Chuck Brimbury is no-excuses kind of guy.
Five years ago, he inherited a world of problems when he took over as school superintendent in Peru, a city of 13,000 people in rural Miami County. The high school graduation rate was stuck below 69 percent. Absenteeism and drop-out rates were among the state’s highest. Test scores were scraping bottom. The district faced a state take-over.
Now, the graduation rate is close to 98 percent, attendance has climbed and test scores have skyrocketed. Peru is a “turnaround” model, especially for schools facing the mandates of state education reform.
Last year, Brimbury’s peers honored him by naming him one of the best superintendents in the state.
These days Brimbury and his schools are a model for something else: unintended consequences. Facing drastic cuts – including a shutdown of bus service that could shut out marginal students – Peru’s schools illustrate the sometimes dire results of laws that may otherwise be well meaning.
Brimbury’s successes haven’t come easily, as he’s demanded more accountability from teachers and students. When students didn’t show up for class, he sent counselors to find them. When parents couldn’t come meet teachers, he sent teachers to the parents, wherever they were.
“We once had excuses for all our failures – a reason for everything that was going wrong,” he said. “We decided to drop those excuses.”
Things weren’t always so difficult in Peru, once a thriving community and the proud home to Grissom Air Force Base, which trained military pilots from around the world. But when the base closed in the 1990s, followed by nearby factories, the economy and the schools were casualties.
Today, 70 percent of Peru schoolchildren are from families in poverty. The city has one of the state’s highest rates of single mothers and one of its lowest incomes per capita. The tax base plunged from $460 million to $318 million in assessed value between 2007 and 2011, and it hasn’t recovered.
On top of that, the schools have faced a double whammy from the Legislature – a slash to school budgets in 2010, and the impact of property tax caps first passed in 2008. These brought deep cuts to the revenue available to patch leaking roofs, replace old buses, and get students to and from school. The district’s budget is down 20 percent since Brimbury’s arrival. He has cut $1 million from administrators’ salaries.
“We are down to the bones,” he told the Senate Appropriations Committee last Thursday.
Brimbury had traveled to the Statehouse, on a morning when the wind chill dipped below zero, seeking help from another legislative hit. This one came in the guise of a law compelling schools to pay off their debts using dollars now spent on transportation and big-ticket projects.
The law protects bondholders, especially those invested in what one lawmaker described to me as spendthrift districts “building Taj Mahals in cornfields.”
But that’s hardly Peru.
Rather, Brimbury’s already cut back bus routes and is now thinking of ending service entirely to students within two miles of the high school. In some communities, that might represent an inconvenience. In Peru, where so many students have few resources, it’s a crisis.
Ultimately, Peru may see a reprieve from a bill that would delay the start of the debt-service law for districts that otherwise might lose 20 percent or more of their transportation and capital budgets.
It’s more salve than solution for Peru. But for a no-excuses superintendent, that could be enough.
“I’m not asking you for more money. I just need some relief,” Brimbury said. “I just want you to help me get those kids to schools, so we can get them educated and break the cycle of poverty they’re in.”
Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for CNHI, the Tribune-Star’s parent company. Reach her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @MaureenHayden.
Chuck Brimbury is no-excuses kind of guy.
Canvasing families: Mothers confront life with diabetic children
Four Wabash Valley mothers who sat around a circular table Thursday night couldn’t hold back tears as they talked about their children’s battles with a lifelong disease and their hopes for helping other affected families.
MAX JONES: Newspapers can be fun, too; check out Readers’ Choice
Smart and savvy newspaper readers (that’s all of you, of course) know full well that their daily consumption of news and information isn’t an exclusively high-brow pursuit.
Changed wording to SJR-9 delays debate on right to hunt, fish
A much-debated ban on same-sex marriage wasn’t the only proposed constitutional amendment to get knocked off of this November’s ballot. Gone, too, is the less contentious proposal to protect Hoosiers’ right to hunt and fish.
You’re home now: A veteran’s Midwest move that almost wasn’t
To say that Michael Curry was stressed is an understatement.
A service member who has been in the U.S. Army for more than 21 years, he had just arrived in Vigo County with his family — wife, four teen-age children, mother-in-law and two dogs — when he learned the home loan he had obtained in Texas was denied.
Valley lawmakers assess legislative session’s trials, tribulations
As state legislators head into the final week of the state legislative session, five of them from the Wabash Valley met with citizens Saturday at the Vigo County Public Library in downtown Terre Haute and engaged in conversation about the “ups and downs” of the recent session.
Families often unaware of helpful groups for kids with disabilities
One Saturday morning event in Terre Haute aimed to raise awareness about the resources available to people with disabilities.
Spotting pot, gun in home nets 2 arrests.
Two adults were arrested and two children removed from a Vigo County home on Friday after drugs and a handgun with altered serial numbers were discovered in the home, authorities said.
HUMAN RIGHTS DAY: Focus on poverty, inequality
The issues of poverty and inequality will be at the forefront of the 13th annual Terre Haute Human Rights Day on March 18 at Indiana State University.
VIDEO: Tasting their way to a cure
People appeared to be in high spirits Friday inside the historic Indiana Theatre as they gathered for an evening of wine, food and conversation while supporting efforts to find a cure for breast cancer.
Same-sex marriage: 4 couples sue state over ban
Four gay couples from southern Indiana sued the state Friday, seeking to force Indiana to recognize same-sex marriages from out of state and issue licenses to same-sex couples.
Time to check smoke alarms
Three years after a house fire on South Nine Street in Terre Haute resulted in the death of three people, a Terre Haute grandmother still wonders if the outcome of that fire would have been different if smoke detectors in the home had been working.
Indiana State Board extends president’s contract
Indiana State University has signed up Dan Bradley, the school’s president, for an additional three years of service.
New animal shelter gets welcome boost
The aging Terre Haute Humane Society shelter is not a place for the faint of heart.
Vigo County high school team in FIRST Robotics’ Crossroads Regional
Drivers of remote-controlled robots will match skills, similar to those used in basketball and soccer, to score in the FIRST Robotics’ Crossroads Regional on the campus of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.
Benefit planned for daycare fire victim
Veronica Gray never met 19-month-old Emma Lloyd, but when she learned about the child’s tragic death in a Sullivan day care fire, she had to do something.
Winter’s costs add up for Vigo
While still within county and city budgets, the snowstorms of January and February were more costly than a year ago.
Mayor Bennett threatens veto of consultant funding
Mayor Duke Bennett is threatening to veto a measure before the Terre Haute City Council that would transfer money into the council’s budget allowing the body to again hire a financial consultant.
Semitrailer fire slows eastbound traffic on Interstate 70
Traffic on Interstate 70 was slowed Thursday afternoon by a semitrailer fire just east of Terre Haute.
Tests show Skittles had no unusual chemicals
The Indiana State Health Department has given Skittles a clean bill of health.
No problems reported in early 10-digit phone dialing
Just be grateful you (probably) aren’t using a rotary telephone these days.
Cloverdale woman sentenced to 10 years in molestation/neglect case
A Cloverdale woman received a 10-year prison sentence Thursday after pleading guilty to child molesting and neglect of a defendant in Vigo Superior Court 3.
College students spend alternative spring break helping in Vigo County
Pruning in the orchard and preparing plants for the garden has been part of the experience for a group of Minnesota students who are spending this week as an alternative spring break at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.
MARK BENNETT: How you approach the day will influence if you are a ‘morning person’
I can still see the stacks of coins, 40 cents in each, arranged on the dining room table.
Area Plan Department considering raising fees
The Vigo County Area Planning Department is exploring the possibility of raising the fees for its services.
Tuesday night crash leads to arrest on drug charges
A Terre Haute man was arrested on drug-related charges after a one-car accident Tuesday night in Clay County.
Clock ticking on downtown TIF district
The sun is setting on Terre Haute’s downtown tax increment finance district, which city economic development officials say has been crucial to downtown revitalization, following action this week from the Indiana General Assembly.
Lay pastor files guilty plea in child sex case
A Terre Haute man has pleaded guilty to seven felonies in connection with a child molestation that allegedly involved the man’s wife as well.
Man gets 1 year probation for child, animal neglect
A Vigo County man has been sentenced to one year on formal probation after pleading guilty to housing children and animals in a filthy house.
Three-vehicle crash on U.S. 41 injures three
Three people received minor injuries and one motorist was cited following a three-vehicle crash on U.S. 41 at Springhill Drive at 9:59 a.m. Wednesday.
Sullivan daycare fire victim ID’d
Sullivan County authorities have released the name of a 1 1⁄2-year-old girl who died Tuesday morning in a Sullivan County daycare fire.
- More News Headlines
- Canvasing families: Mothers confront life with diabetic children