The Herald Bulletin

January 29, 2014

Citizens question South Madison School Corp. spending, debt

By Stuart Hirsch
The Herald Bulletin

PENDLETON, Ind. — An ad-hoc group of citizens concerned about the "stewardship" of the South Madison Community School Corp. wants officials to answer nearly a dozen pointed financial questions.

The questions cover a range of topics, including land purchases, school system debt, and the number of superintendents over the past 25 years who have been released from their contract and how much that cost.

In addition, the letter asks when teachers last received a raise, how the district's salaries rank in central Indiana, how many laid-off teachers have been called back to work and the plans local officials have to mitigate asbestos when the old high school is demolished later this year.

The letter was addressed to the South Madison Board of Trustees, and Superintendent Joe Buck. A copy was also submitted to The Herald Bulletin.

"We're concerned about the stewardship," said one of the letter's authors, Helen Reske. "They really don't seem to have a real plan for the community."

Reske said she's not accusing anyone of doing anything illegal, "but I do think they've made some poor decisions."

Another signer, Butch Baker, said the group of taxpayers is concerned about how much debt the school district has.

"We're not out to cause a rebellion or anything," Baker said. "We just think there are some questions that have been raised."

South Madison Board of Trustees President Chris Boots said he hadn't yet seen the letter, but is aware of it and said many of the questions raised have already been answered.

"The list of questions has been forwarded to our attorney because many of the questions have been answered before," he said, adding that a response will be provided to the group.

"We certainly respect the passion of the people asking those questions," he added. "However, the taxpayers have really been on the hook for a couple of years on this topic and it's really time to move forward."

Several of the authors were members of the Save Our Schools organization, which opposed district plans to raze the old high school building in Pendleton.

The Pendleton Historical Preservation Commission issued the school corporation a certificate of appropriateness, which essentially allows SMCSC to tear down a historic building. After a court battle with the town of Pendleton about the certificate, a judge cleared the way for demolition.

The 1930s era school has become a health hazard and costs about $30,000 a year to maintain, even though it's not being used for anything. School officials hope demolition can begin this summer.

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