Leadership Wanted

The legislative special session has an unenviable task. Times are tough, and we have long since stopped cutting government fat, and moved on to muscle and bone.


That said, one of the most monumental threats facing Indianapolis in this round of budget cuts is their potential to effectively destroy IPS—and thus deliver a mortal wound to economic and community development in Indianapolis.


The House/Senate budget proposal that failed in April would have meant a $47 million loss to IPS over the next two years. After the last revenue forecast, Governor Daniels told lawmakers to cut more; his numbers would mean an additional $11 million lost to IPS. (To add insult to injury, the House/Senate proposal cut IPS’ state formula funding while increasing state funding for 287 other school districts. Resentment of Indianapolis by legislators from elsewhere in Indiana is nothing new, of course, but this discrepancy seems rather blatant.)


The dollars IPS will lose cannot legally be replaced with stimulus money, which is one-time, tightly targeted money in any case. And the loss can’t be made up by closing more schools, although that will certainly happen. IPS says every program not legally required will be in jeopardy: Art and music programs, high school electives, field trips, magnet programs, and a variety of other alternative programs, many of which serve our most at-risk youngsters. IPS has made considerable progress over the past few years; a loss of this magnitude will wipe out those gains and cripple the system for years to come.


What the city’s leaders have given no indication of understanding, moreover, is the incalculable damage the evisceration of IPS will do to Indianapolis.


Whatever their other failings, Dick Lugar, Bill Hudnut, Steve Goldsmith and Bart Peterson all understood that efforts to make Indianapolis a world-class city depend first and foremost on quality of life—that our ability to lure employers and grow the tax base requires urban amenities like parks, museums, libraries, public safety, decent public transportation and above all, good public schools. Despite the best efforts of our political and business leaders, Indianapolis continues to lag other cities in many of these categories. To the extent we do, we lose our competitive edge. We lose employment and tax base—which means those of us who remain will pay higher taxes for fewer services. That, in turn, will encourage more out-migration. It’s a vicious cycle.


I don’t dismiss the civic benefits of major league sports teams, but I find it difficult to understand why so much more effort and attention has been lavished on the CIB’s troubles than on the threat facing IPS.


Bill Hudnut used to say that a successful city is like a cookie—solid clear through—and not like a doughnut with a hole in the middle. If IPS is allowed to disintegrate, we will have taken a giant step back to becoming a doughnut.


Mayor Ballard wrote a book about leadership. If he is ever going to demonstrate that leadership, now is the time.