Community Comment:

School study suggests big changes are needed in EVSC

Special to the Courier & Press
January 22, 2006


A conspicuous feature of what passes for thoughtful leadership in Evansville and Vanderburgh County is the tradition of hiring expensive, out-of-town consultants and planners to make recommendations about what our local elected officials are supposed to be doing in the way of crafting  public policy and spending the public’s money.


So it is that after several local attempts to conduct heavily moderated, exclusive discussions among members of the Community Education Council and Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel’s Education Roundtable, it was decided by a group of notables  from the power establishment of this community  to hire MGT of America out of  Talahassee, FL to come in and conduct an exhaustive, $180,000 efficiency study of the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corp.


The report, which would pass for a fairly good-sized doorstop were its recommendations not so serious, has yet to generate much public interest or commentary among local residents.  Observers are a bit puzzled at the muted reaction, which comes more as a disengaged whimper rather than a strong vote of endorsement for the recommendations.


It may be because most people simply do not have time nor the inclination to pore over a 650 page report.  It may be because many parents of  E-VSC students do not see the problems discussed in the report as they interact with teachers and school principals in the buildings their children attend.


But at a deeper level, it may also reflect the public cynicism and total lack of confidence that has evolved among many within this community, with respect to the local school board and the top management of the EVSC. 


Having only thoroughly read a few portions of the enormous study, here are some observations:


Creating a human resources position, developing an employee procedures manual and hiring a public relations specialist for the administration – in any $200 million operation these things are not rocket science.   The School Board should have attended to these issues years ago without the prodding of an outside consultant.


Redistricting -- This is a no-brainer.  Politically unpopular, yes; absolutely essential to improving the operational use and efficiency of the bricks and mortar in our midst, of course.


Closing the Stanley Hall, Henry Reis and the Walnut Street Warehouse buildings – a judgment call which again has a political dimension but is probably necessary.


Eliminating cross-district busing in the name of maintaining racial balance --  Again, politically unpopular among some, but probably not a bad idea in light of the escalating prices of motor fuels.


As for the recommendations pertaining to financial management – do I hear an echo somewhere? These are issues that many of us have been advocating for years but always before the complaints have gone unanswered.


If nothing else, the enormous list of recommendations made by MGT should demonstrate to both taxpayers and those who paid for the study that much work obviously needs to be done.  But they also raise some rather serious philosophical questions. 


For instance, why is it that businesses in our community are expected to behave according to a high standard of ethical principals and yet when it comes to our school system, a different standard of behavior is tolerated?


And at what point does the poor management and academic performance of our local school corporation become a serious impediment to economic development – or have they already? 


Suppose we implement most of the suggestions in the study and realize the modest cost savings that are predicted to result and student performance does not demonstrably improve?  Would this not pose an even bigger challenge for the community?


In listening to the suggestions made by MGT team leader Dr. Linda Recio, Senior Partner of MGT,  at the School Board meeting, I had the overriding impression that the current  EVSC administration leaders and some members of the School Board are simply not up to the task of implementing such a vast array of  changes. 


The findings of the MGT study underscores one thing above all others – replacing the existing leadership culture at the E-VSC is an issue whose time has come.