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Governor says cutting administrative costs will benefit education, public

Saturday, June 2, 2007

(Photo)
Gov. Mitch Daniels, fresh from a motorcycle ride to the Putnamville Correctional Facility, chats with reporters in Brazil.
When people in Putnam County complain about their high property taxes, the bulk of which go to support local schools, Gov. Mitch Daniels says they might only have themselves to blame.

Having four school districts, along with the cost of four administrations, is a financial burden that also penalizes students by preventing funding from being spent on needed programs, the governor told the BannerGraphic in a press conference Friday afternoon.

"It's fine to be attached to your school. It's just not fine to be attached to your overhead," Daniels said in discussing how to get more bang for the buck with education.

Overhead for facility maintenance and utilities, as well as administration, eat up an enormous amount of money that could be spent on teachers, textbooks and educational materials, he said.

When asked about the financial soundness of Putnam County having four school districts, the governor said leaders here should look into consolidating the school district into one countywide system, such as those of Clay, Vigo and Vanderburgh counties.

While the public may resist such a move in favor of school loyalties or rivalries, it does not make sense financially, and those loyalties are eating up local education dollars by allowing administrative services to be duplicated.

"In that case, don't complain about your property taxes," Daniels said.

The Greencastle League of Women Voters hosted a forum in October 2006 with state leaders about what it takes to consolidate schools. At that time, State Sen. Luke Kenley and Dan Clark of the Indiana State Teachers Association agreed that while consolidation can save taxpayers money, it can be hard for the public to accept.

At Friday's forum, hosted at the Brazil Times, sister newspaper of the BannerGraphic, Daniels said he was disappointed that full-day kindergarten was only partially funded by the state legislature this past session. But one of his goals now is to have full funding for the full-day program.

Cutting back on government was a recurring theme for Daniels, as he reviewed issues ranging from high gas prices to ethanol plants to the state's prison system.

Indiana has too many layers of government, Daniels said, and some county offices have outgrown their purpose.

"We elect more people to office than any state in the Union," he said.

Reforming local government can only help local taxpayers, he asserted.

"Never forget, you won't pay a property tax dollar that some local government or school district doesn't intend to spend," Daniels said.

Back on the issues of schools, Indiana has too many "extravagant" school facilities. They are nice, he agreed, but many of the features, such as atriums or fountains, are unnecessary. Many states have standard floor plans that school boards can choose. That eliminates the needs for architects and associated costs.

On ethanol, Indiana has finally caught up to the rest of the nation on pursuing the alternative fuel possibilities. That will be a benefit to farmers, he said, as the price and demand for corn increases. And he thinks the public will see how increasingly practical ethanol is as an alternative fuel.

Prices for regular gasoline at the pumps will settle down sometime soon, he said, but he does not see any benefit to dropping the state's gas tax temporarily. Such a move is illegal, outside the governor's powers, and would provide only minor assistance to the consumers.

"I still would not find it a responsible thing to do," Daniels said. "Even a couple of months of doing this would put us back in the red (financially)."

Prior to his stop in Brazil, Daniels toured the Putnamville Correctional Facility where staff led a tour of offender programs that provide job skills and training, along with benefits for the community.

The recently established thoroughbred retirement foundation program provides retraining and therapeutic needs for retired race horses. The new program now has six horses, but by fall will have 50 animals, cared for by staff and offenders.

The pure-bred black angus cattle program is self-sufficient, and the goat herd provides a healthy meat alternative and improves facility grounds. The Skidz/pallet shop is where offenders recycle used wooden pallets to make new pallets sold to area companies. And at the lumber mill, offenders cut and split wood from dead and fallen trees on the facility grounds. The ricks of wood are sold as an affordable heat source to low-income families.

Daniels said the state's Department of Correction has made great strides in recent years to rehabilitate offender populations, rather than "warehouse" people until they are released back into society to possibly commit additional crimes.

"We want these people to learn something and develop habits that keep them out of trouble in the future," he said.



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