Readers weigh in on MCS referendum
Thursday, May 01, 2014 11:00 AM
To the editor:
Shall Madison Consolidated Schools issue bonds or enter into a lease to finance the renovation of and improvements to Madison Consolidated High School, E.O. Muncie Elementary School and Anderson Elementary School, which is estimated to cost not more than $40,470,000 and is estimated to increase the property tax rate for debt services by a maximum of $0.4028 per $100 of assessed valuation over the 19-year life of the bonds?"
I have listened to and read about the various opinions concerning the Madison Consolidated School Corporation's Task Force recommendation and the upcoming referendum. There are several prevailing arguments against the referendum.
Argument 1. There is no plan and it is not student focused.
Madison Consolidated School Corporation has a plan. The plan is 100 percent focused on improving the delivery of education to the students....which, by its very nature, is entirely student-focused.
The plan was created by the MCS Task Force; a group of citizen stakeholders who live in, pay taxes in, and vote in the Madison Consolidated School Corporation district, with the assistance of one of the state's most respected architectural firms, which has a long history of specialization in schools and education.
The plan is based on a physical plant needs analysis which the Madison Consolidated School Corporation has maintained for decades. The plan is a combination of system repairs, system overhauls, space re-purposing, and new construction. The plan considers student, staff and physical plant safety and security, as well as the opportunity for enhanced public use of some areas.
The plan incorporates the changing needs and requirements in the curriculum and incorporates the use of advanced technology. There is no truth in the urban myth that the school board and the administration had no idea of the physical plant needs prior to this groups' effort. The very existence of the long list of physical plant needs led to the school board asking for citizen recommendations on how they should proceed.
Argument 2. Our schools were good enough for me, they are good enough for my children.
The E.O. Muncie Elementary School and the high school were built close to 55 years ago. We must remember, these buildings were built when the interstate highway system was being conceived, and before America ever launched a satellite into space.
In the late 1950's our parents and grandparents made a set of very difficult decisions to consolidate the then existing high schools into one large, new building.
Not everyone agreed at the time. Yet, those parents and grandparents, in the late 1950's also wished to provide their children and grandchildren a future based on the foundation of the best education they could provide to them in the best facilities. The decision was made to move elementary students from many small, some one room, schools into sleek new more efficient, modern, buildings. Our ancestors repurposed the older, local, small, all-purpose (Grades 1 through 12) schools into newly refurbished elementary schools. They closed some buildings. They sold some properties. But foremost, they decided to invest in the future of their children.
Argument 3. Spending of property tax dollars per student is way out of line.
This argument seems to allege some impropriety on the part of the expenditures of the schools' portions of the property tax. In mid-April, I visited with the members of the Farm Bureau committee regarding the information they have shared throughout the community. However, it was obvious when I listened to their presentation concerning the disparity of the dollars spent per student by Madison Consolidated and surrounding school corporations, that something was amiss. During our meeting, I challenged the Farm Bureau group regarding this comparative information, to find out exactly what caused such a disparity in expenditures by the Madison Consolidated Schools versus the dollars spent at neighboring school districts. Unfortunately they released their information before they knew "the rest of the story."
Last week we heard from the Madison Consolidated School Corporation's treasurer during a Community Forum hosted by the Chamber of Commerce (April 24), that indeed, during the year in question (2013) in the Farm Bureau report, Madison Consolidated Schools' payment on its debt service was at a much higher rate than any of the surrounding school corporations. We learned that a couple of those school corporations, either through large corporate gifts (Switzerland County), or other taxation arrangements (Jennings County), do not use property tax dollars to pay debt service as Madison Consolidated Schools do. The comparison was not exactly "apples to apples."
The further analysis was offered that if Madison Consolidated Schools paid debt service at a comparable rate to the other surrounding school corporations (in 2013 we paid 25 percent, they averaged 5 percent) the Madison Consolidated Schools' spending of property tax dollars per student would be less than four of the five neighboring school corporations used in the comparison. It is too bad the detailed explanation of what the numbers represented was not offered to the public by the Farm Bureau.
Argument 4. Finally, the projected interest rate is way too high.
I will admit, when I saw the advertised rate of 5.32 percent interest, I was quite surprised. That was until I heard the Madison Consolidated Schools' financial consultant from Umbaugh and Associates explain that the State requires the advertisement of bonds at the highest, "worst case scenario" rate. The bond will go through a controlled bid process and the lowest bid rate will be accepted. In the end, it is expected the bond will be at a prevailing rate of 3.5 percent to 3.75 percent. This is the required, the usual, and the customary way the bonds must be advertised. The result is we will pay far less than the $29 million in interest which we have heard about.
Now, it should be clear, I did not send my children to the Madison Consolidated Schools; but it wasn't because I thought those schools were inferior or second class. I had the opportunity to choose, for my personal religious reasons, to send my children to the Catholic Schools in our community. And while I paid tuition, I also paid property taxes for the local public schools.
Nearly 20 years ago, I had the honor of leading the Catholic Schools in our community for a period of time, and while I did so, I worked with the local superintendents of both of our county public school corporations on several community task forces concerned with student success. I believe that excellence in public education is the best opportunity to create excellence in parochial education, and vice versa. Education is not and should not be an "either-or." There are no losers when our youth succeed.
Next week, we will vote on the referendum to increase our property taxes 14 cents, to a total rate of 40 cents, to fund the plan to renovate, repair, repurpose and improve the physical plant of our local Madison Consolidated Schools. The reason for the referendum is to improve the delivery of the education to our students; which is 100 percent student focused. The referendum is founded on a good plan developed by our fellow citizen stakeholders, all of whom live in, pay their taxes in, and vote in the Madison Consolidated School Corporation boundaries. The time has come for us to make a decision for the future of our children, for the future of our community, much like the decision our parents and grandparents made for us in the late 1950s. I urge you to join me and vote yes on the MCS referendum.
To the editor:
For some time I have been reading the pros and cons about the vote concerning the school bond issues. I now have decided to vote no because we don't have the tax base to support this huge increase with its interest added to it. I think we all agree we want the best for our children, but we sometimes have to say no to things we can't afford, each recession cost us more jobs and lasts longer than those before, so we suffer long periods of time and if lucky we lose a portion of our standard of living and others not so lucky lose everything. Recessions are a part of life they will come and the bills or bonds will still have to be paid in full!
We are still paying for a jail, courthouse, courthouse projects and office space, county and city projects along with our wonderful county tax and a possible water and sewage rate increase in the near future.
If this community had a robust job market with a large tax base with little unemployment, I believe there would be very little resistance to this huge amount of debt, but please don't think we want less for our children just because we can't afford it.
Let's not teach our kids to be irresponsible by spending $40 million and about $26 million in interest we don't have! Let's look at Plan B if there is one, thank you.
To the editor:
As a concerned senior at Madison Consolidated High School, I am really nervous about the upcoming vote on the referendum.
Whether it is the state that decides to close our school for being an unsafe learning environment or if it is one of the many hazards that haunts our school today that brings our school to the ground, our community needs to come together to preserve what we have. We are lucky that our school has not been shut down.
Although our buildings are in poor condition, our students and staff are still excelling in and out of the classroom. With our students achieving above the state average on our AP tests, Madison Consolidated High school receiving an 'A' rating, and MCHS having four Academic Super Bowl teams going to state, think of what type of academic powerhouse Madison could be in the future without the daily distractions of a deteriorating building surrounding it's students. If our students are above average, why is our town not flourishing? The answer is that we have nothing to attract graduates back to Madison. In order to get our graduates back in our community, we need to offer more, and the first place to start is a renovated school.
The question isn't whether or not it needs to be remodeled, the question is whether or not our community is going to come together to make Madison, as a whole, a better place to live. Who would want to move to Madison with a school that is in poor condition? With better facilities we could potentially attract more tournaments for sports, competitions for theater, academic Super Bowl meets, academic decathlons, band & show choir concerts, and even host events for FFA. With additional people coming into our town, they will spend more money in our restaurants, shops, gas stations, etc. This means that more jobs will open up and our community will grow and prosper.
Throughout my years at MCHS, several students have taken certain specialized classes at Madison while still attending Shawe. With the remodeling of the school, the facilities will be much improved, which will give the students of Madison, as well as Shawe, many more opportunities to succeed.
It will be much easier, safer, and cheaper to remodel our school now than completely rebuild the school in the future. I have always been told that proper, prior planning prevents painfully, poor performance. We have made the plan, now let's put it to action and allow our students, schools, businesses, and community to thrive. Please vote yes on May 6.
To the editor:
I will be casting a no vote for the $68 million MCS referendum. I want to emphasize $68 million because it is important people remember the requested $40 million is just the principal and we must pay interest on the principal and will continue to do so until the year 2033.
It is disappointing that over the years our capital funds have been so poorly mismanaged and our facilities have been allowed to fall into such disrepair. It is also disappointing that priority was given to new bleachers for football and baseball and the swimming pool while students at the high school and E.O. Muncie apparently were learning in environments unsuitable for health and physical safety. Many of the people responsible for those poor decisions remain in place. Why should we expect them to make better decisions with our tax dollars this time? According to reports available on the Department of Education website, Madison Consolidated has 17 percent more debt per enrolled student than Southwestern. And yet look at the mess we find ourselves in.
My biggest concern is that, of the $27 million budgeted for the high school, only 51 percent will be spent on academic areas. The other two big items are construction of a new gym ($7 million) and auditorium ($5 million). The primary reason we've been told a new 4,200-seat gymnasium is needed is that the current ceiling height does not meet IHSAA requirements for hosting sectionals for basketball and volleyball and it would be cost prohibitive to tear off and replace the roof.
I have confirmation from the IHSAA that no such requirement exists and the hosting decision is entirely up to the principals and athletic directors of the participating schools. The gym may need some updates such as new locker rooms to bring them into ADA compliance but those can be done for far less than $7 million. It seems then that the primary purpose of moving the gym would be to facilitate the construction of a new auditorium. I think the arts are a great asset to a child's full development. However, we are effectively being asked to spend well over $10 million on a new auditorium, given not only the $5 million cost of the auditorium itself but also the cost of a new gym that would only be necessary to facilitate the auditorium. The existing auditorium may not be perfect - and we should set aside some money to fix what we can in place - but we have to be fiscally sound in our decision-making. Let's not forget that it is widely expected the school corporation will be asking for more money to fix up the junior high well before the referendum debt would be paid off.
As far as the $8 million to be spent expanding Anderson Elementary, wouldn't that money be better spent reopening not only Anderson but also Dupont and Eggleston? Schools I might point out that, along with Canaan, were closed because moving the kids to E.O. Muncie would be a huge cost-saver. Anyway, not only would it be less expensive to reopen those buildings but think about the social and educational benefits of small schools over one mammoth school with 700 students. Is it mere coincidence that Deputy and Canaan Community Academy both received an A in the most recent school report card? I don't think so.
To the editor:
A newly renovated Ivy Tech campus, Hanover College receiving major improvements through a capital campaign, a new hospital, and a new bridge are propelling Madison and Jefferson County into a prosperous future.
Imagine all of this momentum continued but our public high school and E.O. Muncie remained exactly as they are now. Would our schools be a source of pride and confidence in the future, or would they serve as a source of concern and embarrassment?
These schools already are a source of concern for students' safety and an embarrassment to the community. If the referendum for the schools is not passed on May 6, that will not change.
There are many in the community who are denying the reality these schools are, essentially, functionally obsolete like the previous bridge. These citizens view the photos of classrooms flooded by exploding toilets, faulty electrical wiring, and pipes that are deteriorating and suggest more duct tape. They are closing their ears to teachers attesting to the hazardous conditions of the schools.
If the referendum fails thus keeping E.O. Muncie and MCHS in their current conditions, my children will not be able to attend. I will be forced to decide to take my children to another school or move to another city. This is the choice all families with children will be forced to make if nothing changes.
What business or investor would want to invest money in our community with our public high school in the condition as it is? The high school as it stands now tells potential investors that we are not serious about equipping their future workforce into competent and qualified professionals. It also communicates to current small businesses and farms that the future is bleak because their future workforce, too, will not be equipped for the challenges of the 21st century marketplace.
The high school also tells potential investors that the brightest students will most likely not want to remain in Madison and will take their skills to other communities. This was a serious issue for my graduating class and it will only get worse if the referendum fails. We claim as an asset that we are situated between three major cities but this can also quickly become a curse as it allows students to see better opportunities. Can we honestly say to students, potential investors, and current businesses 'Commit here; the future is bright' if our schools have duct tape hanging all over the place?
Some will push back and argue 'It's about teachers and not a building.' To which I respond, that is true. A newly constructed hospital is only as good as the doctors and staff who fill the building. A crumbling hospital, however, neither entices the current staff to stay nor does it create an incentive for the best professionals to join.
Putting duct tape on a dying school building will not propel us into a prosperous future. A 'yes' vote for the school referendum will.
To the editor:
I've thought long and hard about this referendum for a $69 million bond issue. Yes, I'm all for keeping our schools in good repair, and I believe that the people supporting the referendum do mean well, because I know a number of them personally.
But think about this: There's a section of each year's Madison Consolidated Schools budget which is earmarked for maintenance of buildings and grounds. If these buildings are in such horrible shape, as the school administration says they are, doesn't it mean that proper, year-to-year maintenance was not done on them, dating all the way back to 1958, when E.O. Muncie school was opened?
If, as one school employee at last Thursday's informational meeting said, there was "not enough money to go around" for proper maintenance each year, shouldn't the school board and superintendent have made adjustments to the school budgets to try to make more funds available?
I attended the old North Madison Elementary School for seven of my primary grades. It was old and decrepit by that time. I remember once when the bottom fell out of the furnace in the middle of winter, and the principal had to send pupils and teachers home for the day.
But I also remember my primary teachers: Annabelle Roberts, Tressa Waltz, Margaret Dow, Willena Bennett, Hilda Cordrey, and others. Their ability to teach wasn't affected by the condition of the building. They were strict, but fair. You learned from them, or they would know the reason why.
You see, buildings don't educate children; teachers do.
So I must say to my friends who are favoring passage of this referendum: Sorry, folks; I respect your views, but I can't agree with them. On May 6, I'm voting no.