Survey shows support for MCCSC referendum — but how strong?

There’s no denying that the Monroe County Community School Corp. board got some good very news last week when the Springsted Inc. consulting firm reported on a survey that showed strong support for raising property taxes to support schools.

In the survey of 401 registered voters early this month, 69 percent said they would vote to increase taxes to make up for state cuts in school funding. When told the increase for the average homeowner would be $65 a year, support rose to 75 percent. (The results are posted on the MCCSC website).

representative Don Lifto said the survey revealed “a very, very good base of support for an operating referendum.” The school board, emboldened by the results, voted last week to go forward with a school-funding referendum in the Nov. 2 election. Members indicated they will decide this Tuesday (June 29) how much of a tax increase to ask for, and for how long.

But before anyone thinks this referendum is a slam dunk, it’s good to remember that talk is cheap – including talk with a stranger asking survey questions Continue reading


Half of School Improvement Grants go to charters

Indianapolis charter schools nabbed two of the four School Improvement Grants that the Indiana Department of Education awarded this week.

The DOE announced Monday that it was giving $2.2 million to Indianapolis Metropolitan High School and $1.6 million to Challenge Foundation Academy, an Indianapolis elementary school. Both were created within the past six years as part of the boom in urban charter schools in Indiana.

The other Indiana School Improvement Grants were for $5.8 million to Glenwood Middle School in Evansville and $5.9 million to Hammond High School. The funds are awarded for a three-year period.

The School Improvement Grants, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, are intended to help turn around the state’s persistently lowest achieving schools – basically the bottom 5 percent, in terms of test scores and graduation rates, of schools that get or qualify for federal Title I funding.

The fact that two of the four grants are going to charter schools reflects the faith being put in charters, both at the state and federal level, to lead the way in school reform. Continue reading

Outsourcing in Fort Wayne

Fort Wayne Community Schools expect to save $4.4 million by outsourcing school custodians. The FWCS school board voted 6-1 for an agreement that will “cut wages, shrink custodial staff and force more than 200 custodians to apply for jobs,” according to the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette.

The school corporation is contracting with Sodexo, the international outsourcing giant. According to the J-G, much of the savings will come from eliminating 24 jobs and cutting wages by as much as $6 an hour. The district’s 217 custodians can apply to Sodexo to keep their jobs.

FWCS officials said they regretted having to make the decision but didn’t have much choice given cuts in state funding.

We’re likely to see more outsourcing of nonteaching employees around Indiana as school districts struggle to balance their budgets. Continue reading

The lessons of ’99

Matt Wysocki has a thoughtful post on the Chamber Insider blog about the importance of understanding what went wrong in the 1999 MCCSC school-funding referendum. He points out that the vote fell short even in Bloomington, where Democrats virtually swept city elections. Obviously it’s a mistake to assume that, if people are “liberal” and vote Democratic, that they will automatically vote to increase property-tax funding for public schools. One thing that seemed to be missing in 1999 was an aggressive, organized get-out-the-vote campaign on behalf of the referendum. School supporters can’t afford to make that mistake this year.

Property tax caps: the “other referendum”

Indianapolis attorney Fran Quigley writes this week in the Indy Star that approving the proposed Indiana constitutional amendment on property tax caps amounts to buying a used car without test-driving it.

“So far, the engine has been coughing and a funny-colored smoke is belching from the exhaust,” he writes in a guest opinion column. “It seems every day we are hearing more bad news from Indiana communities: teacher layoffs in Anderson, extra-curricular school programs canceled in Bloomington, bus routes and libraries at risk in Indianapolis.”

For voters in Bloomington, the constitutional amendment is the “other referendum” that will be on the ballot Nov. 2. It seems almost certain that the Monroe County Community School Corp. will propose an increase in local property taxes to help fund operating costs. At the same time, there will be a statewide vote on whether to enshrine property tax caps in the constitution. It could make for some confusion.

Political experts say the tax-cap measure will pass in a landslide. Results have been mixed on school-funding referendums around the state.

The property tax caps – 1 percent of assessed value for owner-occupied residences, 2 percent for farms and rental homes and 3 percent for business property – are already in state law. Supporters of the amendment say they want to protect the caps from some future legislature that would undo them.

The more likely rationale is that the law is vulnerable to a challenge by farm and business groups under Article 10 of the Indiana Constitution, which requires a “uniform and equal rate of property assessment and taxation.”

Charrette or charade?

Here’s some hopeful news about the school-funding “charrette” Thursday night at Bloomington High School North: The 40 people who took part clearly had a wide range of priorities, but everyone seemed open to the idea that other people’s priorities are important too.

At least that’s how it seemed to me, based on the clicker-augmented survey that started the evening and the later small-group discussion that I took part in.

With real-time results available from the initial survey, it seemed most people were giving a rating of “most important” or “important” to virtually all aspects of education in the Monroe County Community School Corp. Sure, class size, music, art and librarians were rated as important. But so were alternative education, adult education, early childhood education and career and technical education.

Ninety percent of us said current and future funding cuts threaten the quality of education in the MCCSC. Altogether, it seemed like a group that was ready for some give-and-take but likely to support a broad-based referendum to increase property taxes to offset state funding cuts for local schools.

The charrette was the last of four conducted by MGT of America as part of its “community engagement” contract with the MCCSC. An online version of the priorities survey is posted on the MCCSC website. MGT project director Bill Carnes has also been conducting outreach activities, including a meeting last week with members of the pro-referendum group Support Our Schools. Continue reading

Tony Bennett on ‘Noon Edition’ — easy listening?

Did anyone else think that Tony Bennett, the Indiana superintendent of public instruction, came across as unusually conciliatory on the WFIU radio “Noon Edition” program last Friday? There was no teacher-bashing. No school-of-education-bashing. Not even any real union-bashing.

Was Bennett striking a friendlier tone because Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, had singled out Indiana (along with Virginia and Minnesota) for failing to include teachers’ unions in its initial application for federal Race to the Top funding? Did “Noon Edition” host Bob Zaltsberg’s reasonableness rub off on his guest?

Bennett did offer some interesting comments. He said the current state of education is challenging but also rewarding. “These are definitely unique times in Indiana education,” he said. He repeated his contention Continue reading

School funding flexibility: One step forward, one step back

It turns out that Indiana’s new school funding flexibility law is providing only half a loaf for the Monroe County Community School Corp. Half a loaf may be better than none, but it’s not nearly enough.

And increasing MCCSC payments for employee insurance costs are taking a big bite out of that half-loaf.

Last weekend, I posted a story here that said the MCCSC should be able to transfer 10 percent of the local property tax levy from its capital projects fund to the general fund, to help cover teacher salaries and other personnel expenses. I was wrong.

The contract approved last week by the school board and the Monroe County Education Association met two of the criteria for a 10-percent capital-projects transfer: It froze teacher salaries at their 2009-10 level and capped “increment” raises at 2 percent.

But it didn’t meet the third requirement of the funding flexibility measure that the state legislature passed this spring: that the school corporation could not increase its proportional contribution to employee insurance premiums. Continue reading

Tom Crean goes ballistic over MCCSC decision

Here’s a link to IU men’s basketball coach Tom Crean’s Twitter feed, in which he just goes off on the Monroe County Community School Corp. decision to eliminate pay for coaches and other extracurricular positions. He sure doesn’t try to get it all in Twitter’s 140-character limit; he uses 11 “tweets,” one after another, to say what he has to say. (You have to start at the bottom and read to the top). It’s rare for anyone as high-profile as Crean to comment publicly on a local schools decision, but the agreement between the MCCSC and the local teachers’ union really lit his fire. Candace Rohrman in the Indiana Daily Student gets it right: If he rants like that in a game, he’s courting a T.