February 1, 2021 Summary

HIGHLIGHTS: Offering Online HS Social Studies Summer Courses (6:45), Revisions to Unspecified School Policies (6:49), $300,000 Boiler Replacement at Happy Hollow (6:50), Number of Students (7:03), Resolution Calling for Vaccinations for Teachers (7:13)

Location: Happy Hollow Building, LGI Room; At the end of December 2020 SB meeting, Superintendent Killion said that he was looking for a new location for school board meetings where the equipment could be left out to reduce work for the staff. Using the HH LGI Room was a community suggestion and I think it is a great location. The sound wasn’t working as well as it did at WLIS and it was difficult to hear board members while they were speaking. 

Streaming: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jePbzseIbYg&feature=youtu.be The meeting begins at timestamp 12:10. The sound stopped working at 40:29 and then started again at 41:17, but then the whole livestream went down at 45:00. I appreciate all the work the staff does behind the scenes to make the audio work at the meeting and also for the livestream. It doesn’t look like an easy task.

Attendance: 7 of 7 School Board Members (Alan Karpick, Karen Springer, Bradley Marley, Thomas Schott, Rachel Witt, Amy Austin, Yue Yin via zoom); Ross Sloat, Interim CFO; Stephen Ohlhaut, Assistant to the CFO; Robert Reiling, Jr., Lawyer; Rocky Killion, Superintendent (Killion still couldn’t speak above whisper volume)

Audience: There were quite a few students, parents, and administrators in attendance to honor some of our great students. After the awards, the students and their families left the meeting leaving an audience of 2 teachers union leaders, 3 administrators, 1 teacher, and 4 parents. 

6:32 – Karpick called the meeting to order. He called for a vote to approve the agenda and then to approve the minutes from the prior meeting.

Voted 7 out of 7

6:34 – Karpick invited communication from the audience for those who had signed up to speak on current agenda items. Andi Hipster (co-president of the WLEA teachers union) thanked the board for the resolution they prepared calling on the state to prioritize giving the COVID-19 vaccine to teachers. I agree with Hipster and so appreciate our teachers and all the extra effort they are putting in for our students during this difficult school year. I think our community agrees that teachers need to be next in line for the vaccine.

6:35 – Administrators from each of the 3 schools (WLES, WLIS, WL Jr/Sr HS) recognized 9 students with the “Way to Go Award” for being great citizens. Each student came to the front individually while a school administrator shared why this student was chosen and then each student received a certificate. This was a great way to start the school board meeting! I was so proud of these students for the positive influence they have had in our schools. They are excellent representatives of the great students and families in our community! Seeing these students at the beginning of the meeting was a good reminder of the important mission of public schools.

6:45 – Ohlhaut said that WL Jr/Sr HS may be interested in starting a pilot program offering online social studies courses in the summer: US History, World History, Government, and Economics. The state will reimburse our district if we have at least 15 students in each class. We will continue to use the Indiana Online Academy for other summer courses. He is still working to determine if we have enough student interest and teachers willing to do the summer teaching so that the district can submit a plan to the DOE by April 1. There would be no tuition cost for participating students from our district. Several board members asked questions. I appreciated the questions that the school board members asked to clarify the details and Ohlhaut did a great job responding. One of my children took two online summer courses through Achieve Virtual Education Academy, another online summer option our school has offered, in order to free up additional class schedule time and both were positive experiences. 

    Voted 7 out of 7

6:49 – Sloat asked the school board to approve revisions to some school board policies and noted that the policies being revised were in their packets. Springer stated that these policy revisions were in response to 2020 legislation. There were no questions. There is not a way for the public to know what policies they voted to change. I am disappointed that our school board refuses to share this information with the community. At school board meetings in our neighboring districts, the details are shared with the public before the school board is asked to vote. There is nothing preventing our school board from also being transparent except for their own desire to control information. I’ve spent time reading our school district policies posted here and identified several that are not in the best interest of our community. I’ve asked how community members can advocate for policy changes but have received no answer. I even offered to volunteer my time helping the policy committee which recommends potential policy changes to the school board, but was told no.

    Voted 7 out of 7

6:50 – Sloat told the board that we need to replace the boilers in Happy Hollow. Currently there are 2 boilers and both are having major issues. He proposed replacing them with 3 smaller boilers. The total replacement cost would be around $300,000 and would be taken from the Rainy Day Fund. Reiling proposed that the school board authorize an emergency expenditure (IC 36-1-12-9) to allow Sloat to get the replacement going without needing to go through the regular advertising and bidding process. The emergency process requires only 2 bids and then the school district can move forward. Witt asked what would happen if the boilers were to fail? Sloat responded that they would have to drain all the pipes to prevent freezing damage and that the building would not be as useful for COVID vaccination nor for the WL Library which may still be considering a temporary lease of some of the building. The potential Library lease was discussed at the December 2020 meeting and there hasn’t been an update yet. I appreciated that there were several questions and some discussion about why Sloat felt that the emergency process was necessary. What was missing was a discussion about the future of HH. For at least the past 5 years, school administrators have talked about wanting to renovate HH and turn it into an early childhood center, but there has never been any discussion of how to pay for this idea. If the community decides to vote for an increase in property taxes in order to pay for a HH renovation, then paying for new boilers now probably makes sense. However, what if instead we decide to demolish HH and leave the land available for future construction? Perhaps it would be wiser to shut off the water, drain the pipes, and use space heaters in only those rooms where heat is required? The big concern that needs to be addressed is that the recent construction projects have left our district with 17 years of debt payments that are greater than our property tax revenue. To make the payments, our school district is already diverting money from other uses to pay for the construction debt. Maybe the school board already has a plan for the future of HH and how to make the debt payments? But, if so, they haven’t shared it with the community yet.

    Voted 7 out of 7

6:59 – Sloat asked for permission to trade in a 2009 bus for a new bus at $113,300 and to trade in a 2002 activity bus for a new activity bus at $70,000. He said these expenses are already in the 2021 budget that the school board previously approved. He is just asking for approval to go ahead with the bus purchases. Karpick noted that this vote is just a formality. I wonder if the school board sees most agenda items as just a formality and that’s why they don’t ask questions?   

Voted 7 out of 7

7:01 – Ohlhaut asked for approval to add Konnie Laws to the signatures for the ECA checking account and CDs. The checking account is with Huntington and the CDs are with Horizon. Marley asked if he needed to abstain from voting because he is the President of Horizon Bank in Tippecanoe County. Reiling said he could vote on this since he disclosed it, Horizon already has the school district’s account, and this vote is just for changing the signature card.

    Voted 7 out of 7

7:03 – Sloat announced the Average Daily Membership count (number of enrolled students) for February 1st is 2,251. The ADM count is done in September which determines state funding for the first 6 months of the fiscal year and then again in February which determines funding for the second 6 months. WLCSC has about 700 e-learning students who are included in the 2,251 count, but students being homeschooled or attending private schools are not included. The ADM in September was 2,258 (with about 800 virtual). He said the September 2020 count was down 84 from September 2019 and the February 2021 count was down 51 from February 2020. Marley asked about early graduation and Sloat said we had 6 who graduated early. Schott asked how many new students we have since the September ADM count and Sloat was not sure. Sloat said that there has been more homeschooling. The ADM count does not match the dashboard enrollment count because West Lafayette students who live out of district (they either pay tuition or are the children of teachers or staff) are not included in the ADM count. The increase in homeschooling is a financial concern because it reduces state funding to our district. I think it is worth asking what our schools could have done better during the pandemic to have kept more students in our elearning program instead of homeschooling.

7:07 – Sloat said that American Fidelity provided an updated benefits document with only minor changes to the Section 125 cafeteria plan offered to school district employees. He asked the board to approve the change.

    Voted 7 out of 7

7:09 – Ohlhaut asked for approval to accept an Extra Curricular Account donation to the dance team from Evans Piggott & Finney Eyecare. We have a great community who supports our students and their activities in so many ways! 

    Voted 7 out of 7

7:10 – Ohlhaut asked for approval of the personnel report. Marley stated that he would abstain from voting. I assume that Marley’s abstention means that a family member is being hired to a new position in the school district. I wish our school board would allow the public to see what they are approving! Other school districts in our area share this information with the public before the school board votes. Our school board does not allow us to know what they are approving in the personnel report until after they approve the minutes at the next month’s meeting.

    Voted 6 out of 6

7:11 – Ohlhaut asked for approval of the accounts payable. Ohlhaut pointed out several items that he thought may be of interest to the school board. I really appreciated Ohlhaut’s comments. I’m surprised that school board members have no questions about our school district’s spending. Our district’s debt payments in 2021 exceed estimated property tax revenue by over $1.5 million. The increase in homeschooling and other reductions in enrollment in our district mean a $500k drop in annual state funding. I would think that we would want to be applying extra scrutiny to expenditures given the current financial pressure. I attended another school district’s school board meeting last month and was impressed that they allow anyone to see their entire accounts payable documents listing every expense with nothing redacted. Our school district requires submitting a public request form to receive a redacted listing of school spending. I first became aware of our school district’s mostly self-inflicted financial troubles during the school board election campaign and have since been requesting the accounts payable documents each month. It turns out that the documents that they have been sending me are incomplete (everything related to construction is excluded). Another community member who had previously requested this same document pointed out that they were excluding this information. When I asked about not having the complete report, I was told that I would need to submit another public request form to get the additional pages. This month I will ask specifically for the complete accounts payable report including construction-related expenditure and I’ll ask for complete reports for past months as well. School district financial information is public information and I don’t understand why our school district thinks that it is appropriate to give so much push back when people ask to look at the books. Trying to frustrate access to public records is a pattern for WLCSC and the district been called out several times including in a 2015 Journal and Courier article that said WLCSC was “taken to the woodshed” in an advisory opinion issued by Indiana’s public access counselor which criticized the district for “lamenting” its responsibility of being a steward of public information.

    Voted 7 out of 7

7:13 – Schott read a school board resolution calling for vaccinations for our teachers. He said it would be sent to Governor Holcomb. Our teachers have been on the front lines throughout this pandemic and I am grateful that our school board is adding its voice to the chorus of people calling for teachers to be next in line to get vaccinated.

    Voted 7 out of 7

7:15 – Marley read a school board resolution about Indiana HB 1005 which would increase voucher funding for private school students and potentially reduce public school funding. I realize that this is a contentious issue, but whatever your feelings about HB 1005, I think it is appropriate for the school board to use its voice to advocate for increased state funding for public schools.

    Voted 7 out of 7

7:20 – Karpick asked for board reports but said that some of the committees have not met since board members were recently assigned. He did not say who was on each of the committees and it was difficult to hear everything but a few items of interest:

  • Communications Committee – Karpick said he would be working with Yin and Austin. Our school board has been a poor public communicator. Both Yin and Austin are new to the school board and both have strong reputations in our community for their active communication efforts. I’m hopeful that they will have a positive influence on the board’s culture and communication practices.
  • Discussion Committee with the teachers union – Killion (whispering) shared that the teacher discussion committee discussed the reopening plan, the purpose of the discussion committee as set in Indiana code, teacher considerations for planning for spring and summer, using HH for vaccinations, and a professional development day on Feb 26 where students will stay home and teachers will be trained on equity and inclusion. Shelby Johnson (Associate Principal and Special Education Director) noted that this training was scheduled back in April 2020 and that it is good timing that it is happening now. She said that the district purchased copies of a book which I believe she said is titled “Culturally Responsive Classrooms” for each teacher. This was the first I’ve heard about our teachers doing an equity and inclusion training. Given all the community interest on this topic, why wasn’t the school publicizing this much earlier? Why did our school not mention that this training was scheduled back when the WL CARE group first circulated it’s petition that the district provide this type of training for teachers?
  • Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion – Witt said the committee has been selected and that each person selected has been notified by the chairs (Margaret Psarros and Laura Falk). Witt said that she does not know who is on the committee but will find out at their first meeting which will be on Feb 4. The district created a DEI webpage (nothing there yet) and she said that they will start sharing information after their first meeting. 
  • Foundation for WL Schools – Schott and Austin. Schott shared that they are in the process of selecting a new executive director and that fundraising is down from a year ago.
  • Park Board – Springer. Wellness Center is open. 
  • Redevelopment City Committee – Marley. Wellness Center currently has 150 family members and 150 city staff memberships. Their goal is 2000 total memberships by end of year. Marley reported that West Lafayette received a $1 million grant from Indiana Transportation for improvements to Yeager Road between Cumberland Ave and Sagamore Parkway with matching funds from the TIF district.
  • Wall of Pride – Karpick said it was put on hold and that they have selected a new class who will be inducted.
  • Sloat shared that funding has continued for all students (in person and virtual) for basic meals. The school district is reimbursed $4.10 for every meal it provides. 

7:31 – Karpick invited members of the audience, who had previously signed up, to address the board. Randy Studt, German teacher at WL Jr/Sr HS and chair of the State Teachers Union’s PAC, thanked the board for it’s resolutions on the vaccine and against Indiana HB 1005. He voiced his view that HB 1005 is a threat to public schools. He also spoke in favor of HB 1003 which adjusts the definition of a virtual student with regards to state education funding. I’m happy that Herr Studt is able to speak publicly about HB 1005 and HB 1003 and I hope that our state representatives are listening. Imagine what it would be like if the state legislature refused to provide the public with the text of the law changes they were considering and only released information (after a month-long delay) for those changes that were passed with a majority vote. How would we be able to voice our views if we didn’t even know what was being proposed? Our school board appears to think that it is acceptable to publicly vote to approve changes to school policies and budgets while keeping all the details of the proposed changes secret. My view is that the details of every proposal being voted on in a public school board meeting (not executive sessions) should be made public before school board members are asked to vote. Keeping the community in the dark just makes it appear that the school board has something to hide. A little sunlight would brighten our school district up.

My view is that the reason the state legislature requires *public* school board meetings is to inform the community about what is going on in our school district. Our school board appears to only be willing to make information public if it is explicitly required by law. Our community would appreciate some additional communication. I propose that the school board use an overhead projector and publicly share the text of each proposal the school board is being asked to approve. For example, rather than just asking Schott and Marley to read the board resolutions, I propose that the text of the resolution be displayed on the screen. Rather than telling us that any approved policy changes will eventually be posted to the long list of policies on this website, I would like the text of the proposed policy or policy changes to be projected for all to read. This would also be an opportunity to publicly display any supporting information relevant to the proposal so the administration can give their reasons for asking the school board for approval. 


Future Meetings (calendar link)

March 1 at 6:30pm at HH LGI Room

Abbreviations:

CFO – Chief Financial Officer

WLCSC – West Lafayette Community School Corporation

WLES – West Lafayette Elementary School

WLIS – West Lafayette Intermediate School

WL Jr/Sr HS – West Lafayette Junior/Senior High School

HH – Happy Hollow Building (previously was intermediate school before WLIS was built)

ADM – Average Daily Membership

LGI – Large Group Instruction room

ECA – Extra-Curricular Account

DOE – Department of Education

WL CARE – West Lafayette Coalition for Anti-Racist Education

PAC – Political Action Committee


This is not the official minutes from the school board meetings. I am a parent of students in the WLCSC and my thoughts are given in italics. 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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