News From Terre Haute, Indiana

News Columns

January 26, 2014

MAUREEN HAYDEN: Law hits poverty-stricken schools hard

INDIANAPOLIS — 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 maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com and follow her on Twitter @MaureenHayden.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
News Columns
Latest News
TribStar.com Poll
AP Video
Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station New York Auto Show Highlights Latest in Car Tech Raw: Massive 7.2 Earthquake Rocks Mexico Raw: Greeks Celebrate Easter With "Rocket War" Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes New York Auto Show Highlights Latest in Car Tech Small Reactors Could Be Future of Nuclear Energy Popular Science Honors Year's Top Inventions Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite Raw: Church Tries for Record With Chalk Jesus Human Antidepressants Making Shrimp Too Calm Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism Ceremony Marks 19th Anniversary of OKC Bombing Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home Raw: Four French Journalists Freed From Syria Police Question Captain, Crew on Ferry Disaster Swiss Unveil New Solar Plane for Global Flight
NDN Video
Jabari Parker's Top 5 Plays From Duke Career Kourtney Kardashian Is a Bikini Babe More Manpower Than Ever Expected At 4/20 Rally Debunk'd: Miley Cyrus AIDS, Cheeseburgers Cause Cancer, Military Warning Bill Previewing the NBA playoffs Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite My name is Cocaine Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Lohan Gets Candid About Her Sex List The 2014 New York Auto Show Meet Johnny Manziel's New Girlfriend Chelsea Clinton Announces Pregnancy Funny: Celebrating Easter with Martha Stewart and Friends Man Accuses 'X-Men' Director Bryan Singer of Sexually Abusing Him As a Teenager Man hit with $525 federal fine after he doesn't pay for soda refill Lea Michele & Naya Rivera Feuding? Jabari Parker declares for the NBA draft Singing Nun Belts Out Cyndi Lauper New West, Texas Explosion Video Swim Daily, Throwback Thursday
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -

     

    March 12, 2010

activity