Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Ideas to Help Improve Taxpayer Investment in Education Building Projects - A letter to Gov. Daniels

In December of 2003, the administration of the South Dearborn Community School Corporation presented a building plan to our community that involved converting South Dearborn Middle School (the newest building in our corporation) into a building for Aurora Elementary children, building a new grade seven and eight Junior High, and making major renovations and additions to our High School.

The administration had previously presented this plan to the faculty and staff of Aurora Elementary School. The staff had major problems with this plan. One teacher sent home a copy of the enclosed question sheet in my daughter’s book bag. A middle school teacher also had concerns with the plan and spoke with me about it. At least one of these teachers was told not to speak against this project. Middle School teachers were asked to speak in favor of the project at the 1028 hearing. (My objection to the project is that Aurora Elementary School will be twice the size of other corporation elementary schools and too large to meet the social emotional needs of Aurora’s students. The school will serve 650 to 700 students.)

I wrote an editorial and also testified against the project at the 1028 hearing. I did more research on the project and continued to lobby against it. I also ran for school board and paid for an anti-building project radio ad. I also wrote and spoke against the project.

Additionally, I contacted the Department of Education and the Department of Local Government Finance asking what legal means I had to stop the project. They failed to tell me about the remonstrance process. See enclosed email message. I did testify against the project and presented a petition against the project at the tax board hearing in July. Please see enclosed petition. The project was approved by the DLGF.

After being a regular volunteer in the music programs at SDMS for four years, Tom Book, South Dearborn’s Superintendent banned me from volunteer service at SDMS. He told me, “We’re in the middle of this building project. You’re against it. I think it would be best if you weren’t in the building.”

I took this violation of my free speech and freedom of the press to our local school board, my federal legislators, my state legislators, the DOE, the DLGF, the US DOE, and the ICLU. The only real help I received was from the ICLU. They determined I have a First Amendment Case, but they can’t help me. Enclosed you will find a copy of that letter.

I have a few suggestions to improve the process by which school-building projects are approved, save taxpayer money, and generally improve the quality of education in Indiana schools.

1. Expand the function of the INDIANA CIVIL RIGHTS COMMISSION to include enforcing the rights of parents, teachers, students and other community members to the rights guaranteed in the Indiana Bill of Rights. Section 9. Freedom of thought and speech Section 9. “No law shall be passed, restraining the free interchange of thought and opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write, or print, freely, on any subject whatever: but for the abuse of that right, every person shall be responsible.” And The Constitution of the United States, Amendment 1-Religion, speech, assembly, and politics.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Currently these problems can be addressed in the courts, but shouldn’t the executive branch of state government enforce the constitution. The fact is, the courts are not easily accessible to many citizens.

2. Just as school corporations are required to fully involve a committee of teachers and parents in the adoption of textbooks, this should also happen with facility decisions. In Dearborn County, an architect firm, Schmitt and Associates, is making far too many facility decisions. In the case of Aurora Elementary, teachers were presented the project and had no say in the initial decision. Their input into the project is minimal.

3. Require by law the approval of local school building projects by County Planning and Zoning Officials. This should assure building plans fit the anticipated needs of the community.

4. Make Section 12 of the Indiana State Board of Education School Facility Guidelines (found at a requirement by law and give the Indiana State Board of Education the authority and responsibility to approve or deny local school building plans, before the project is presented to the DLGF for tax approval.

5. Indiana’s constitution attempts to protect tax payers with the following: Section 1. Debt limitation

Section 1. No political or municipal corporation in this State shall ever become indebted, in any manner or for any purpose, to an amount, in the aggregate, exceeding two per centum on the value of the taxable property within such corporation, to be ascertained by the last assessment for State and county taxes, previous to the incurring of such indebtedness; and all bonds or obligations, in excess of such amount, given by such corporations, shall be void: Provided, That in time of war, foreign invasion, or other great public calamity, on petition of a majority of the property owners in number and value, within the limits of such corporation, the public authorities in their discretion, may incur obligation necessary for the public protection and defense to such amount as may be requested in such petition. (South Dearborn’s Debt far exceeds this limitation.)

This section of the constitution has been circumvented with the lease rental agreement...but any obligation requiring an increase in the debt service tax rate is really a debt.

If the state wishes to keep the lease rental loophole, please find a way to protect the tax payer. If the project will bring debt to more than 5% of assessed valuation require the project come before the voters for their approval.

In the case where the debt is less than 5% of valuation, require administration to inform the public of their right to file a remonstrance at the 1028 hearing.

6. When school corporations engage in major building projects, require them by law to provide enough general elementary classrooms to keep class student size at or below 15 without teaching assistants and at or below 20 with teaching assistants.

7. When school corporations engage in major elementary building projects, require them by law to equalize the size of corporation elementary schools and bring them under 400 students. The preferable grade configuration of these schools should be PK or K - grade 4 or 5.

8. When school corporations engage in major middle grade construction these schools should serve at least three grades. The preferable grade configuration of these schools is 5-8 or 6-8. These schools should not exceed 800 students...300-400 students is preferable.

I do not know if anyone can do anything to require South Dearborn to adopt a better building project, but I hope you might. Also enclosed you will find a list of problems with the project.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Karen Loveland

CC: House Education Committee

Senate Education Committee

Indiana State Board of Education

Indiana Civil Rights Commission

Governor Mitch Daniels

No comments: