Published Online: January 8, 2003
Published in Print: January 8, 2003, as State Journal


State Journal

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Suburban Lobby

Urban and rural schools in Indiana have for years formed political groups and hired lobbyists to advance their interests. Now, a number of suburban school districts have hired a lobbyist to make sure state legislators learn about their issues as well.

Last month, the group launched the Indiana Association of Growing and Suburban Schools, which has membership dues of $3,000 a year for each district.

"We think there is a void, and we'd like for this group to be heard," said Richard E. Helton, the superintendent of the 6,000-student Avon Community School Corporation, which is a member of the group.

John G. Ellis, the chief of the 7,000-student Noblesville schools, called a meeting in December to launch the organization. He invited about 50 Indiana districts that had experienced growth in enrollment the previous school year and a pattern of growth over five years. He's thrilled that 24 districts have become members of the new group, and that four more will likely join before the end of this month. About half the members are suburban schools.

The association plans to contract with Gretchen Gutman, a lobbyist for the Indianapolis-based firm Sommer Barnard and Ackerson, to be an advocate for growing and suburban schools on a part-time basis starting this month.

The group has asked Ms. Gutman to concentrate on two issues—at least for now.

One involves Indiana's decision to stop paying money into retirement funds for teachers who have taken new teaching jobs since July 1, 1995. The districts that hire those teachers must make up the difference for what the state once paid. The change has particularly burdened growing schools, Mr. Ellis said, because they are hiring the most new teachers. In addition, the group wants legislators to modify how money is allotted to schools with growing enrollments. Today, the state provides extra aid only if a district's growth exceeds 250 students in a given year.

Mr. Ellis' district grew by 242 students last school year, but didn't get $399,000 that it would have received if it had had eight additional new students.

Because Indiana, like many other states, faces fiscal problems, Mr. Ellis said, the new group doesn't expect a quick resolution in the budget session that begins this month.

But its members want legislators to at least be more aware of the challenges facing suburban and growing districts.

—Mary Ann Zehr

Vol. 22, Issue 16, Page 13

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