The Herald Bulletin

December 30, 2010

ACS dominates local headlines in 2010

By Brandi Watters
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — In 2010, Anderson schools faced the consolidation of several school buildings, a controversial union contract, the dismissal of 163 teachers and struggled to handle a growing budget deficit while losing its student population.

As 2010 neared, ACS board members began discussing ways to trim the school district’s budget as property tax caps left massive deficits in the books.

In December 2009, board members voted 5-2 to consolidate schools, opting to turn Highland High School into a junior high school and closing four school buildings.

The projected savings was $5.22 million.

When all was said and done, ACS closed Killbuck, Forest Hills, Southview and 29th Street elementary schools.

With the closure of four schools and the consolidation of two high schools into one, ACS then axed 163 teaching jobs.

Not long after four elementary schools were shuttered and teaching jobs dissolved, ACS board members debated a controversial teaching contract which led one board member to file a restraining order.

In a deal that would have working teachers taking a 2 percent pay cut and retiring teachers receiving a $25,000 buyout, ACS made headlines as board member Irma Hampton Stewart filed a restraining order to prevent the board from passing the contract.

Stewart believed the contract would hurt the struggling school system. The opinion was shared by board member Tim Long.

“Is it the position of the board that this contract will bankrupt the corporation?” Stewart asked to applause in the audience.

ACS’s business manager, Kevin Brown, testified during a hearing over the restraining order filed by Stewart and revealed the dire circumstances in the school budget.

In a best-case scenario, without concessions from teachers and staff, the ACS deficit would be $4.2 million in 2011. Worst case, $11.1 million. Brown previously said that similar AFT contract proposals would have “disastrous effects” on the school corporation.

Even so, the board voted in favor of the contract after the restraining order was dismissed, with Long and Stewart being the only dissenting votes.

Parents upset with the board’s decisions to consolidate the schools and approve a controversial teachers contract showed their disapproval by forming a citizen group called the Madison County School Alliance.

Led by Anderson doctor Troy Abbott, MCSA aimed to form a separate school district on the city’s east side and petitioned the state unsuccessfully for permission to do so.

In December, ACS voted against splitting the district after MCSA approached the board asking for the split.

The state had told MCSA that it wouldn’t approve of such a split without school board approval.

School board president Scott Green said he didn’t agree with MCSA’s plan. “This is just not what is in the best interest of ACS at this point. I appreciate their concern about the school system. I had some of the same concerns that they had. We just chose different ways to deal with it,” Green said.

In August, when school returned to session, parents upset with changes to ACS showed their disapproval by pulling their students out of the district.

In the first year that a parent could transfer districts for free after state law changed, ACS lost 929 students to neighboring school districts.

Facing a $5 million deficit in 2010, ACS board members put a referendum on the November ballot asking voters for a tax rate hike.

Voters rejected the hike, which would have increased the tax rate by 55 cents.

After closing four schools and laying off 163 teachers, ACS Superintendent Felix Chow warned in November that the schools now face a state takeover.

With a 2010 deficit of $5 million, Chow said ACS could face “financial meltdown” within two years if the school cannot reach a proper agreement with the teachers union.

Faced with an ever-growing deficit, board members voted in December to begin selling eight vacant school buildings in Anderson.

The process will begin with appraisals, which could cost up to $5,000 per building, according to Brown. The buildings could also require $4,000 surveys for data needed for the appraisals, he said.

Contact Brandi Watters 640-4847, brandi.watters@heraldbulletin.com