After a month-long race through ice, snow and the holidays to collect signatures over whether or not to institute a $200 million bond to improve Indianapolis Public Schools buildings, supporters of the yellow petitions in favor of the bond won a resounding victory last week. Nearly 7,000 signatures in favor of the bond were turned into the Auditor's Office, while opponents chose to concede the race. Deb Kunce, one of the organizers of the I Support IPS campaign that gathered the yellow petition signatures, said that the effort was a vote of confidence for IPS.
"I think the supporters of IPS have shown what they want. I think it's going to bode well for IPS," Kunce said. "People are out there. They really support IPS. They know that good schools are tied to a great city."
Carl Moldthan, executive director of Taxpayers for Accountability in Government and one of the leaders of the opposition to the bond, said his group collected about 1,000 signatures but elected not to turn them in.
"We knew it was a lost cause," Moldthan said. "We could see the handwriting on the wall. The weather and holidays had a lot to do with it. From our side of it, we didn't have a central location where people could go and pick up a petition. I was a one-man show basically."
Moldthan said that he worries escalating property taxes, including those funding this bond, will have a serious long-term effect on the city.
"I think it's going to have a very negative effect, not on the people, but on the city of Indianapolis," Moldthan said. "Anybody can jump in a car and get a house outside the county and not pay the taxes, but still come in and work in the city."
This $200 million bond is the second phase of a 10-year, $832 million plan established by the IPS board of commissioners in 2001, which will affect all 79 IPS schools. This particular phase concentrates on 12 schools. Once the auditor validates the signatures, selection of architects will begin over the course of the next year, and ground will be broken on the improvement projects in 2006. That same year, the property tax increases to fund the bond will be eased in over a period of several years.
"The 10-year plan is to improve all 79 schools, primarily to add air conditioning, ADA improvements, lighting, security," Kunce said. "IPS schools need to last a long, long time and the infrastructure is important to that. We need to be equitable with the township schools."
Kunce said she and other members of the I Support IPS campaign got a preview of some of the improvements when they visited Riverside Elementary School, one of the newest IPS buildings.
"Today was their first day at the school," Kunce said. "They were just in awe of the brand new school that they have, and they'll be very happy in the spring when their air conditioning is turned on."
The initiative also received a great deal of support from the Mayor's Office.
"I think it was gratifying that there were so many people throughout the district that took the time to carry the petitions and took the time to sign them," said Jane Henegar, deputy mayor for public policy. "I think it speaks well for the district and their commitment to education. [The petition drive] showed the support of people, both parents and property holders, for IPS in general. It was such a clear decisive vote of confidence. IPS has many challenges. Capital improvements is just one. And it's important that people continue to support IPS through this."
And in the meantime, Moldthan said his group will continue in their watchdog role.
"Our purpose was that the education sucks in Indianapolis, especially in IPS, and something needs to be done about that," Moldthan said. "The figures they've come up with as far as the grades kids come up with is out-and-out lies. So we're still going after them. The next bond issue that comes up, if they haven't corrected the problems, we'll go after them again, and this time we'll do it. We're not leaving, that's all I've got to say."