Our kids must win this raceDavid Hoppe

Hoosiers love sports. Whether it's Peyton Manning throwing touchdown passes or the Pacers throwing punches, we just can't get enough. The stakes in this race between the blue petitions and the yellow petitions are high. If more people in the IPS district sign the blue sheets than the yellow ones, the kids attending public schools in Indianapolis will take a heavy hit. Their buildings will continue to degrade and the costs of ever bringing these facilities into the 21st century will increase.

We've got sports on the brain to such a degree we turn things into sports that were never meant to be sports. Like, for example, the education of our kids.

Here in Indianapolis we've turned the education of our kids into a race. On Dec. 3, the starting gun goes, "Bang!" and from that moment through Dec. 30 there will be a mad dash to see who gets the most signatures between two competing petitions. One petition is yellow and one petition is blue. In true Hoosier style, the color with the most signatures at the end of the month wins.

The trouble with this model is that, depending on the outcome, kids in Indianapolis who attend Indianapolis Public Schools could lose.

People who sign that blue petition will be saying they don't want to pay the taxes necessary to complete the next phase of renovations to fix up IPS schools. It's well known that these schools are in sorry shape compared to their suburban counterparts. Not only are many of the buildings in need of repair, they also require such basics as air conditioning and the wiring necessary to connect kids' computers to the Internet. The cost of these renovations comes to $200 million, which will be added on to the property taxes of people living in the IPS district.

It should come as no surprise that a lot of people in these parts have had it up to here with property taxes. Carl Moldthan, the anti-tax activist, is the man behind those blue petitions. Ironically, since Moldthan is neither a property owner nor a business owner in the IPS district he is forbidden by law to either sign or carry the petitions he is putting on the street.

On the other side of this face-off are people carrying yellow petitions. If you sign a yellow petition, you will be lending your support to the kids who go to public schools in Indianapolis. You will be saying that the renovations should go forward and that while you agree that a property tax increase is a pain in the neck, it's worth it in this case.

Think of it as an investment.

"This will increase your property value," says Maureen Jayne, a longtime public schools advocate who is one of the leaders of the yellow petition drive. "A good school in your neighborhood is a good investment for your property value. If you keep letting that school decline and never upgrade it, your property value goes down."

People in Indianapolis like talking about how important it is for our city to be able to "compete" with other cities for new businesses. We complain about how so many of the best and brightest among us leave Indianapolis for other places. Other places, for instance, where education is not just considered a nice thing if you can afford it, but a necessary part of what makes a community livable. Ask someone who's moved to the suburbs lately what pushed them. If they have kids, chances are they will give you a one-word answer: "Schools."

If Indianapolis wants to be inhabited by anybody besides the single, the gray and the poor, we are going to have to invest in our public school system. "If we are stopped now," Jayne says, "kids are hurt. It's inequality at its height. Here we are in Indianapolis, the capital, the largest school district in the state, and we cannot get out of the sewer. We can't get our kids the best facilities. We can't get our kids on a par with everybody else. What is wrong here?"

Over the years it's been easy to heap criticism on IPS for things like low test scores and a perceived lack of achievement. But as Jayne and supporters of the yellow petition point out, decrepit IPS facilities have played a significant part in holding the city's students back. "There have been studies showing that between districts with air conditioning and districts without it the difference in test scores can be as much as eight points," Jayne says. "In some of IPS' schools, eight points is where they are below the state average. Now if we were at the state average, would we be beaten up so much?"

The stakes in this race between the blue petitions and the yellow petitions are high. If more people in the IPS district sign the blue sheets than the yellow ones, the kids attending public schools in Indianapolis will take a heavy hit.

Their buildings will continue to degrade and the costs of ever bringing these facilities into the 21st century will increase. Not only that, those of us who own homes in the district will have lost an opportunity to enhance our property values through the improvement of these public buildings in our neighborhoods and the overall strengthening of the city's public schools system.

As Jayne says, "People have to take it to heart and love these kids enough to do this for them."

In other words: If somebody offers you a blue petition, don't sign it. Write your name on yellow.

To sign a yellow petition in support of IPS kids, call Maureen Jayne at 339-6148 or Amy Henn at 263-6226. You can also go to info@isupportips.com for a listing of yellow petition signing sites.

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