It was as if Indianapolis had two enormous packages under
the tree on Christmas morning. Although neither one sported much in the way of
bells and whistles, they both had a certain hum about them, the potential to
really change the way people live around here.
In the span of a single week, proposals were unveiled
This is like being served a multi-course meal with a
big slice of cheesecake for dessert when you've been living on nuts and
berries. A shock to the system is a distinct possibility.
The new, revised transit plan is good news not because
it's visionary or comprehensive — but because it might actually have a
chance of getting done. Rather than attempt to encompass all the counties in
the Indianapolis metropolitan area, the plan focuses admirably on just two:
Marion and Hamilton. These are the counties where the need for transit is the
most acute, which means they are also the places where the benefits will be
Reducing the number of counties also reduces the cost
of the project, as well as the time necessary to make it a reality. A previous
eight-county plan would have taken 25 years and cost $2.4 billion. The new,
streamlined version can be accomplished in 10 years for a $1 billion less.
Most important, the new plan emphasizes bus transit,
promising to double the size of IndyGo's
fleet. Relying on buses makes sense. Consider how long it's taken to extend the
Buses are cheaper and, perhaps most important, can be up and running quickly.
Since the new transit plan will add about $10 a month to everyone's income tax,
providing a service that people can use as soon as possible will be vital.
There are questions. Doubling the buses may seem like
a lot, but is it really enough? Also, has sufficient thought gone into building
not just shelters, but bus stations that can serve as economic engines in
neighborhoods needing a boost? What about streets? Does the city have a plan
for re-routing traffic to make bus transit as efficient as possible and provide
a disincentive for people to use cars? And finally, what about a referendum?
Assuming the state legislature even lets us have a vote on transit, what will
be done to make sure the proposal has a maximum chance of passing?
This is heady stuff. A new, improved transit system
could really change the way we experience Indianapolis. But an even greater
impact could be gained by getting our act together when it comes to public
That's where The Mind Trust
Mind Trust, the nonprofit organization charged with improving public
education in the city, comes in. The organization's report, paid for in large
part by the Indiana Department of Education
Department of Educationand prepared by a North Carolina consulting group,
calls for four major changes to the way public schools are managed in this city.
The plan would shift responsibilities and funding
priorities in order to make free pre-school available to all 4-year-olds. It
would replace the elected school board with a five-member board appointed by
the mayor and City-County Council
Council. The IPS Central Office would be gutted, reduced from 512 positions
to 65; its $53.3 million budget would be cut to $10 million, with the
difference redistributed to schools. Individual schools would have greater
autonomy to develop programs.
While these ideas may, at first blush, appear radical,
the longer you look at them the more they seem an extension of momentum already
underway. As I have recently argued, IPS is no longer a system, but is, in
fact, an archipelago of magnets and other themed buildings. The Mind Trust plan
carries this movement to its logical conclusion, with schools trumping
administrative hierarchy. Rather than giving parents a choice about where to
send their kids, it will require parents to select an educational destination.
Whether such a scheme can work with the administrative
skeleton crew The Mind Trust envisions is debatable. What seems beyond question
though, is the increasing obsolescence of the current IPS administration.
Someday Superintendent Eugene White is going to step down. Who will replace him
and, more to the point, what will they be asked to do? It's easy to imagine a
job description calling on the new super to implement just the sorts of restructuring
The Mind Trust calls for.
With one exception. The state legislature
legislaturewill have to allow our schools to be run through the mayor's
office. While mayoral control of schools is not a silver bullet — the
track record in other cities is murky — it does create a level of
accountability that's lacking currently. Voters know who the mayor is; most of
us are clueless about who serves on the school board. This is democracy's dark
side, where uninformed voters elect people they know virtually nothing about.
Mayoral control isn't perfect, but it's hard to say it would be worse than what
Talk about a holiday feast ... it's a lucky thing we've
got all of 2012 to digest it.
Happy New Year!