| The question before the
house regards the fairness and veracity of Les Shively’s criticism of
Evansville Vanderburgh School Superintendent Bart McCandless and his
top assistant, Robert Yeager. Shively, in off-the-cuff remarks on
his weekly television program said he thought they showed a “lack of
knowledge” about the school system.
The truth is, they know very well what they are doing. They have been very firmly ensconced in an insular fortress of administrative mediocrity which claims to act in the best interests of the over 22,000 enrolled students throughout the E-VSC system.
The truth is, all the top managers of this school system seem more concerned about maintaining their own exalted social and professional standing within the community, rather than elevating the academic performance of students in the classrooms throughout the system.
Showing an institutional preoccupation with sports, extra-curricular activities and out-of-town competitions, the E-VSC attempts to project the image of a progressive, forward-thinking school system well-prepared to tackle the academic challenges of the 21st century.
This false image frequently projected in the local news media, attempts to mask the reality of a spendthrift $200 million corporation that remains preoccupied with taxing, spending and borrowing virtually every single dime it can get its hands on.
At the same time, it routinely demonstrate a calloused disregard for the taxpayers of this community who pay their salaries and support the system financially.
Likewise, its members do not appreciate people looking over their shoulder. When members of the Vanderburgh County Taxpayers Association (VCTA) begin asking serious questions that they would rather avoid, the stone wall goes up and the public remains in the shadows.
So what have we been able to learn about the management style of the E-VSC? Here is a short list of the things we have been asking questions about:
* In fiscal year 2004, Vanderburgh county taxpayers paid for the school corporation to advertise five separate hearings for three different versions of the bus replacement schedule for the year. Now, in all honesty, why did we need to change our minds three separate times on the number of buses we needed for the next year? One possible answer could be, that it is legal for the school system
to transfer money out of the bus replacement account into the Rainy Day Fund at the end of the year.
* The school corporation could not apparently find the money to fully fund all day kindergarten in all the elementary schools, but they were able to find some $275,000 to purchase two luxury excursion buses to transport students and administrators out of
town for special events. They also spent an additional $70,000 for a global positioning system to be used in 40 corporate-owned buses in the fleet.
* In the fiscal 2006 budget, the school board was asked and compliantly approved a $1.2 million line item in the capital projects budget for a
proposed bond issue. The specific amount of the bond was never disclosed prior to the adoption of the budget.
The board subsequently approved floating the $18 million severance bond issue a few minutes after final adoption of the $193 million budget which raised the school levy on Vanderburgh County taxpayers some $8 million over the 2005 levy. The question is, how is the public
supposed to comment on a bond issue when we are never told how much money is actually at stake?
* For the past several years the corporation has had two outstanding contracts with the Energy Savings Group, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Vectren. The two multi-year contracts amounted to over $60 million. For all intents and purposes these are maintenance contracts designed to reduce energy consumption in school buildings. They were written in such a way that if the actual cost savings did not exceed the projected amount in lowered energy consumption, the difference would be rebated by the Energy Savings Group to the corporation. How much in costs savings have actually been realized? Your guess is as good as ours.
* Every year for the past several years the E-VSC management has availed itself of between $30 million to $35 million in tax anticipation
warrants issued by the Indiana Bond Bank against future tax receipts. Routinely, the school corporation budgets interest payments that far
exceed what the bond bank actually charges the corporation for the short term use of the money. The difference between the budgeted
and actual interest payments can amount to approximately $1 million dollars. What happens to the unspent funds that were previously budgeted?
This year, prior to the school board’s initial approval of the fiscal 2006 budget, the taxpayers association prepared a remonstrance petition of 47 specific questions pertaining to various aspects of the budget. In violation of state law, this petition was not answered prior to the adoption of the budget. Indeed, the vague answers to our questions were not prepared or mailed to our post office box until three days after the School Board adopted the budget. We have taken this matter up with the Department of Local Government Finance in Indianapolis.
At school board meetings and elsewhere, E-VSC officials routinely project a cavalier attitude of arrogance toward anyone who dares to question what they are doing.
Veteran members of the school board and their legal counsel can also be faulted for demonstrating similar attitudes. At one recent meeting, during what was described as a “public hearing” on the 2006 budget, a VCTA member was humiliated by the bellicose treatment of School.
Board President William Asbury, who refused to allow the individual to read her specific questions pertaining to year-to-date expenditures in various school budget line items.
Asbury also did not answer some of the questions the woman was allowed to ask.
Since these figures are never discussed when a proposed budget for the next year is being considered, it is impossible for the public to have any idea whether the new budget requests are actually justified.
Asbury promised the questions would be attached to the minutes of the board meeting.. As of this writing there is no attachment or insertion of the questions posted on the E-VSC web site.
While all of these criticisms mainly pertain to financial affairs – what about labor relations? School teachers recently taught for over a year without an approved contract and the administration’s shoddy treatment of the uncertified clerical workers in the schools drove them into the welcoming arms of Teamsters Local 215.
From the comments posted in the TALKBACK section of the web-based version of this newspaper, it is quite apparent that both the administration and many school board members remain rather oblivious to the feelings of the general public.
Beyond that, when one considers that only 48 per cent of the tenth graders enrolled in the E-VSC were capable of passing both
portions of the ISTEP exam, it speaks volumes about the ineptitude of the E-VSC management.
The dirty little secret is out.
Its not that the leadership of the E-VSC doesn’t know what it’s doing – they know what they are doing and consistently refrain from adequately informing the public. In this regard, parents, students and the taxpayers of Vanderburgh County are being taken to the cleaners on
the installment plan. The status quo is unacceptable. Until the local media, the power establishment of this community and voters begin to realize that “the emperors have no clothes” we will be forced to endure many more years of institutionalized mediocrity within our local school system.