Thursday, February 22, 2018

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #313 – February 21, 2018

Dear Friends,

The “Celebration of Public Education” Monday in the Statehouse was a tremendous event! Thanks to all who came and thanks to all who were there in spirit!

As our outstanding rally speakers said, public education needs our renewed support and protection.

This is true this week in House Bill 1315, which would set troubling precedents to deconstruct the local control of public education if it is not amended by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Here are the four concerns about HB 1315 that I testified on in the Senate Appropriations Committee last Thursday, Feb. 15:
Concern #1: For the first time, a public school district could be governed by school board members who do not live in the school district.

Concern #2: For the first time, a public school district could ignore state law mandates to display the flag and to study the US Constitution and citizenship. Even private voucher schools are not allowed to ignore the laws on citizenship mandates!

Concern #3: For the first time, a public school district in financial distress could lose its public school board in favor of an “advisory committee”.

Concern #4: For the first time, any public school district could be put on a watch list for financial mismanagement which could potentially become public before detailed reviews have guaranteed the accuracy of the financial assessment. The confidentiality of preliminary data must be guaranteed.
Chairman Mishler listened closely to lengthy testimony and said the testimony would guide an amendment he would bring to the bill at a later meeting. HB 1315 has not been included on the agenda for the next meeting on February 22nd so you have time to make your concerns known this week.

The bill needs to be amended. We need your participation.

Please review the details about each concern below and then contact members of the Senate Appropriations Committee listed here as soon as possible:

Republicans: Senators Mishler (chair), Brown, Bassler, Boots, Bray, Charbonneau, Crider, Eckerty and Holdman

Democrats: Senators Tallian, Breaux, Niezgodski and Taylor

It would also help if you send a strong message to amend this bill to Senator Long, Senate President Pro Tem, and to your own Senator.

House Bill 1315 – School Corporation Financial Management

House Bill 1315, sponsored by Representative Tim Brown, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, proposes to restrict the voice of the public in the public schools in Muncie and Gary because district leaders over several years overspent their budget and fell into debt.

It also proposes to set up an assessment of the financial health of all public school districts, setting up a dashboard of financial indicators for all school corporations.

Concern #1: For the first time, a public school district could be governed by school board members who do not live in the school district.

HB 1315 as it passed the House on a party line vote says the Muncie city council and the Muncie mayor can each nominate a school board member “who must reside within the boundaries of the Muncie school corporation district.”

The other five members will be nominated by the president of Ball State and are not required to be residents of the Muncie school corporation. Under this plan, school board members would be setting property tax levies when they don’t even live in the community. This would surely be the basis for a lawsuit regarding representation and cost the district significant money for legal defense which has not been budgeted.

This is unprecedented among current school boards and would be a major step in the deconstruction of local public schools in Indiana which began in 2011.

Ask Senators to return the public to the Muncie public schools by requiring that all seven members “reside within the boundaries of the Muncie school corporation district.”

Concern #2: For the first time, a public school district could ignore state law mandates to display the flag and to study the US Constitution and citizenship. Even private voucher schools are not allowed to ignore the laws on citizenship mandates!

HB 1315 turns Muncie’s fiscal crisis into a grand academic experiment “to provide all administrative and academic flexibility to implement innovative strategies”, in the words of the bill. It makes Muncie schools subject to only 17 laws which they must follow instead of the entire body of school law which every other school district must observe.

This would make the entire Muncie Community School district akin to an experimental charter school.

This flexibility goes too far. The bill actually removes the legal obligations in 20-30-5 for schools to display the flag, say the pledge of allegiance, study the U.S. Constitution, and provide non-partisan citizenship instruction at the time of each general election. No district should be waived from teaching students about citizenship in our democracy!

Ask Senators to have the Muncie Community Schools follow the same Indiana school laws that the General Assembly has told all other school districts to follow.

Concern #3: For the first time, a public school district in debt and financial distress could lose its public school board in favor of an “advisory committee”.

The Gary Public Schools are already under control of an emergency manager who has full control of all district decisions under legislation passed last year in 2017. The powers of the school board have been suspended until the emergency manager recommends to the Distressed Unit Appeal Board (DUAB) that the financial crisis has been repaired and that a return to local control is appropriate. This process could require several years.

Given that it already has no power, it is surprising that HB 1315 ends the institution of the school board in favor of a new entity called an “advisory committee” which “may not hold a meeting more than once every three (3) months.”

The institution of the school board has served Indiana well for over one hundred years. When financial mismanagement requires that an emergency manager take over to make budgetary corrections, the citizens of Indiana can understand and would assume that after corrective actions have been taken and financial stability has been restored, power to run the public schools would be returned to the local school board under new leadership.
  • To say residents should permanently lose their voice on a school board because of past financial mistakes is to say those residents have lost their right to democracy.
  • Self-rule through the participation of residents in a school board must not be curtailed forever.
Opponents of public education have long said that school boards should be dissolved and all schools should become charter schools.

Is this bill the camel’s nose under the tent for the proposition that we don’t need school boards which represent the community? Is this the first step to losing control of our public schools by community school boards?

Ask Senators to maintain the institution of the school board for all public school districts so that when financial distress and debt problems have been resolved by an emergency manager, local control can be returned to the local community through a school board, an institution that has stood the test of time.

Concern #4: For the first time, any public school district could be put on a watch list for financial mismanagement which could potentially be made public before detailed reviews have guaranteed the accuracy of the financial assessment. The confidentiality of preliminary data must be guaranteed.

Our generational question in Indiana is “Can the public have confidence in our public schools?” Any appearance on a “watch list” for financial instability can deeply shake public confidence in any school district, so any such designation must be treated with extreme caution and vetted for absolute accuracy.

Some have called this plan a “shame list” and point out the damage that could be done to public confidence if premature and inaccurate data is made public.

Ask Senators to amend the fiscal indicators section of HB 1315 to permit the Distressed Unit Appeal Board (DUAB) to consider “watch lists” in confidential executive sessions so that no district will prematurely get a black eye in the public’s mind until accuracy has been certified.

Take Action This Week

Send the Senators listed above one or all of these messages to protect our public schools:
  • Don’t let non-residents run public school districts.
  • Don’t let any public school district ignore the mandated curriculum for good citizenship.
  • Don’t eliminate the school board but rather return the voice of the community to the school board after corrective actions have been completed by an emergency manager.
  • Don’t permit preliminary discussions of watch lists in public meetings when they haven’t been vetted and certified.
If you are concerned with any of these four points, it is important that you communicate your concerns to members of the Senate Appropriations Committee listed above as soon as possible. Go to the Indiana General Assembly website for easy connections to the email of Senators on the committee.

Thank you for actively supporting public education in Indiana!


Best wishes,

Vic Smith

“Vic’s Statehouse Notes” and ICPE received one of three Excellence in Media Awards presented by Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, an organization of over 85,000 women educators in seventeen countries. The award was presented on July 30, 2014 during the Delta Kappa Gamma International Convention held in Indianapolis. Thank you Delta Kappa Gamma!

ICPE has worked since 2011 to promote public education in the Statehouse and oppose the privatization of schools. We need your membership to help support ICPE lobbying efforts. As of July 1st, the start of our new membership year, it is time for all ICPE members to renew their membership.

Our lobbyist Joel Hand is again representing ICPE in the new budget session which began on January 3, 2017. We need your memberships and your support to continue his work. We welcome additional members and additional donations. We need your help and the help of your colleagues who support public education! Please pass the word!

Go to www.icpe2011.com for membership and renewal information and for full information on ICPE efforts on behalf of public education. Thanks!

Some readers have asked about my background in Indiana public schools. Thanks for asking! Here is a brief bio:

I am a lifelong Hoosier and began teaching in 1969. I served as a social studies teacher, curriculum developer, state research and evaluation consultant, state social studies consultant, district social studies supervisor, assistant principal, principal, educational association staff member, and adjunct university professor. I worked for Garrett-Keyser-Butler Schools, the Indiana University Social Studies Development Center, the Indiana Department of Education, the Indianapolis Public Schools, IUPUI, and the Indiana Urban Schools Association, from which I retired as Associate Director in 2009. I hold three degrees: B.A. in Ed., Ball State University, 1969; M.S. in Ed., Indiana University, 1972; and Ed.D., Indiana University, 1977, along with a Teacher’s Life License and a Superintendent’s License, 1998. In 2013 I was honored to receive a Distinguished Alumni Award from the IU School of Education, and in 2014 I was honored to be named to the Teacher Education Hall of Fame by the Association for Teacher Education – Indiana.

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