Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Sad Timing of the Closing of The Project School

The other day, I wrote about Mayor Ballard revoking the charter of The Project School.  I stated that I believe that poorly performing schools should be at risk of being closed, and I stand by that.

There's another side to the pulling of the charter, though.  One that I do not agree with at all.  That is timing.  Choosing to pull a school's charter so close to the beginning of a school year is wrong.  By the time the final decision is made, it will be August 7th.  That leaves parents and students scrambling just weeks before classes are supposed to start.

Where are the kids going to go?  Will I see my friends again?  Will the next school be any better?  What is the transportation situation going to be?

All are questions parents and students would have to face if a school were to close.  None are questions a student should have to face this close to the beginning of a new school year.  It's too much stress to add at the most inopportune time to do so.

Still, there's a side to this story that seems to have been forgotten since the original announcement.  When people are talking about The Project School today, they are focusing on the schools poor academic performance.  They are talking about anger from parents. Just see Erika Smith's recent column in the Star.

Don't let it slip your mind that there are indications of egregious misuse of money and incredible amounts of growing debt.

I'm not saying that it makes the timing of Ballard's move any better.  I'm just saying it's a big part of a puzzle that has quickly become overlooked.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Guns and Abortion

As you're well aware, there's been a tragedy.  People who felt they were in a safe and fun environment were suddenly mowed down by a well-armed gunman.  Twelve dead.  Dozens injured.  Still no answers.

Immediately after the incident, the gun control debate shifted into high gear.  One side saying the tragedy may have been prevented if guns were harder to acquire.  The other side saying the tragedy may have been prevented if more people in the auditorium were armed.

Maybe you should stay out of the debate, at least most of the time.  Neither you nor your cause will gain from it.  You see, when it comes to guns, people pretty much have their mind made up.  You'll never convince a gun control advocate that an increase in well-armed citizens can bring about safer communities.  You'll never convince a gun rights advocate that making it harder to get guns does anything but make it easier for the criminals to have targets.

I equate the guns right debate to the abortion debate; it's normally not an argument worth having.  The two sides of the guns rights and abortion debates are so polarized that you are unlikely to ever sway someone's opinion.  These issues are also incredibly emotionally charged, so a debate adds a possibility of anger and resentment.

Be cautious how you read my words.  I am not saying you should keep your opinions on highly charged emotional issues to yourself.  Quite the contrary.  You should be be very willing to stand up and say "This is what I believe!"

Before you turn standing up for your beliefs into a pointless argument no one can win, though, pay attention to who you might be arguing with.  Ask yourself if it's worth it to start a heated debate with someone whose opinion you will never change.  Ask yourself if the stress and anger of wondering how the other side could possibly be so blind to your points is worth it.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ballard to Revoke School's Charter

Word has been given to The Project School, one of Indianapolis' charter schools, that they will be be having their charter revoked.  The revocation will take effect immediately; no classes will begin at the school this fall.

According to an Indianapolis Star story, the charter is being revoked for multiple reasons.  The school was one of the worst performing schools not only in the county, but in the entire state.  Only 29% of the school's students passed the ISTEP.

Perhaps just as troubling is the extreme financial issues the school is having. The school apparently was bouncing payroll checks.  The reports also states that the school misused large amounts of federal funds as well as accumulating three million dollars in debt.

The revoking of the charter, at least according to the details of the Star's story, seems to be a fully acceptable.  It also goes to show one of the benefits of the expansion of charter schools recently in Indiana: the ability to hold the school accountable with extreme consequences.

This is the way schools across our state should operate.  If they fail to meet the most basic requirements then they should be at risk of being closed. The growth of charter schools makes this more likely to occur.  The addition of voucher programs makes consequences even more likely, as parents would be unwilling to allow their children to continue to attend schools that so horribly fail.

Over the next days or weeks we will undoubtedly learn more details about what exactly was happening at The Project School.  For now, though, it seems that some of the safety nets in place with our charter school system have enabled Mayor Ballard to get rid of a bad apple before it could do any more damage.

(If you are interested in learning more about charter schools, voucher programs, and school choice, The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice will be holding the Friedman Legacy for Freedom Day at the Conrad Hotel in downtown Indianapolis on Friday, July 27th.  Please contact Chris Spangle for more information.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Another Super Bowl?!? Don't Buy the Spin

To the surprise of exactly no one, word began to get around on Tuesday that Indianapolis would be submitting a bid to host another Super Bowl.  Most reports suggested that the bid would be for Super Bowl LII in 2018.

During and after the completion of the Super Bowl festivities this year, it was a common to hear visitors review the experience as one of the best jobs hosting a Super Bowl ever.  Maybe even the best.  Such reviews are especially important since so many people, especially sports writers across the nation, were critical of the decision to choose Indianapolis in the first place.

Immediately after the Super Bowl was over, everyone knew that Indy would be seeking Round Two.  It's almost a surprise that it took this long.  The visitors loved it and the citizens of Indianapolis and Central Indiana had a great time and have been begging for more.

This morning, the Star reports that mayor Ballard and Governor Daniels announced that direct spending as a result of the Super Bowl was $152 million.  Although some spending projections were as high as $200 million, the numbers released today were higher than the more common $150 million projections that seem to be the only ones currently remembered.

But today's numbers are suspect.  As Gary Welsh at Advance Indiana points out, hotel and sales tax revenue don't seem to match up with the $152 million dollar story.  But even if the revenue numbers are correct, that's only part of what went on.

Today's numbers fail to take into account the grand expenses involved.  There is no mention at all of the two reports coming out of the CIB that says that organization lost a million dollars from the hosting duties.  There's barely a mention of the multi-million dollar Georgia Street project; a project which was supposed to have long-term benefits as a pedestrian mall, but has recently left businesses complaining it is often barren.

And Welsh is the only person currently talking about the troubles that businesses not located in the central downtown area faced.  Based on the hype, many restaurants and bars spent tens of thousands of dollars to stock up on food and alcohol to prepare for an onslaught of business that never came. 

For corporate restaurants this may not have been an enormous problem.  For "Mom & Pop" establishments, though, tying up that kind of cash in unused stock, much of it perishable, can be crippling.  It forces them to change their business model for the rest of the year and can risk putting them out of business.

So, as Indianapolis starts building excitement about the possibility of hosting another Big Game, remember that things from the last one may not have turned out as great as it seems.  I'm not saying we shouldn't want to host another one.  The last one WAS a great time and WAS great for the morale of the City.  We should demand more transparency this time around, though.  And we should make sure that we don't give the farm away to the NFL for the chance to host.

Let's just make sure we know what's going on before we put our arms around the idea of another Super Bowl and hug tight.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Cops Want You to Speed

Our police officers are supposed to help make our communities safer.  In the case of speeding, though, our officers are more concerned about cashing in by writing tickets than taking steps to truly make the roads safer.

Fox 59's Jenny Anchondo (whose staff bio interestingly includes several pictures that look more like she's trying to score a job modeling than be in a professional news position) recently had a story about the five worst areas in Indianapolis for speeding.  (There's also a written story here.)  The station's story showed an officer hiding around the corner and using his radar gun to trap speeders that were unable to see him until it was too late.

And that is exactly the problem.  Officers don't take proactive steps to make our roads safer by preventing people from speeding.  Instead, they allow drivers to speed and only take steps after that damage is done.

What you see in Anchondo's story is proof that this is the case.  Officers hide to catch speeders instead of staying out in the open.

What do you think would work better to keep the speed of drivers down?  Hiding allows drivers to cruise along at whatever speeds they want.  It doesn't slow drivers down at all.  It only retroactively punishes those drivers that go fast enough to cross the threshold that the officer has decided warrants a ticket.

What if the officers didn't hide?  What if they intentionally stayed out in the open?  To answer that question, you only need to ask yourself what YOU would do if you were speeding and see a cop.  If you're like most of us, you would immediately slow down.  And so would everyone around you.  Instead of everyone speeding until one person got caught, everyone would slow down and only the bold or stupid would continue to speed.

And officers being out in the open wouldn't have to be limited to where they sit on the side of the road.  What if officers spent as much time on I-465 traveling the speed limit as they do hiding and waiting for someone to blow by them?  Again, you know the answer.  How likely are you to fly by an officer going the speed limit?  You'll probably just slow down and stay behind the officer or maybe just creep by them going only a couple miles per hour above the limit.

This is evidence that officers have their priorities mixed up.  Instead of taking steps that are likely to keep us from ever getting out of line to begin with, they take steps that completely allow us to get out of line and then write us a ticket for it. The priority is to ticket us first, and make us safer second.  Only by staying out in the open do officers place making us safer first, and ticketing us second.

This is a byproduct of how police departments receive funding.  Departments make money by busting us.  This means that police departments are encouraged to let us do wrong because they can make more money because of it.  Only by restructuring how the police receive money will our protectors ever care about protecting us first, and busting us later.