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The death of local control

Our editorial board's interviews with legislative candidates and school board candidates this spring seemed to have a common theme. Repeatedly, they raised concerns about the loss of local control in public education.

It prompted a look at the issue for our Sunday Perspective section cover. The concerns I heard from candidates, overwhelmingly, came from Republicans, including a few aligned with the tea party movement. That puts them at odds on the subject with Gov. Mitch Daniels, who identified education as his top priority for his second term. Along with his hand-picked state superintendent, the governor is making sweeping changes in Indiana's K-12 schools, mostly through the state's newly acquired control of the purse strings.

Two interesting points I didn't have the space the include: Manchester Community Schools is located in Wabash County, where a local income tax provided additional property tax relief and totally eliminated property tax bills for some homeowners. Superintendent Diana Showalter told me that some residents have told her that they are paying little or no property taxes, but they know the school district is struggling financially. They asked the superintendent how they could help. Some Hoosiers, it seems, understand the connection between taxes and good public schools.

Also, John Ellis of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents notes the governor's criticism of New Albany-Floyd County Schools for closing four elementary schools.

The governor suggests the school district was not well managed, but the fault for that flows to his own state superintendent's office. Tony Bennett was assistant superintendent at New Albany until 2007, when he became superintendent of Greater Clark County Schools and months later launched a statewide campaign. One of his top assistants is Dennis Brooks, who was superintendent at the district until he joined Bennett at the Indiana DOE last year. The current New Albany superintendent, Bruce Hibbard, has been on the job only since August.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at