As the Dec. 30 deadline to collect signatures for or against the $200 million bond to renovate 12 Indianapolis Public Schools draws near, supporters of the yellow petitions - the "for" side - made their case to the public last week. "America is the greatest nation in the history of the world, and one of the most important reasons for this is equal opportunity education. That's why I'm supporting the IPS bond issue," said Mayor Bart Peterson on a recent afternoon when he went door-to-door, encouraging property owners to sign the yellow petitions. "A child can overcome going to a substandard school ... But the odds are against them. We have many students in IPS who are from disadvantaged backgrounds, and to place one more barrier in front of them is just not right."
Peterson also addressed the criticism that right now is a bad time for the property-tax funded bond, with the recent property tax reassessment still fresh in people's minds.
"There is never a good time for a bond issue," he said. "There are always reasons not to pursue a bond. But you have to think about the reasons TO do it. When we see what's going on in our wealthier school districts, are we really willing to say that our children are less important?"
The number of people who can sign the petitions - both yellow and blue - are limited to individuals who own property in the IPS district. Renters aren't allowed to sign, nor does the property owner have to live in the district.
Greta Pennell, a longtime advocate for IPS, is one of the many organizers training volunteers to carry petitions.
"What's really problematic about the way the law's written is that it's really shortsighted," Pennell said. "At one level you can understand it: A bond issue is going to have an effect on your property taxes. But where it's shortsighted is, I don't know many landlords who say, 'My taxes went up, but your rent's going to stay the same.' So renters end up paying it nonetheless."
Pennell and other supporters of the bond point out that it's not very much at all - an average of $3.60 a month on a $150,000 home over the four-year course of the bond.
A new wrinkle was added to the mix when the Indiana Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of Bruce Jones, renter and parent of two IPS students, asking for an injunction allowing him to sign the petition.
"It's just insane that an absentee owner of a vacant lot on 16th can vote on this but the father of two IPS students can't," said ICLU Executive Director Fran Quigley.
However, the ICLU does not expect the case to have an effect on the entire process, especially this late in the game.
"We represent just Bruce Jones, not a class action," Quigley said. "We haven't asked that the petition remonstrance process be delayed or anything like that. It's obviously a concern of ours for anybody in that situation. So ideally this process will lead to the reform of this remonstrance. This is going to take a long time to get fully resolved, because we're challenging a state law."
Supporters of the bond say that their primary obstacle has been informing the public about the issue.
"The challenges I've run into have primarily been finding efficient ways to get the word out to people," Pennell said. "Because the normal ways to talk to parents have been blocked. A lot of people don't read The Indianapolis Star. They're reading the free weeklies, their neighborhood newsletters. The schools are forbidden from sending information about one side of the issue home with their kids."
The holidays and weather conditions are slowing down everyone's petition-drive efforts. "Most people, once they find out what it is, are more than willing to sign," Pennell said. "One woman said, 'I don't have children, and I'm just not interested.' And to me that's real sad. We're all in this together, and we have to think about what's good for all of us. People say, 'Education's really expensive,' but ignorance is even more expensive. Areas that have really strong public education have a little less crowding in their jails. And that's an issue here for us! Do we want to put more money into jails, or do we want to put it into our schools so [kids] don't end up in jail?"
For more information on the yellow petitions, check out www.isupportips.com.