Rascally rascals

Dateline: Sun 06 Mar 2011

I have not been gone as long as the Indiana House Democrats. They took off for the Comfort Suites hot tub in Urbana, Ill., on Feb. 21; I last posted on Feb. 24.

My excuse? I've been working. I have about 18 tiny jobs now, from "Earth Needs Grandmas" (child care for St. Thomas Aquinas families) to antiques at Midland to dog-walking. Yes, I scoop poop for a living.

But the Democrats? Not doing squat. Holed up in that hotel for two weeks tomorrow, with nothing to show for their time, zip, except for Rep. Pat Bauer's occasional staccato antics (increasingly bizarre, even for him, wrote the Indianapolis Star's Matt Tully, who has my gratitude for telling it like it is).

Ah, but here's the donkey in the room -- and it is a very large odiferous donkey.

From the get-go of the Dems' walkout, framed by all the drama of Statehouse union protests over the right-to-work, etc., there was a strong sense of something being not quite right...

And in truth, this walkout and refusal to work is not about peripheral labor issues, really; it's not even about education. It is about the Indiana State Teachers' Association, one of the most powerful unions in the state, and the Democratic legislators attempts to protect that union, with whom the party is so clearly aligned politically.

Of course, that's fair. Everyone has their special interests. That's how the game is played.

What is not fair is that the Dems are hijacking what I believe to be very sincere efforts by Gov. Mitch Daniels and some Republicans to improve educational opportunities for poor children in Indiana. Please, don't tell me that Daniels and his cohorts simply want to ram-rod this agenda thru in order to benefit their "rich friends." Show me a capitalist who has gained personal wealth by running a bunch of schools, and I'll show you a Northwest Indiana Democrat who believes in freedom of school choice for impoverished families. The latter, incidentally, do not have a union to represent them (But they do have, now, Stand for Children -- thanks again to Matt Tully for his column, and to David Harris of the Mind Trust for exporting ideas).

I don't like Pat Bauer, for a bunch of reasons.

He made a bad impression early on, by never returning my phone calls; I am talking about dozens of attempts during my working days as a reporter to reach the guy, when he was majority leader, over issues not nearly as controversial as this impasse has been. He simply did not return phone calls, which made me wonder: if he treats a reporter from the state's largest newspaper with so much indifference, how does he treat concerns of constituents?

I do like Rep. John Day, Ed DeLaney, Vi Simpson, Chet Dobis, Vernon Smith (all of whom return calls).  I believe they are ethical and committed to voters.

So they should stop listening to Bauer, already, and the party bosses, and get on with the agenda of addressing the state's business.

President Barack Obama favors education reform. The Catholic Church (of which Day and DeLaney are members) supports the school choice bill. Isn't that reason enough for the Dems to start wading into this issue, rather than hiding out, costing taxpayers' both time and potentially money, refusing to do their duty?

One last thing: Public education is not a sacred cow. I know many readers of this blog, people I respect, believe that it is essential to democracy.

I think, as an institution, public education has been in part corrupted by ineptness that was union-protected and union-driven. The union maintained the status quo.

I also absolutely believe there are wonderful public schools, so spare me that lecture; my own grandson attends one in Indy, and he and his parents prefer it to the Catholic school he formerly attended.

They had a choice. Give that freedom to others.

And Dems, go back to work, already.






Christopher Lloyd [unverified] said:

Ballsy post, Ruth, and I'm sure one that will earn you a lot of flack.

It's interesting how the way a politician treats journalists correlates so well with how they treat constituents. In all my time covering politics -- yes, I was not always a features/movies guy -- I never met one who was standoffish with reporters but salt of the earth with the unwashed masses.

2011-03-06 11:30:31

ruthholl [Member] said:

I'm sure Bauer has many good qualities; after all, they love him in South Bend, and he is the fearless leader of the Dems.
I already got beat up over this subject at lunch today with my liberal friends. I always wondered why I don't have any friends who are Republicans? I think it's because Dems are for the main part more tolerant...and they tolerate me.
Nice to hear from you.
So do you think Pat Bauer is salt of the earth with the masses?
I'm sure he talks the leg off of political reporters...but I also get the impression he's a guy who marches to his own drummer.

2011-03-06 15:21:06

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

You have every right to your opinions on education, Ruth, and I agree with a few of them.

However, in this case, the Republican position is about money - and saving it- because the GOP is so horrified about the idea of a small tax increase on the affluent to keep public education intact.

One good way to avoid this, they reason, is to get rid of the experienced teachers who get paid more than kids just out of college. This is age discrimination, pure and simple. I know some of you folks formerly at The Star have been through this sort of thing ("take your 'big' salaries out the door and go walk dogs for a living,") etc, etc., so I would think there would be a bit more empathy with experienced educators.

Public school teachers have become scapegoats for everything problematic in this state, including the lousy weather we've been having and the fact that the Hoosier men's basketball team can't win games on the road.

Republicans don't want professional educators to have the right to be organized and they hate unions in general.

The Democrats are showing guts in standing up to the bullying right-wing element in this state.

The Demos would rather be home with their families. Given the choice between a motel room in Illinois and being at home, I'd certainly rather be home with my wife, high school kid (who goes to a public school), and two weiner dogs any day!

The Star's thoroughness and fairness in coverage of these complex issues has been weak (at best) and stilted towards the right-wing Republicans we now have trying to pull off dictatorship in this state.
Is Mitch now an official member of The Star's editorial board?

Demos: you have my admiration and your sacrifices are appreciated by many.

2011-03-06 16:34:49

indykjsharp [unverified] said:

Whether it's a sincere effort or not, the right-wing goal is to do away with public schools and the U.S. Dept. of Education.

Here's a book that may be worth reading: "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education," by Diane Ravitch. I haven't read it myself but I saw her interviewed on the Daily Show.

2011-03-06 17:40:34

IndyRob [unverified] said:

I agree with your comments about the democrats wanting to defend the Indiana State Teachers Association.
I just do not agree that the republicans are passing laws that do not benefit their friends, such as house bill 1002 which will make it easier to create a charter school.
You might want to take a look at the pay of being the CEO or president of a non-profit that runs charter schools. The annual pay seems to be out of proportion with the number of students in those schools. For example, 200K for one non-profit president whose 3 Indiana schools and one out of state have less than 1300 students.
I just do not think the issues with teachers and administrators in public schools can be fixed by increasing the number of charters.

2011-03-06 20:20:11

hendy [Member] said:

Nope and nope.

Bauer is an old goat. He's likely doing part of the work of the ISTA. But public instruction in this state is a constitutional right. The union-busting tactics are a part of this. Decimation of public school expenditures is another facet and fact. Changing once again, the funding formula-- just to keep things exciting-- is de riguer in Indiana.

Vouchers can't be used for parochial schools. That can't work in Indiana or elsewhere. Catholic schools, who pay their teachers doodley squat, are happy to keep wages low so they don't look so miserable by comparison. You know what they pay: you were on the St TaQ board.

You saw the column I wrote about it; I can't find a greater insult to educators, administrators, and honest people that believe in actually funding pensions. It's a race to the bottom as we go for that great metric, the great state of Alabama. I can't disagree with you more, categorically, save the part that as a byproduct, the ISTA benefits.

I believe in these guys. They're heroes to me. The new state capitol is in Urbana, if you ask me. The cat is out of the bag on the nationwide Republican agenda to renegotiate everything, keep taxes low, and therefore save the economy. Like that's the answer-- and it's certainly NOT.

2011-03-06 20:48:56

Ms. Cynical [unverified] said:

Truly, Ruth, what else can the Dems do except refuse the Reps a quorum?

2011-03-06 23:28:02

Jason [unverified] said:

Great post. It's funny how often one side will take the loyal opposition, seemingly just for the hell of it.

Last time this city had a Democratic mayor he stonewalled the vast majority of city employees (i.e. those NOT on his staff.) Most city fleet employees went without so much as a half percent raise for 8 years. This is similar to the way the state was run when Bayh was governor and Peterson took a hard line on public unions. I'm sure Republicans raised the hue and cry, and now the tables are turned. Public unions are such an incredibly different animal than they are in the private sector, and I'm glad it's finally getting some coverage.

It's embarassing, though, when these folks are acting like a bunch of petulant children. It makes our state look foolish. I had family in town from Wisconsin and they said the live-in protesters in Madison did over $7 million worth of damage before they finally kicked them out. Our crown jewel was, you can't make this up, Danny Glover coming out of retirement to give a pep rally. Really?

Then again, the Unions are footing the bill on behalf of the lawmakers, so if that's where the teachers want to put their union dues, so be it. Personally I think teachers get too much of the blame when it comes to teaching. Realistically, we have nobody to thank for the circus being in town other than the Unions.

Speaking of parochial schools, they pay pennies compared to public schools and very rarely (at least in my day) did the teachers get a single prep period during the school day. However, it's very common to get hundreds of applications for a single opening, even in the best of economic times. Yes, the conditions are THAT much better.

2011-03-07 01:17:28

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

First of all, welcome back. I was starting to look on milk cartons.

Secondly--let's get this perfectly clear: Pat Bauer has been a lousy front-person for the Democratic Party for at least a decade. It may not be fair, but he's got to go. As the Dem leader, anyway. If the S.Bend folks want to continue to send him back, that's their right. I know many in the Dem caucus would like to push their leader over the edge, but he has just enough votes to hang on. By a hair. (Build your own joke)

Whitebeard and Hendy are completely right. Public education needs a kick in the pants, but the Daniels-Bennett plans are suicidal, and they just don't care. There has been a groundswell of ISTA-hate building for 25 years, and finally, the Republicans control everything, so they can ram through a lot of bills that pander to their far-right malcontents:

**The most onerous marriage bill in America, when we already have statutes which define it clearly;

**massive cuts in funding to any organization that even dares speak of abortion;

**immigration meddling that ignores reality.

You get the point.

I've done my time in the barrel on public ed. It needs a stern overhaul--but that needs to start at the TOP, not the bottom. Superintendents are the biggest problem, not teachers. And although the SUpers don't have a union, their clubby little cartel is expensive, fat and ugly. Eugene White is the current poster child, but Ruthie, dear, he's so normal and pompous among those ranks, that it would frighten you. Seriously.

I feel your educational anger. Me too. Vouchers aren't the answer--they're blatantly unconstitutional if used for parochial schools. Charters aren't the answer either. The answers being peddled, like the answers noted on the other issues above, play to the least civil among our qualities. This is what happens, in part, when the majority party (Dems) have a leader like Bauer too long.

Paybacks are hell. And this session is ugly.

If I were in the caucus, I couldn't have left town. But my spirit would've been with the fleeing legislators. I'd have insisted on being one of the left-behinds.

I'm praying for statesmanship in this session, form both sides. I am almost certain my prayers will go unanswered. Eric Miller, D.r Bennett and Micah Clark are running this show, make no mistake about it.

2011-03-07 05:31:00

varangianguard [unverified] said:

Sadly, I have come to the conclusion that Republicans aren't interested in "reforming" public education for the sake of our children, but have finally discovered that it is just one more taxpayer funded cash cow that they (and/or their well-heeled "friends") can raid for fun and profit.
There is a lot of money spent on education, and like most privatizing schemes, the risks end up 100% on the backs of the taxpaying public. For those "invested" in alternative education promotions, where is the downside?
Unions beat down, sizable profits without risk, goodly salaries for those at the top (filled only with "right" thinkers), and a chance to stealthily influence the curricula without the usual compromises required in the public arena. Bah, humbug.

2011-03-07 09:44:14

Boomer Indy [unverified] said:


You write an engaging, well-rounded article. Which is why you'll find people on both sides who disagree. I like your approach. As a conservative, I don't know why liberals are so threatened by the fact that public schools are no longer the automatic best and only choice for education. Yes, there are some great public schools. There was a day when nearly everyone went to a public school, including me. But I found a great school, which is private, where my kids are truly loved, valued, challenged and where my input in the educational process is welcomed. They share my personal values and class sizes are low. My kids get the attention they need to excel. I would love some of my property tax dollars earmarked for education to go with me to the private school. If not, it won't make a difference. We all make choices.

2011-03-07 10:40:25

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

When I was a kid and we played sandlot baseball, a kid would occasionally decide he didn't like the rules or the calls and take his ball and go home, putting an end to the game.

We would call him a dick and not let him play again.

The Dems knew the rules. Issues aside, either they do what they were elected to do within the confines of the GA, or resign. It's not like they all- Dems and Gops alike- cover themselves with selfless leadership even when they are behaving themselves.

2011-03-07 11:13:26

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Boomer, IF those private schools to which you refer, follow these rules, I'd insist the check be written to you:

1. Accept every student who wants to attend, regardless of status, learning ability, income or any other consideration. That right there, pretty much eliminates all private schools, but if your school still applies, then move to No. 2:

2. Not one dime is used for religious education.

Public schools are expensive. But if you think education is expensive, try ignorance.

That infrastructure was expensive to establish, and those buildings, while overbuilt in some districts, have to be maintained, cleaned, and staffed.

Public school must, by Constitutional decree, be ready to accept all students today. Want a comparison, on the home budget front?

Sya you have four kids, ages 12-18. Let each kid bring home 4-5 kids 1-2 days a month for food and homework support over the next month. But you don't get to plan which day, or if all four rush your refrig on the same day. Buy food and get ready for that.

That's one-one-millionth of the prep time, budget and otherwise, required by public schools.

It's time to stop making public schools the scapegoat. Their overall performance is stagnant (or worse) because: testing is harder than ever before, and the students' rpesenting conditions are more complicated than ever before. Some public schools are outstanding. May their tribe multiply.

The public schools need a swift kick ink the ass. They're getting it. Bu It stopped being a kick in the ass about four years ago, and started becoming a witch hunt.

Knock it the f*** off already.

2011-03-07 11:29:10

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

My younger daughter was a transfer from a good school system in another state, to a well known Indy private school. Her grades were average...but she was a 6-foot BB player. The admission interview went well and they accepted our tuition check which was about the equivalent of a year at Purdue.

We made our choice and paid for it. Choices should be paid for. Tax monies should not be diverted from public schools if parents want their kids to go elsewhere: let them pay for it. There are many inequities in life, and it is inevitable that some public schools will be much better than others. The reason for that lies less with the school and more with the students' home life, and the latter remains a downward spiraling social issue and not an education issue per se.

2011-03-07 15:52:45

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Tom is a genius.

2011-03-07 16:10:56

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