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All Roads Lead to IPS.

(This post was originally published on March 25, 2006.)

Central Indiana is a region. Yes we’re divided by township lines and county lines and state roads. We’re divided by taxing districts and elected representation. But we’re a region. What affects one part of the region inevitably affects another part of the region. What happens in Sheridan or Westfield affects what happens in Washington or Center or Perry Townships in Marion County, as well as on down through Johnson County.

We’re all connected. Our regional economic state is united by our undivided geography.

By day, we and many of our elected and non-elected public figureheads talk a lot about being regionally concerned. How do we cure some of our regional ills? How do we attract business to the region? How do we solve our transportation issues? Combined sewer overflow problems? Filthy air and water?

And at the end of the day, we all go back to our respective ‘burgs and neighborhoods and counties and city councils and taxing authorities…and scratch and claw for the next round of tax dollars. Let’s get the next Wal-Mart before our next door neighbor does so we can get the taxes associated with it to build our schools and pave our roads and upgrade our sewage treatment. And in that, we revert back to the “Us and Them” mentality that inevitably keeps us separate.

It’s “Us” Westfield against “Them” Carmel. Or it’s “Us” Greenwood against “Them” Southport. Or it’s “Us” Avon against “Them” Plainfield.

These adjacent counties and townships and taxing districts and neighborhoods are all scratching at each other again and again and again.

The huge seeping bedsore in the middle of all this is that until we create good-paying jobs (those would be high-wage jobs in Technology, Logistics, Pharma, Medical Device, etc.), the entire Regional economy is going to continue to stay stagnant.

The companies that create those kinds of jobs are progressive. They want to be able to move their companies and employees and their families into the area and know that they’re going to get good support. Quality housing. Exciting entertainment. Broad recreation options. A vibrant arts community. And political system that’s transparent and open and accepting of all sorts of people.

There’s no denying that we’re making huge inroads in some of these areas. We have a great housing stock. (Forget the fact that we’ve got some of the lowest appreciation in the country) The Colts and Pacers are a BLAST to watch and bring local pride and national exposure to Central Indiana. Eagle Creek and White River State Park and Ft. Ben and Hoosier National Forest…all great outdoor areas. The arts community is really growing thanks to Mayors like Peterson & Brainard. And HUGE KUDOS to the Marion County City Council for passing the Human Rights Ordinance and the Smoking Ban. Both of those efforts are reflective of a population that’s changing and educated and progressive.

But when companies move here, very often the most important factor is the necessity that they be able to find quality places to educate their kids.

Currently, that giant sucking sound in Central Indiana Education is the Indianapolis Public School System.

Let me be very clear about one thing. I am in no way implying that IPS is the cause of its own demise. In fact, I would suggest that IPS in its current state is an EFFECT. It’s an effect of white flight. It’s an effect of people moving into the suburbs and taking tax dollars out of Marion County. We know that 140,000 or so people drive into Marion County from the surrounding counties for their day job 5 days a week. (IRONY: many of those commuters drive smack through the middle of the IPS districts that they moved into the suburbs to get away from.) They use the roads and police and fire support, flush the toilets and run the water.

And at the end of the day they drive back home into the surrounding counties and take their paychecks and tax dollars and grocery money and their property taxes into their county of residence.

So the impact on Marion County is that the income that these people make at their jobs in Marion County is spent and taxed in a different county. Their Federal, State, Local and Property Taxes are paid outside of Marion County.

Yes, some of that money flows back into Marion County from the State and Federal Government. But most of it vaporizes when it crosses into the next county in those folks’ wallets and purses and SUVs.

(For the record and to practice full disclosure, at the time this post was written I was living in Clay Township, Hamilton County. I was a Carmel resident. My office was in Washington Township, Marion County, Indianapolis. I drove an SUV. I spent most of my time and money in Hamilton County. I moved there for the same reason most people do: arguably the best schools in the state. I currently [as of 10/1/2008] live in Washington Township, Indianapolis, Indiana, work at home and drive a smaller vehicle that gets twice the gas mileage of the SUV I used to own.)

It’s my perspective that until we as an entire region recognize that it’s in everyone’s financial interest to cure what ails IPS that we’re going to continue to fall behind relative to other cities of our size nationwide.

Very specifically, until people in Carmel, Indiana realize that it’s in their financial interest to see IPS succeed, to be viable, we’re not going to really solve any of its problems. Until people in Greenwood understand and believe and buy into the idea that it’s in their financial interest to see IPS not just survive but THRIVE, nothing is going to really change in the long term. We’ll simply continue to perpetuate the “Us and Them” mentality, much of which is fueled by old racism and classism and elitism. (But that’s a topic for another day.)

Until people in New Palestine and Plainfield and Avon and Westfield and Noblesville and Brownsburg and Southport…until we all realize that it’s all US…that it’s in ALL of our financial interest to see the largest public school system in the State of Indiana thrive…until IPS can be a thriving educational experience and community, the entire REGION will continue to fall behind.

We’ll continue to be passed up for more corporate headquarters. We’ll continue to attract fewer high-paying jobs that our neighbors in Ohio and Illinois and Kentucky and Michigan.

It is crystal clear to me that every regional political and business leader needs to stand behind Dr. Eugene White and support his efforts to turn IPS into a world-class public education institution for everybody.

Yes, we’ll fight poverty. We’ll fight single parenthood and all the problems associated with that. We’ll fight teen pregnancy and drug abuse and violence. Those things aren’t going away. And we can work together to provide support and guidance and mentoring and leadership to our young people affected by those problems and as a REGIONAL COMMUNITY show that we care. Even if that care is coming from a place of economic security. Call it enlightened self-interest.

I believe, too, that through that engagement – even as self-serving economic security – we’ll engage ourselves and each other into a place of truly caring for each other in new and better ways. And at the end of the day we’ll all be better people for it. All of us. Because it really is all “Us.”

This region can make a change. We can gather our focus and decide that the heart and soul of turning the corner in our regional economic battle is curing the ills the IPS faces every day.

We owe it to ourselves. We owe it to our kids. We owe it to each other.