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July 21, 2010

Resident concerned over 'streamlining' of public meetings when the community is absent

This week’s WCCS board meeting illustrated what happens when the public, over time, becomes disengaged in the political/governing process.
If the public, over time, doesn’t show up for meetings the governing body, over time, may streamline its business process. That seemed to be the case at this meeting, announced as a session where the board would make decisions on financing the new Eagle Tech Academy.
One person, who happens to be a candidate for a school board seat, addressed several points he felt constituted a persuasive case against advancing now with Eagle Tech.
It apparently wouldn’t have mattered how many people spoke against the plan. As soon as the public comment ended there was a motion to proceed with financing options for remodeling the Marshall Community Building. It passed 6-2.
Two persons who happen to be candidates for re-election to the board later addressed matters they felt were relevant – one linking project support to his love of country. The other summarized three points of the board majority’s position: 1. Eagle Tech makes sense, 2. the location is set, 3. the next logical step is remodeling.
So, the decision came (as promised ahead of time) without board discussion of public dissent. And that felt like a slap in the face to some attendees who saw the meeting as their first opportunity to know what was happening with the project.
Maybe a more vigilant public would have found an opportunity earlier, but Eagle Tech Academy’s scope was not widely known.
Or maybe the public shouldn’t even have bothered. They were told by one speaker supporting Eagle Tech that the quality of life in Whitley County has been slipping since 1973 because of the permanent loss of high-paying manufacturing jobs in the area. The turn-around, she said, must start with education, and Eagle Tech.
If that’s where it starts, then one logically wonders if that implies our local education system has just floundered all this time?
Now, she said, we just need to trust the school board to do the right thing. Yet, this school board clearly doesn’t trust the tax-paying public to do the right thing or it wouldn’t have hired an Indianapolis marketing professional to sell us on the concept.
New Tech may be great, who really knows? “A new way of learning” and “real life experience” are oft-used descriptions coming from the New Tech system franchisee. After three years’ experience at Rochester’s Zebra Tech, there are
folks (including educators) with both points of view. Some question if it’s more than a fad like a Block Four concept that was touted in much the same way but lasted only a few years in some school systems.
One WCCS board member, not campaigning for re-election, asked the board’s financial consultant why Eagle Tech expenditures had been split into chunks of less than the $2 million level that by law offers the possibility of a remonstrance. The answer took a winding course that only illustrated some school districts have done so, others have not.
So, it’s not so easy to trust the school board, when: A.) at least $3.6 million is at stake for construction at the Marshall building. B.) no mention is made of a possible $1 million to $1.5 million for technology (the amount required at
Rochester) and C.) no indication of how much will be required for new furnishings.
We’d like to trust the school board. But we’d like them to have enough trust in the district’s taxpayers to be open and clear from the start about what they have planned. We’d like them to tell us exactly what they’re hoping to accomplish, and how, with Eagle Tech’s “21st Century Skills” instead of speaking in vague generalities that it’s better than “old school.”.
We, too, love our country. We care about education of our youth. But this is a time when our national debt has ballooned to historic levels even some of its architects acknowledge are unsustainable … cannot be repaid. It is a time when the value of the dollar is very uncertain, as are global economies.
Many of us would really trust a board that said, “For now, we need to look at what we can do to apply some new concepts in the old building.” Instead, we’re told that won’t work and the building is overcrowded, even though a schoolday walk of the halls reveals empty computer labs and classrooms.
Right now, my trust is in fiscal restraint. It’s the way a lot of us are living today.
And that, also, can be “real life experience” for our youth.

Roger Metzger
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July 19, 2010

State Auditor's “Closing of the Books” More Spin than Fact

The Auditor of State should be an independent watchdog for Hoosier taxpayers, not a source of partisan spin used to further the agenda of one political party.  On Friday, the current Auditor of State “closed the books” on the State’s fiscal year.  Rather than reporting a quantitative analysis of the State’s fiscal condition, we received a highly nuanced report that did little more than serve as tenets supporting the spending policies of the current administration.  One would have thought that Auditor of State Tim Berry was an employee of the Governor rather than an independent voice for Hoosier taxpayers.
In his press conference Friday, Auditor of State Tim Berry led Hoosiers to believe that Indiana continues to be fiscally sound compared to other State Governments.  The facts tell a different story:
    *Indiana has spent nearly half of its reserves, a decision that will essentially postpone additional cuts to a more politically sensitive time period.  Without the use of reserves, Indiana would have been operating under deficit spending;
    *No strategic plan exists to respond to the continual decline of corporate and personal income tax streams, which left alone, will force more draconian cuts similar to those posed on K-12 education in the latest round of spending cuts, and;
    *The recent cuts to the state budget have been made with very little legislative oversight.  Efforts to understand specific cuts and the procedures for making them have been met with zero transparency.
While intelligent minds can disagree on spending priorities in the time of financial crisis, the role of the State Auditor must remain constantly analytical.  I believe the Auditor’s office should be a source of independently reviewed financial data and analysis, not just another source of political spin.  In addition to providing more proactive and transparent information regarding the State’s finances, I will also implement innovative business practices to find additional tax savings for Hoosiers.  While it won’t bridge the entire budget deficit (yes, that is what we have), it will help legislators fund priorities that benefit our struggling economy – job creation, economic stimulus, and an investment in future generations of Hoosiers.  This is the least we should expect from Indiana’s Chief Financial Officer.

Sam Locke
Democratic Candidate for State Auditor

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