The fates of Elmhurst High School and Pleasant Center Elementary School rest with a vote of the Fort Wayne Community Schools board this evening. If a budget hearing last week is any indication, board members will make the tough – but necessary – vote to close the schools.
The board held three public hearings on budget reductions, allowing supporters of the schools ample opportunity to speak. It’s likely that discussion tonight will be limited to board members.
Tonight’s agenda includes other key votes. Members of the Fort Wayne Education Association, the union that represents the district’s 2,000 teachers, voted last week to accept a contract with the district that maintains the status quo on salary and benefits but gives the district more latitude in teacher assignments. The board will be asked to approve the contract, which clears the way for the biggest share of budget cuts – a $6 million reduction in teacher salaries that will be realized through layoffs – and for a staffing overhaul at the 11 schools targeted for academic improvement.
Some board members are unhappy that teachers didn’t agree to give up step increases in pay or to renegotiate health insurance benefits. But the state’s collective bargaining law requires both sides to agree to change language on salary or benefits. If one side refuses, the existing language remains in effect.
The school district is facing $15 million in permanent budget cuts this year, most of it Fort Wayne Community Schools’ share of $297 million in K-12 cuts statewide. The district is likely facing an additional $8 million in cuts next year, so the option of delaying decisions isn’t a viable one.
East Allen, too
A day after FWCS makes key decisions, the East Allen County Schools board will continue its discussion of budget cuts in a special work session. East Allen needs to cut $4 million from its budget, a decision it plans to make next week.
The board has already discussed eliminating teaching assistants, charging fees for athletics and cutting all-day kindergarten. Additional cuts are expected to be discussed Tuesday. East Allen will also probably have to close some schools, but that decision is not expected until summer.
More on offices
The city-county task force weighing options for local governments’ use of the City-County Building and the newly purchased Renaissance Square building at 200 E. Berry St. will meet again this week. At issue is the most efficient way to use the two buildings – both in terms of cost and public convenience. Politics, power and money will, not surprisingly, color the decision.
For the first time, both Sheriff Ken Fries and Police Chief Rusty York will address the panel. Just as important, the panel will hear newly detailed cost estimates for remodeling the buildings for various uses.
The final decision will most likely center on whether the city police and county police offices should be in the same building. Some county officials may well push for putting county police in the City-County Building and city police in Renaissance Square – more for political and control reasons than practical ones.
Some city officials may look at that as a deal-breaker, which could cause the city to separate and move just city offices to Renaissance Square.
The panel has been hampered by its unwieldy size – 10 members – and the presence of members who outspokenly opposed the city’s purchase of Renaissance Square, a decision that will not be rescinded. With luck, the panel will overcome those liabilities and reach a solution that includes putting both police departments in the City-County Building and keeps all of the development-related offices together.
Screenwriter, playwright and director Neil LaBute will deliver the Omnibus Lecture at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne on Thursday.
LaBute was an assistant professor of theater at the university in the early 1990s.
He returned to Fort Wayne to make his first film, In the Company of Men.
His most recent play, Reasons to Be Pretty, received three Tony nominations.
His most recent film, Death at a Funeral, features Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence and Tracy Morgan. It is set for wide release on April 16.
Omnibus lectures are free and open to the public.
Community garden workshop
Food for the Fort is a community gardening project supported by the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department, the Purdue Extension Office and local master gardeners.
The group wants to increase the number of community gardens planted around the city this spring. A Food for the Fort Workshop on Thursday will help the group meet its goal.
Ricky Kemery, from the extension office, and several master gardeners will be providing free expert advice about planting vegetable gardens and building raised beds.