December 7, 2020 Summary

HIGHLIGHTS: Possible Library Lease of Happy Hollow (6:39), Ribbon Cutting for New Construction (6:44), Hiring Dr. Carolyn Johnson to Facilitate DEI Committee (6:49), School District Borrowed $95 Million Over Past 4 Years (6:57), Approval of Unspecified School Policies (7:00), Purchase of Forecast5 Software (7:02), All Teachers and Staff to Receive Same Dollar Amount in Teacher Appreciations Grants (7:20)

Location: West Lafayette Intermediate School Cafeteria

Streaming: No live stream provided  

Attendance: 7 School Board Members (Alan Karpick, President; Karen Springer, Vice President; Bradley Marley, Secretary; Brian Bittner, Melissa Prochnau, Thomas Schott, Rachel Witt); Robert Reiling, Jr., Lawyer; Stephen Ohlaut; Rocky Killion, Superintendent

Audience: 13 people including Anna Darling from WLFI who was videoing the meeting 

6:30 – Karpick began the meeting. There were no opening comments from those in attendance. 

6:32 – Bianculli, one of the two physicians working as a consultant for the school corporation, shared numbers for the schools’ COVID cases. These can be found at the school’s dashboard. She explained that the number of cases has risen quite sharply, but said that the majority of the spread has been in the community and not in classrooms. This made me wonder how many instances of in-school spread have occurred? Dr Bianculli expressed her belief that the safest place for kids is in school where they wear masks and are distanced. She is worried that infections will go up when the students return from winter break. She acknowledged that the CDC has changed their recommendation for contact tracing quarantines but said that the local health department is still recommending 14 days and so that is what the school district will do for now. They may consider dropping it to 10 days next semester for asymptomatic cases.

6:39 – Killion explained that the city will finish their lease and move out of the Happy Hollow building the end of December. The $500k annual lease payment helped to close much of the $790k shortfall between tax revenue and construction bond payments in 2020. He invited Nick Schenkel, Director of the West Lafayette Library, to explain the library’s interest in using the building in 2021. Schenkel explained that the library is planning to do some significant renovation and would like to lease about 15,000 square feet in the Happy Hollow building in order to house backroom staff and operations and possibly public service. Schenkel explained that the library’s use would only involve minor changes to the building and require some parking space. Killion asked for authorization to enter into lease negotiations with the library. This is good news because the school district’s bond payments increase by $800k for 2021 leaving the school district with a $1.5 million shortfall compared to tax revenue. 

Voted 7 out of 7 

6:44 – Killion started his update on the construction projects by saying that the foundation has raised $2.6 million for the construction projects so far and has a goal of raising $5 million in total. The pandemic has slowed the pace of the fundraising but they still plan to reach their goal. The foundation previously had 2 employees, but are currently operating with just 1. They plan to hire another employee soon. Killion said that the school district is in the early stage of moving forward with plans to turn Happy Hollow into an early childhood center. He didn’t explain how the school district would pay for this. Construction of the James R. Guy Education Wing is on schedule and will have the media center open in January. The ribbon cutting will be mid June (date not set yet). The Bob Kelly Performing Arts Center construction is also on schedule and will require the closing of the theater in March. They plan to be open and operational mid June with the ribbon cutting on June 26th.

6:49 – Karpick said he has been working with Witt and Springer on the Diversity Task Force. They have decided to hire Dr. Carolyn Johnson, Director of the Purdue Diversity Resource Office, as a consultant to be the facilitator for this committee. He explained that the school district needs someone who lives in our community, but does not have close ties to the school district, as facilitator. It doesn’t appear that they posted this position to try to attract a large pool of candidates. I wonder who else they considered? It also isn’t clear what Johnson’s role will be. Karpick said that Johnson will not dictate policy, but will help foster an environment of discussion and action. The committee will be led by Margaret Psarros and Laura Falk as co-chairs. They will start in January and it wasn’t clear how the committee members would be chosen, though Karpick said that several people have asked to be included as members of the committee. Karpick asked for approval to proceed.

Voted 7 out of 7

6:57 – Steve Ohlhaut seems to have been filling in for Ross Sloat on the finances. I’m not sure what his role is in the administration. Ohlhaut shared a list of improvements that the administration is requesting approval to perform. At WLES the total cost is $84,000 with improvements to the nature center, doors, etc. At WLIS the total cost is $162,000 with improvements to the lunch/assembly room acoustics, gym, etc. At the Jr./Sr. HS the total cost is $4,800 with improvements to the lunch room. The total is $251,040. Ohlhaut said that these facility improvements would be paid for from the 2017 bond. For background – our school district recently issued $95 million in bonds (82.5 million face value).

  • 2017 bond that raised $54.6 million ($45 million face value)
  • 2018 bond that raised $17.3 million ($15 million face value)
  • 2019 bond that raised $15.5 million ($15 million face value)
  • 2020 bond that raised $7.6 million ($7.5 million face value)

The combined bond payments are structured to increase from $5.4 million in 2021 to $5.6 million in 2022, to $5.8 million in 2023, to . . . $7.4 million in 2038. Ohlhaut explained that about $3.5 million of the $95 million raised from these bonds has not yet been spent. Why did the school corporation borrow an additional $7.5 million in 2020 if we only needed $4 million more to finish the construction projects? Why are we sitting on $3.5 million of borrowed money?

Voted 7 out of 7

7:00 – Killion asked for approval to update some school board policies that are in relation to various “changes in legislation” as well as policies relating to the pandemic in regards to PPE and masks. Springer commented that these were updates from the spring and said that they have one more to change and then would start with the fall updates. I have no idea what this means. There was no discussion and no indication what any of these policy changes were. We don’t know which policies were changed or added (I’m going to ask the school board for details). It would be helpful if the school board put the old and the new policies side by side up on the screen for the audience to see and then explain why they are making a change. 

Voted 7 out of 7

7:01 – Killion asked for approval to update the employee handbook with health, dental, and vision. There was no discussion and no indication of what changes they are making to employee benefits.

Voted 7 out of 7

7:02 – Ohlhaut asked the school board to fund the adoption of Forecast5 software. This will allow the school district to better share financial information and do comparative reporting. Killion said most schools in Indiana are already using it and it will be used to compare with other schools in areas like teacher salaries, class sizes, and student enrollment. This is great news. Currently, the school website provides no financial information and nothing is handed out or displayed at school board meetings showing the future financial health of the school corp. This is a great improvement. As an aside, Monsieur Ohlhaut is an amazing French teacher! It will be sad for our students to lose him if he is moving into an administrator role. Does Ohlhaut have training or background in finance? Our school corp has an unusual history when it comes to CFOs over the past decade with some who were only employed for a few months. Sloat has been the “interim CFO” the past several years after retiring as superintendent of another school district. Is our school corp going to post the CFO position and search for a professional financial officer? I’m going to ask the school board for details. 

Voted 7 out of 7

7:05 – Ohlhaut asked for approval to renew our school district property Insurance. He said the cost will be $215,188 for 2021. That is $19k higher than in 2020 because the city had been paying for the Happy Hollow property insurance themselves as part of their lease agreement.

Voted 7 out of 7

7:07 – Ohlhaut asked for approval to contract with an expert in inspection and maintenance for the Aquatic Center. It would cost $4,265 for a one-year contract.

Voted 7 out of 7

7:08 – Ohlhaut asked the board to increase the Extra Curricular Account credit limit for WLES and WLIS. WLES had been $3,000, WLIS had been $3,000, and the Jr/SrHS is $10,000. They will increase the credit limit to $6,000 at both WLES and WLIS. This will not change the budget/accounts payable. It is just the credit card spending limit which will make things easier in months like this one where they purchase over $3,000 on things like holiday fundraiser gifts. Previously they had the credit cards with PEFCU but are switching to Huntington Bank because Huntington is where the rest of the school accounts are and it will make things easier.

Voted 7 out of 7

7:12 – Ohlhaut asked approval to purchase a treasurer surety bond for an employee. This is required of people working in certain government positions as a type of insurance. There was no discussion or questions and they didn’t make it clear who was moving into this treasurer position. I suppose we will have to wait for the personnel report to be posted which doesn’t happen until after the school board approves the minutes at the next meeting where it is attached to the bottom of the minutes.

Voted 7 out of 7

7:12 – Killion asked approval to accept a donation to the band program of $1,000.

Voted 7 out of 7

7:13 – Killion asked to approve the personnel report. He said that the permanent subs have been a saving grace through this pandemic in providing coverage in the classrooms. Schott asked if they were going to replace one of the permanent subs (his son is a WL permanent sub). Killion said that we have the subs we need and Principal Ron Shriner (in the audience) agreed. There was no other discussion. I don’t understand why this information is not made available to the public at the time the school board is voting on employee changes. Our school district’s procedure is to do this vote with no indication of what they are voting on and the public has to wait a month to find out what changes were made. It would be so much better if it were printed on the agenda and projected on the screen for those attending. I will ask the school board if they would be willing to make the personnel report public at the time of the current meeting.

Votes 7 out of 7

7:15 – Ohlhaut asked for approval of the accounts payable. He pointed out a $51,913 expenditure to lease 700 chromebooks for students during the pandemic. Also he commented on the anthem payments for health insurance. There were no questions or discussion. Is the only way to find out what our school district is spending to FOIA the accounts payable document that is provided to school board members? Why could this document not be provided to the public? Perhaps when the Forecast5 software is up and running it will provide this information. Until then, it would be very helpful for the school district to simply provide this accounts payable document to the public. I’m going to ask the school board if they would be willing to make this public at the time of the current meeting.

Voted 7 out of 7

7:17 – Killion shared a plaque given to our school district from the Indiana School Board Association for the many hours of their training programs in which our school board members participated. Karpick recognized Melissa Prochnau (4 years) and Brian Bittner (10 years) for their service on the school board as their terms will finish at the end of 2020. 

7:20 – Killion shared that the state has diminished the amount of money they give for Teacher Appreciation Grants (TAG) to $30/student. Our school district just received this money from the state. Killion explained that our district distributes this Teacher Appreciation Grant money equally to all staff, not just to teachers. He said that we all work together so if you are a full time staff member you received $512 before tax (prorated for part time). He said that we celebrate everyone and that our non-certified staff are grateful that everyone is equal in our Teacher Appreciation Grant money: teachers, custodians, lunchroom workers, paraprofessionals, bus drivers… all receive the same amount of money. Killion said that only a few school districts distribute the teacher appreciation money to staff members. Did our school board pass a policy requiring this division of Teacher Appreciation Grant funds? Do surrounding school districts have similar policies or do they divide it differently?

7:23 – Karpick asked for Board and Superintendent Reports. Prochnau gave updates on the Foundations. They raised $2100 from the 5k teacher trot. They gave out 4 grants this fall. Karen Springer gave an update for the Park Board and that the ice skating rink hadn’t opened because of warm weather and then mechanical issues but hope to open this weekend. Karpick said Springer will be contacting the board members about board officers to nominate for the January meeting.

7:27 – Killion commented that the livestream was down. He said they are considering doing the school board meetings at another location. Being at a school is a lot of work on the staff to set up and take down for the meetings. He wasn’t sure where they would have the next meeting and said that they are considering not continuing to try to livestream meetings. I was disappointed to hear that they are not making livestream a priority. We want our school board meetings to be more accessible and more transparent. Livestreaming the meetings allows more community members to be informed. This is particularly important during the pandemic. What can we do to make it possible to have the livestream of every school board meeting? Is there an update on the request discussed at the October meeting to allow for comment on the live stream? I’m going to ask the school board about this.

Comments – I’ve attended many West Lafayette school board meetings over the past several years and this one had the most discussion and questions by school board members that I’ve ever seen. These questions and discussion helped to clarify what it was that they were voting on in several instances. The meetings are still pretty opaque and I would like to see much more discussion, but it is an appreciated move towards being more open.

Future Meetings (calendar link)

January 4 at 6:30pm – Organizational, Regular, Finance Meeting

Abbreviations:

CFO – Chief Financial Officer

FOIA – Freedom of Information Act

WLCSC – West Lafayette Community School Corporation

WLES – West Lafayette Elementary School

WLIS – West Lafayette Intermidate School

This is not the official minutes from the school board meetings. The official minutes are released after the approval of those minutes at the next school board meeting (a month from now). Previous agendas, minutes, and audio recordings can be found at the WLCSC website.

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