the name to be taken directly to the audit:

MSD Perry Township

MSD Warren Township - Athletic Department

MSD Wayne Township

In addition an audit of the Washington Township (not schools but township government) has been posted.

MSD Washington Township School Board Member Calls For Investigation

Over at Ogden on Politics is a copy of a letter from Washington Township School Board Member, Greg Wright, asking for an investigation of multiple issues surrounding the contracted security services of a company called Securitex. I reprint the letter below:

Monday, March 01, 2010

Dear Superintendent Whitesell, Mr Hartman, and Honorable Zoller,

This letter is the official request of an elected member of the MSD Washington Township Board of Education.

Please investigate allegations that MSD Washington Township school administrators have intimidated and obstructed school police officers from carrying out their lawful duty to report.

Further, it is my request that you assist in the return of $5,493,868 to the taxpayers of MSD Washington Township. This is the amount of money paid to Securatex, an Illinois Corporation, by MSD Washington Township since 2001. An agreement between MSD Washington Township and Securatex dated 9/13/02 and amended 7/24/03 and 8/24/04 appears to never have been approved by the MSD Washington Township Board of Education. Since payments were made to Securatex for at least a year prior to the 9/13/02 date of this agreement, there may be

A Citizen has informed me that several firms have approached the MSDWT Administration requesting permission to bid on its security guard business and have been denied that opportunity. In 2009 alone, MSDWT paid Securatex $870,828.
Further, last Thursday February 25, 2010, I informed MSDWT Superintendent James Mervilde that a Citizen approached me and offered concerns that Securatex was not licensed to provide security and guard services to our school district. Mervilde assured me the following day that Securatex was properly licensed. However, a Citizen informed me that she has filed a complaint alleging that Securatex, an Illinois Corporation, does not meet the Indiana requirements of law to conduct business as a security guard service provider because, since 2007, it has not have a “resident licensee” as required by Indiana Code 25-30-1-14.

Therefore, since the safety of our children and teachers depend in large part upon having qualified and properly licensed security personnel, and because the taxpayers need to be treated fairly, particularly in these difficult economic times, these matters require your immediate attention.

Although this is an election year, I have not chosen to run for re-election to the MSD Washington Township Board of Education, and I am not a candidate for any public office.

Gregory Wright, Elected Member
MSD Washington Township Board of Education

[edited to add : Dana Vice has two new entries on this matter over at 'Welcome to My Tea Party']

Monday, March 1, 2010

Is There a Board Meeting Tonight?

I just came back from the Decatur Library. Did anyone hear of a meeting of the Decatur School Board tonight? When I went into the Library I saw Dale Henson's car outside of the Central Office. When I left the Library I drove past and his car was gone, but I saw Greenwald and Huffman in the Board Room. Anyone have any info????? Saw a Caddy, but I don't know what kind Stinson drives.