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Saturday, December 2, 2023

Expo should drop out of concert biz Indy’s schools need detailed dropout data

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In the early 1980s, a group of major Indianapolis companies, institutions and organizations gathered at the old Stouffer’s Hotel on North Meridian Street at the behest of the late Tom Binford. The Indianapolis white civic leader, who bridged the racial divide in so many ways during his brilliant career of community leadership, called the meeting to deal with a serious community problem — the future of Indiana Black Expo.

The meeting was due to Indiana Black Expo falling into a precariously perilous economic crisis because of Expo’s promotion and sponsoring of a concert.

At the meeting, Binford and Expo officials appealed to their sponsors and major Indianapolis businesses for help and forgiveness of some obligations and debts.

Binford’s appeal worked and led to a stable financial situation and a major reorganization of Black Expo, which included the introduction of paid staff and a coherent strategic plan.

It also led to a firm policy of Indiana Black Expo’s Board that the organization would not have financial responsibility or directly promote concerts in the future.

Ordinary folks think promoting concerts is a slam-dunk way of making money. It isn’t. Concert profit margins are paper-thin and mercurial.

The cost of the venue, the artists, sound and lighting equipment, advertising and other ancillary expenses means many times 80 percent to 90 percent of all concert seats must be sold before a penny of profit is realized.

Black Expo decided years ago to get out of the concert business to maintain its financial stability. Expo’s board knew not to bet their future on a concert’s uncertain performance.

Outside promoters became responsible for Expo’s concerts, including advertising and production costs. This year Expo handled that. Expo spent much of their precious advertising resources promoting a concert that generated scant revenues while minimizing promotion of the main Summer Celebration, which generates far more to the organization.

This year’s Keyshia Cole concert fiasco was risky from the start. The show’s small venue and high costs meant it’d have to virtually sell out just to generate a miniscule profit.

In past weeks, I’ve heard pernicious whispers about Expo’s financial health. I’ve dismissed those whispers, even though it doesn’t help Expo’s credibility that they’ve yet to release a 2007 Annual Report or 2007 Financial Statement. Something they must do soon under state, Federal and IRS non-profit organization rules.

Indiana Black Expo must return to building their revenue by the basics of building and rebuilding trust with current and past Expo sponsors and building relationships with new sponsors. Expo must create events and attractions people want to see. Expo must make Summer Celebration family-friendly, not just an event perceived as for teens only.

Concert entertainment should remain a major part of Black Expo. But only if the risks are borne by others, allowing Expo to protect its revenue to fund its programs benefiting Indiana Black youth and Black families.

I don’t want to attend another meeting convened by a 21st century Tom Binford to save Black Expo. The policy was good then and it’s good now. Indiana Black Expo needs to stay out of the concert promotion business — for good.

What I’m hearing in the street

For the second time in two years, the Massachusetts-based Schott Foundation declared the Indianapolis Public Schools has the worst graduation rate for Black males of any major urban school district in America. In a report, Given Half A Chance, released last Friday, Schott said just 19 percent of Black males in IPS’ class of 2006 graduated. Paradoxically, the white male graduation rate in the class of 2006 was an equally low 19 percent. The report said in IPS’ class of 2005, just 22 percent of Black and white males graduated.

Two years ago a Schott report said 21 percent of Black and 22 percent of white males in IPS graduated.

IPS officials disagree with Schott’s conclusions, citing Indiana’s new graduation rate calculations, which show that 53.2 percent of Blacks in IPS’ class of 2006 graduated. However, state graduation rate data doesn’t give the public easy access to data on Black graduation rates by gender.

And that’s the problem with trying to analyze and evaluate graduation rates — the lack of detailed data available to the public and the media.

Interviewed Monday on our WTLC-AM (1310) “Afternoons with Amos,” Schott Foundation President/CEO Dr. John Jackson said their data came from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which is part of the U.S. Department of Education. I searched NCES’s Web site, but couldn’t find the data.

Indiana’s Department of Education Web site provides graduation rate data by race for every school district in Indiana, but doesn’t break the data down by race and gender.

The state’s formula, which tracks every student’s performance, helps, especially in a district like IPS, where between 12 percent and 15 percent of students transfer out each year. Schott’s calculations assume that if 1,000 students are freshmen and 200 graduate four years later, the graduation rate is 20 percent. But Schott’s math doesn’t take into effect students moving to other districts and enrollment declines.

Schott’s research also doesn’t include Indiana’s tracking of high school students discovered. Statewide, 58.5 percent of Blacks in the class of 2006 graduated on time. Another 15.8 percent were still enrolled in school, while just 19.8 percent dropped out before finishing four years.

But the state didn’t release comparable data for individual school districts in 2006 or 2007 for Blacks.

The Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Greg Ballard, the Indianapolis Star editorial writers and even IPS officials are talking loud about plans to aggressively increase graduation rates. But I question how they can make coherent plans when there’s no hard data or intelligent analysis of just how many are graduating and aren’t graduating from Indianapolis’ public, private and charter high schools.

Reports like Schott’s frightens community leaders, but is based on speciously scanty data doesn’t help. Dr. Jackson declined my request to share the specific data they used. He also flatly refused to acknowledge the unfairness of comparing IPS, a school district comprising part of a city/county, with urban districts comprising entire cities and counties.

I’m asking the state, IPS and Schott for specific data on Black graduates in Indianapolis. I’ll let you know when, and if, I get concrete answers.

Finally, happy 25th birthdays to a quiet Indianapolis landmark. The Gaither Quintuplets, the first Black quints ever born. To them and their parents, all the best.

See ‘ya next week.

Amos Brown’s opinions are not necessarily those of the Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper. You can contact him at (317) 221-0915 or by e-mail at ACBROWN@AOL.COM.

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