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Bloomington Herald-Times

June 29, 2010

MCCSC referendum going up against state's 42-60% success record
Board looking at state's mixed results going into tonight's vote on referendum
By Andy Graham
June 29, 2010, last update: 6/29 @ 1:09 am

There is no such thing as a sure thing when it comes to school funding referenda.

A study by Indiana University's Center for Evaluation and Education Policy released Monday notes only 42 percent of all such referenda conducted in Indiana over the past three years have passed, though that figure improves to 60 percent for referenda confined to general fund needs rather than construction projects.

The Monroe County Community School Corp. referendum on the Nov. 2 ballot will only concern general fund needs, but those study numbers are still sobering as the MCCSC board convenes for a special meeting at 6 tonight. It is expected to vote on both the size and length of the pending referendum request.

Those details could well help determine the local referendum's eventual fate.

"A 42 percent overall passage rate is not promising, and it certainly isn't a safe bet a referendum would pass in any given community," Terry Spradlin, CEEP's assistant director for education policy who co-authored the study, said Monday afternoon. "It's going to be a lot of hard work, including a lot of good communication involving earnest and straightforward sharing of information.

"If taxpayers are convinced that local schools have a real need -- that the funding is essential to maintain programs, to keep class sizes serviceable, to maintain the teaching work force -- then the study indicated they're more likely to support it."

The MCCSC cut $5.8 million from its budget this winter, resulting in personnel and programming cuts, including salary freezes and the closing of Aurora Alternative High School. Local surveying conducted earlier this month by Springsted consultants indicated significant pluralities of voters in MCCSC district inclined to favor a referendum, but the CEEP study supplies some contrasting and cautionary data.

Spradlin said there was little doubt that the state's $298 million cut to K-12 general funds statewide announced last December, with districts having already created their budgets beforehand, had created real problems.

"If public has skepticism that the funds are for 'wants, not needs,' and if they think the district hasn't shown good financial stewardship to take necessary steps -- including closing schools, pay freezes or cuts, or whatever -- they might not be willing to vote for (a referendum)," Spradlin said. "But most districts are indeed cutting budgets and laying off personnel. Many have already closed schools.

"It's a tough time with the loss of state revenues, no question about it, and with the possibility of additional cuts forthcoming if state revenues continue to come in below forecasts."

The CEEP study showed differing fortunes for recent general fund referenda in rural as opposed to suburban or urban districts.

Referenda addressing general fund needs in 2010 passed in Carmel, Noblesville, West Lafayette, Washington Township (Indianapolis North Central) and Speedway. They failed in the smaller and more rural districts of Western Boone, Eastern Hancock, Mt. Vernon (Posey) and Clarksville.

Four of six general fund referenda that passed in 2009 included smaller or rural districts such as Southern Wells, Southwest Allen County and Beech Grove, but 13 of 15 construction-related referenda on the ballot that year, when the recession was really taking hold, failed.

Four of the five construction referendums on 2008 ballots passed, by contrast, with the only rejection coming in Monroe County's Richland-Bean Blossom school district. Voters there rejected a $35 million capital projects request, but R-BB has subsequently moved forward with a $20 million renovation project evenly split between Edgewood High School and Edgewood Junior High School.

The MCCSC board could defer voting on its referendum details tonight, but not for long. The Monroe County Council, which must approve specific ballot language for the proposal, conducts its July meeting on the 13th, and state law requires the process to be finalized by Aug. 1 for the November ballot.

MCCSC board President Jeannine Butler said Monday afternoon she was "still not certain" what all the final details up for a vote tonight would be. Spradlin noted that possible future state funding cuts, perhaps as early as November, are part of the context school officials have to consider.

"The even bigger problem could be the next two years, perhaps, when the federal stimulus dollars run out," he said. "There was over $1 billion in federal stimulus for Indiana and that will be gone.

"It's really a new day in terms of how school districts are funded and how they operate, trying to face uncertainty in funding levels. A referendum is an option for local voters to at least temporarily address that, but it will always involve a lot of time and effort expended to make the case to the voters."

Guest Column
Why IU employees are wearing black on July 1, 2010
June 29, 2010, last update: 6/28 @ 7:02 pm

This guest column is by Bryce Smedley, president of CWA Local 4730 at Indiana University.

Times are tough for working families and Indiana University families are no exception.

As July 1, 2010, rolls around, the new IU fiscal year begins.

While IU employees are feeling the brunt of funding shortfalls, pay freezes, hiring freezes, layoffs and increased health care costs, our university seems to be thriving with higher enrollments and a whirlwind of new building projects.

But why complain?

We should be happy we have jobs and accept that this is not the time to ask for raises given the terrible economy, right?

Sadly, I hear this reasoning all the time.

Let me be clear, I am glad to have a job; in fact, many of my colleagues at IU have more than one job to be thankful for because today, a single university paycheck cannot cover all their bills.

For many employees at IU, the standard of living is plummeting while IU continues to grow.

On campus, employees pay to drive to work, so this year IU will raise parking costs.

Health care will go up: 2011 costs will rise from $20 to $160 per month and they will jump even higher in 2012 and 2013.

At home, IU employees' water bills are showing a 50-percent rise, along with other utilities.

Despite increasing costs of living, the university is turning on its lowest income earners like support staff and service maintenance staff by instituting pay freezes and salaries that are the minimum allowable for many.

Service maintenance employees have had their wages frozen until the Bloomington market "catches up."

This is IU racing to the bottom rather than leading the whole community to bring wages and the standard of living up to reasonable levels.

Indiana University employees will wear black July 1 for the folks at Cyclotron who lost their jobs, for the men and women at IU Printing Services who lost their jobs.

We will wear black for the countless employees who have worked for years and have seen barely any raises and those whose raises amount to nickels and dimes.

We will wear black because for two years we have seen no raises at all.

We will wear black for the employees who are faced with wage compression because there is no money to compensate folks fairly for their hard work and loyalty to the university.

We will wear black for IU employees who cannot afford to pay their health care premium because benefits at IU don't put food on the table and they are forced to make a choice.

We will wear black for the support staff and service maintenance staff who are forced to do the work for two or three people because the university is not replacing staff members who leave.

We will wear black for the hourly employees who are hired by the university to save money on benefits such as health care.

We will wear black for many reasons on July 1; mostly, we will wear black because our governor, trustees and our administration have become unaware and unconcerned about IU employees and the needs of our families.

Education is the great American equalizer.

The university's treatment and compensation of the staff illustrates its low opinion of the American worker and our community.

The university's treatment of its staff members, who have sacrificed again and again for the university, is ironic: the workers who facilitate the university's ability to make money are the ones who earn the least.

Now where is the equity in that?

Our opinion
College Go! a start

Depending on who you talk to, College Go! week last fall was a big mess or a huge boost in getting a lot of Indiana high schoolers who wouldn't even have thought of college to seriously consider it.

The program called on the state's colleges and universities to waive application fees for seniors for a week, and high schools across the state encouraged all students -- regardless of their plans or how well they'd meet the academic standards of the various colleges -- to apply to as many as possible during that time.

This was the first year of the program and certain unintended consequences created headaches, lost revenue and wasted staff time for many admissions offices, including IU at Bloomington. A flood of applications from students, many of whom clearly were not going to meet admission standards, cost money and staff time, and the program was unfair to the many students who'd already applied and paid the standard application fee, which for IU is $55.

At the same time, some high school counselors say, the effort made a real difference in the way many of their charges saw their futures unfolding. And while they might not have met Purdue's or IU's admission requirements, they perhaps for the first time saw continuing education as a viable option -- a necessary light switched on in their heads.

That's terrific. Perhaps it's too late for those seniors to make the grade at IU as freshmen. But that light may guide them to a junior college or another institution that can start them down the road. Perhaps in a couple of years, it will guide them to one of Indiana's flagship campuses.

The state doesn't plan on ending the program. But there will be revisions. Application fee waivers won't be required (actually, the waiver was only "strongly encouraged") of colleges, for one thing. That's good, says IU spokesman Larry MacIntyre, who points out that IU was out about $300,000 in lost fees as a result of the program. With state institutions already coping with state-mandated budget cuts, this behind-the-scenes reduction in revenue was ill-timed.

On the other hand, Indiana State University is hunting for students and likely will welcome all the applicants it can get.

To be effective, the program must start earlier. After all, it's almost impossible to raise an anemic grade point average in a single year in a meaningful way. The message has to reach freshmen and sophomores, too.

But this is a start. And to go anywhere, you have to first start somewhere.