Fort Wayne Community Schools (FWCS) has been successful in stalling the Save Our School-Elmhurst (SOSEHS) lawsuit since it was initially filed on April 20, 2010, in Allen County Superior Court via a series of legal delay tactics designed to prevent the case from being heard by an impartial judge who would rule on the matter of FWCS’s proposal to close Elmhurst High School (EHS). This strategy has also made it possible for FWCS to prevent the disclosure of internal documents, requested months ago, which would allow SOSEHS attorneys! access to privileged communications which could shed light upon the motivating factors driving FWCS’s puzzling proposal to close the only high school in their roster that achieved a zero drop out rate, led local high schools in graduation rate gains, posted higher ISTEP scores than three of the high schools EHS students are being forced to attend and produced championship student-athletes through a successful small school model. While the Indiana Board of Education stands poised to take control of two failing high schools — North Side and South Side –where a portion of EHS students have been reassigned for the 2010-2011 school year commencing on Monday, August 23, the rationale behind FWCS’s choice to close one of only three high schools that isn’t on the state’s list of worst academic performers begs for an explanation. Unfortunately, FWCS has shown no inclination to provide any logical rationale for forcing students out of an environment where academics are trending upward into failing schools that may be privatized, converted to charter schools, merged or closed by the state if their dismal scores don’t show improvement within a limited period of time. The failing schools have languished on academic probation, the lowest rating a school can achieve, for four consecutive years. In fact, FWCS itself, as a corporation, has been on academic watch, the second lowest ranking, for four consecutive years as well. Not to worry, though. As FWCS board president Mark GiaQuinta recently remarked, “Cream always rises to the top.” Sadly, FWCS doesn’t seem to recognize the cream of the crop of southwest schools, Elmhurst, even when the statistics that prove same are staring them right in the face. FWCS has not dealt fairly or honestly with the public it professes to serve throughout the entire debacle of their proposed closure of EHS. SOSEHS has received reports of EHS siblings, a senior and a junior, being split between two separate high schools, despite FWCS’s prior assurances that this would not happen.
While the parents of these students have sought for months to work with FWCS in unifying their children in one school, to date, no resolution has been provided despite the assurances of high-ranking FWCS officials during several board meetings. Oh, but wait! These dialogues occurred during the public comment portion of the meetings which aren’t even technically a part of the meetings anymore since the board voted to excise public comment, move it after the adjournment of board meetings thereby ensuring that no untoward tidbits of information might reach the viewing audience at home. You see, public comment is no longer televised. The Board revised their Bylaws to prevent their constituents from speaking out and being seen and heard by other constituents. Which begs one to ask another question? What is FWCS trying to hide? To add insult to injury, EHS memorabilia has been dispersed willy-nilly, some items stored, inexplicably, in a room at South Side High School, despite the request of SOSEHS to be made temporary stewards of the memorabilia until pending litigation is settled to ensure the safe storage of these irreplaceable items. A motion filed by SOSEHS to protect the legacy of the EHS memorabilia remains in limbo at this time; without a judge assigned to the case, no ruling on the motion can be made thereby enabling FWCS to continue the heartless, and unnecessary disbursement of EHS memorabilia. FWCS has provided grossly inaccurate information regarding their basis for proposing to close EHS including the assertion that $25 million in renovations is needed for the EHS real estate to remain functional in coming years. Yet, when FWCS disclosed their own building surveys of the EHS property, it was instantly noted that the cost of upgrades to the building was stated at $9,073,987.95; a $15 million dollar discrepancy which, to date, no FWCS official has addressed. Coincidentally, $15 million is the same figure FWCS has advised the public that their general fund is in need of. How can constituents be sure this figure is accurate given the millions of dollars of leeway FWCS utilized in making projections for EHS repairs even with a written quote on hand? SOSEHS has called for an independent audit of FWCS internal financial reporting as the bi-annual audits conducted by the State Board of Accounts do not address deficiencies in this area. To date, FWCS has ignored these requests. Why? By doing so they can present any figure to the public in their favorite format, a PowerPoint slide, without providing any actual financials to back up the figures presented. Every taxpaying citizen should be alarmed by the latitude which FWCS is given in presenting their financial outlook and the ease that most of the board members accept as verbatim financials presented in this format rather than factual cash and expenditure reports. FWCS is a multi-million dollar corporation, recently operating with a budget of approximately $337 million. They employing 4,285 in the 2007-2008 budget year, of which only 1,995 were teachers; more than half of FWCS employees during this time period were non-teaching positions. The imbalance in the ratio of teaching to non-teaching positions is another area that FWCS should be focusing on rather than attempting to close exemplary schools under the guise of needing to raise $1.5 million, a paltry figure, to defray a $15 million dollar budget deficit that, quite frankly, we the public have no proof actually exists. While other local school corporations have come up with a variety of methods to overcome their budget shortfalls, FWCS moves forward in an unwavering path that excludes any sacrifice by highly-compensated individuals in the Grile Administration Building, while cutting the salary, and eliminating the livelihoods, of FWCS staffers further down the corporate ladder is embraced instead. Instead of taking salary cuts and rollbacks as the Indiana Board of Education’s Citizen’s Checklist advises, FWCS merely enacted a salary freeze on step increases that yielded a mere $250,000 in savings. SOSEHS has learned through public access to information process that FWCS Superintendent, Dr. Wendy Robinson, has not given up any of her executive perks and fringe benefits, such as a FWCS-provided vehicle with maintenance account, while valuable employees who work in close proximity to our youth, the custodial staff of FWCS, have been outsourced to a company, Sodexo, which is facing international protests due to their treatment of employees. Why doesn’t FWCS initiate 3% salary cuts across the administrative board like Northwest Allen County Schools? The answer, perhaps, lies in a document formerly posted on the FWCS website under the “schools in transition” section designed for Elmhurst. The first question on this Q & A sheet from the March 10, 2010, public meeting at EHS reads as follows: Why not cut administrative salaries? The erudite answer from FWCS follows: a) The math doesn’t add up to $15 million b) Administrative salaries have been frozen – $250,000 savings. What math? Fuzzy math? Math for dummies? We haven’t been shown any math thus far so how does one know what an administrative salary cut would, or wouldn’t, add up to? Has FWCS even bothered to conduct an analysis of this? With the sizable IT staff they employ, it should be a breeze to extrapolate the data using the formula of three percent times every administrator’s salary. Surely the total would equal more than a mere salary freeze? $6,000 annually would be saved by taking a 3% cut of Dr. Robinson’s $200,000 superintendent’s salary. The three area administrator salaries are all above $100,000. Three percent of each yields $3,000 apiece for a total of $9,000. Add that to the revenue from the Superintendent’s salary and we already see savings of $15,000…from just four employees! With an administrative organization chart of top-level executives numbering in excess of 30 positions, imagine how the savings could multiply exponentially if this formula were applied equally throughout the administrative ranks; the goal being not to cause any single employee great financial hardship, but rather, to share the burden equally amongst many so the sacrifice per person could be absorbed without creating financial catastrophes for anyone. Couple administrative salary cuts with a realignment of the FWCS benefit package to reflect a real-world employer/employee contribution ratio of 80/20 as opposed to the current 90/10 and, rest assured, the “math” will quickly add up. Finally, combine the new revenue that FWCS expects to receive in the near future, such as the Full-Day Kindergarten Grant, which will provide $58.5 million in funding in 2010-2011 under Public Law 234-2007, Section 9, per a memo from John Wolf, Office of Student Learning addressed to all Superintendents from the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) dated May 21, 2010, and posted on the IDOE website. According to the memo, student enrollment counts must be taken on September 17, 2010, and submitted no later than October 1, 2010; final grant amounts will be based on this count. Grants will be distributed in December 2010 and the Indiana Department of Education estimates that the minimum amount a school corporation could receive would be approximately $788 per student. That amount may be higher depending on the number of students enrolled in full-day kindergarten programs funded by the full-day kindergarten program. All Indiana school corporations that include kindergarten were required to complete and submit the grant application by June 18, 2010. Yet, we rarely hear reports from FWCS about monies they will receive; only additional budget cuts they feel they need to make. This unbalanced reporting of revenue again raises valid questions about the true state of financial affairs at FWCS. An independent audit is needed immediately. Despite the current turn of events, SOSEHS assures our supporters that our case is still active. in fact, the Indiana Supreme Court has become involved and will appoint the judge for our lawsuit. As we wait on the appointment, we continue to focus on fundraising so our attorney, Robert Vegeler, can continue to respond to the repeated motions from FWCS to dismiss our case. Although we were unable to move our case before a judge prior to the start of the 2010-2011 school year, we ask that everyone who believes EHS should remain open continue to wait, watch and pray with us for truth, justice and a reversal of the FWCS vote to close one of the finest high schools in the city of Ft. Wayne. Your support, via donations and patronage of our fundraisers, will make this possible. If you are able, please make a donation in any amount to our legal defense fund. We have donation collection jars at the Waynedale Pizza Hut and the Pfeiffer House downtown. You may also donate online at www.sosehs.com via PayPal. If you prefer to write a check, please make it payable to the Vegeler Law Office Trust and mail it to: Vegeler Law Office LLC Suite 1200 National City Center 110 West Berry Street Ft. Wayne, Indiana 46802 Letting your voice be heard on this issue is crucial to our case. We need our supporters to continue to call and email the FWCS board of directors and Dr. Robinson and let them know what you think about their decisions and their consequences. Speaking of which, the board has the power to reverse their decisions and this is something we have been asking them to do, in regards to the proposed closure of EHS, for months as well. Remember, it is an election year and there are four board members up for re-election including Mark GiaQuinta, current board president. Kevin Brown, the only school board member SOSEHS supports as a candidate, is also up for re-election. Mr. Brown was the sole member of the board who voted nay to outsourcing FWCS custodians. Finally, we are always in need of volunteers to help with our fundraising events. If you would like to donate time towards the SOSEHS fundraising initiative, or would like a Save Elmhurst t-shirt or bracelet, please contact Angie Hayden Sutton at 602-5870 or firstname.lastname@example.org. We always have EHS spirit gear at our fundraising events as well. GO TROJANS!
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