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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Gov. Mitch ‘The Blade’ Daniels guts local school funding; may destroy city’s convention facilities

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After last year’s kindler, gentler “My Man Mitch” Daniels, comes the return of his alter ego “The Blade.” In a budget brutal in its impact, Gov. Daniels flashed his blade and eviscerated aid to nearly every Marion County school district.

Though he told Hoosiers that schools would average a two percent yearly funding increase, our city/county’s 11 school districts average increase in direct state aid would be 0.01 percent next year and decrease 0.2 percent in 2011. A net loss of some $1.6 million.

Governor “Blade’s” budget ax really whacked IPS which would see their direct state aid fall $16.2 million next year; then another $15.9 million in 2011.

Township school districts also got hacked by Gov. “Blade” with Lawrence Township losing $762,400, Pike $7,349 and Speedway $14,154 in direct state aid. Washington Township would see an increase of a measly $25,724 in direct aid.

The school funding formula supposedly is based on official enrollment counts and projections for the two biennium budget years. That favors districts like fast growing Hamilton Southeastern which saw its state aid rise 5.2 percent or $5 million.

And formula allowances are supposed to compensate for districts with many special education students and those living in poverty.

But to quote a country music classic, in Daniels’ budget, suburban districts got the gold mine, while urban districts, including some townships, got the shaft!

Perry Township schools’ grew 0.4 percent, but their state aid decreased 1.5 percent. Warren Township schools declined 0.9 percent but their state aid climbed 0.6 percent. The biggest puzzle was Franklin Township, whose enrollment was up 2.5 percent but funding climbed 4.0 percent or $2 million.

It’s true that Gov. “Blade” allegedly increased school budgets by utilizing federal stimulus money. But much of that cash, especially Title I and Special Education stimulus dollars, are restricted to one time only programs and activities.

If approved, Gov. “Blade’s” over reliance on stimulus funds while flat lining direct aid to our schools will lead to program and staff cuts (including teachers) in virtually every district in Indianapolis.

A concerned IPS sent out an e-mail blast condemning Gov. Daniels’ plan saying it would cost IPS nearly $50 million over two years. But IPS’ state aid cut is $32 million over two years.

In battling Gov. “Blade,” public school advocates must rely on accuracy and transparency in analyzing school funding. IPS needs to clarify their data. This fight is too important to rely on fuzzy math.

Gov. “Blade’s weed whacker school budget is part of his long term strategy to force radical change by starving urban school districts to death. Another part of his plan is moving dollars to charter schools.

Excepting IPS, Marion County’s 10 other public districts state aid net increase would be $6.4 million over two years. But the city/county’s charter schools would see their funding grow by $7.9 million.

(Who says charter schools don’t negatively impact other public schools?)

But school funding wasn’t Daniels’ only move.

In the most naked power grab seen in Indianapolis in decades, the governor concocted a plan to supposedly save millions operating Lucas Oil Stadium, Conseco Fieldhouse and the Convention Center; while requiring more cash from city/county taxpayers.

The plan would merge the Capitol Improvement Board’s (CIB) facilities with those run by the heretofore sleepy city/county agency called the Indianapolis/Marion County Building Authority. An agency that operates a disparate group of facilities ranging from the City-County Building, the Marion County Jail, the Juvenile Center, some maintenance garages and assorted vacant lots and decrepit abandoned houses.

But the most dangerous, despicable action was the governor asking a company called SMG to “audit” CIB facilities. Daniels cited SMG’s analysis which said that our facilities were run too expensively.

SMG compared Houston’s Reliant Stadium with Lucas Oil Stadium. And compared our Convention Center to ones in Denver, Atlantic City, Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio. What wasn’t revealed by Daniels, or a shell-shocked, humiliated Mayor Greg Ballard, was that the facilities Indy was compared to were all managed by SMG.

That’s a clear conflict of interest and a signal that perhaps the governor is angling for SMG to take over Indy’s sports/convention facilities.

SMG is a 32-year-old company that manages hundreds of convention centers, stadiums and other facilities in America and worldwide. SMG is jointly owned by Hyatt Hotels (which brings you non-union hotels here) and ARAMARK (which brings you lousy, expensive convention/arena food).

SMG manages scores of convention centers in mostly minor convention and destination markets. SMG only manages nine major stadiums, including Reliant Stadium and Houston’s Astrodome and Chicago’s Solider Field.

An African-American meeting/event planner who’s worked at our Convention Center and SMG centers described SMG management as “adequate” but without the “level of service” conventions and meeting planners have come to expect from Indianapolis.

“Since we don’t have climate and pizazz, Indianapolis has relied on the first class hands-on service provided by the professionals at Indy’s convention facilities and stadiums,” this hospitality professional said. “You don’t get that level of service and caring from SMG. If they come here, Indy’s convention business and reputation will suffer.”

For Gov. Daniels to let a potential manager of Indianapolis’ sports/convention facilities audit our facilities and only compare to those they manage is the height of arrogance, conflict of interest and chutzpah.

And worse, a spineless Mayor Ballard allowed it to happen as he presides over the possible decline of Indianapolis’ convention business and reputation.

What I’m Hearing

in the Streets

Some surprising frank words about creating more opportunities for renters. That came in my exclusive interview with HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, whose visit here last week was ignored by the mainstream media.

Secretary Donovan told me, “For too long in this country we’ve had a housing policy that was only about homeownership. Not about making sure that low and moderate income folks who might be renters need that first step on the ladder, so to speak.”

So in this recovery bill that President Obama put forward and signed,” Donovan said, “We’ve got a huge opportunity to put rental housing back on the map.”

Secretary Donovan said the Obama Administration will do that through stimulus tax credits and community development block grants and assistance to help the homeless.

Let’s hope Mayor Ballard and city officials, who have been really reluctant to develop strategies for increasing affordable rental housing, takes heed of Washington’s new priorities.

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

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