April 5, 2021 Summary

HIGHLIGHTS: Leaving GLASS (6:51), Jr-Sr HS Lunch Shortened from 50 to 32 minutes (7:05), Process to become an Innovation School District (7:33), Seclusion Restraint Policy (7:44), Questions to the School Board about Transparency (8:03)

Location: Happy Hollow Building, LGI Room

6:31 – 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

6:33 – Shelby Johnson, Assistant Superintendent and Director of Special Services, invited the principal from each school (WLES, WLIS, WL Jr/Sr HS) to recognize students with the “Way to Go Award” for being great citizens. Three students from each school came to the front individually while the school administrator shared why this student was chosen and then each student was given a certificate. Our school district has such amazing students and it is really fun to hear why each student was chosen for the award. I am grateful that the school administrators are honoring these students!

6:44 – Killion recognized the incredible amount of work from our school district’s 4 nurses (1 from WLES, 2 from WLIS, and 1 from Jr/Sr HS) and 2 physicians for all the contract tracing they have done. Each received a plaque and a gift card provided by the parent council.

6:51 – Johnson reported on the decentralization of the special education group GLASS (Greater Lafayette Area Special Service) that has been slowly taking place over the past 3 to 4 years. Currently, our district provides an essential skills classroom for students in grades 7 – 12 who need this service. Our district contracts with LSC and TSC for students in grades K – 6. Starting with the next academic year, Johnson is proposing that our district hire behavior facilitators and open an essential skills classroom for grades K – 6 that will be housed at WLES. She said that this is not the least expensive option, but given where we are with the decentralization process, our district can recoup what our district would have paid to LSC and TSC to provide services for our K – 6 students. Another reason to do this is that LSC and TSC may not have space available for our special education students and by running our own classroom we can ensure space and provide a more convenient experience for the families. She also mentioned that in the future we will likely need a self-contained emotionally disabled classroom (behavioral classroom) to be able to service all our students, though this is not included in the current proposal. Several school board members asked about the timeline (start in fall 2021), if we could accept students from LSC and TSC into our essential skills classroom (yes – if we have seats), and how much money is recouped (Marley suggested $143k). I was impressed at the amount of interaction between the board members and Johnson. They asked some very good questions and Johnson provided informative answers. I would have also liked to have heard school board members ask how many students this K – 6 essential skills classroom is expected to serve and what is the estimated cost. These details may have been in the proposal but our school board votes to approve proposals before the public is allowed to see the proposals which is frustrating as a community who would like to know more about the proposals.

Voted 7 out of 7

7:00 – Killion spoke about the GLASS decentralization stating that this system was set up in the 70s and had an archaic funding model. He said that our district paid in far more than we benefited. Killion also spoke about the school district strategic plans that were written in 2010 and 2017 and said that recent construction and remodeling helped the school district to accomplish some of the goals set in these plans, for example, offering band and orchestra during the school day at WLIS. Similar to this example, he said that the new Jr/Sr HS schedule change [closing lunch] is possible because of the new construction. Closing lunch at the Jr/Sr HS has been something the administrators have been talking about doing for years. The small cafeteria size was typically cited as the factor that prevented closing lunch. After the remodeling, the cafeteria is much larger and nicer, though not large enough to accommodate all students under the pre-COVID schedule with 2 lunch periods. That’s why the new schedule has 3 lunch periods and why the lunch period is being shortened from 50 minutes (which included time for clubs to meet) down to 32 minutes. Many of the student and parent concerns about the new Jr/Sr HS schedule are specifically about the shortened lunch time. This is another example of how construction decisions drive school policy.

7:05 – Dan Walbaum and Eric Ulrich, high school administrators, presented information about the new Jr/Sr High School bell schedule. There was nothing new in their presentation of the benefits of the schedule change; it was the same information they presented in the March work session. Walbaum said they produced a frequently asked questions sheet and they talked with various groups and individuals to explain the reasons behind the proposed schedule. He said that there are lots of variables going into the new schedule and that it has been a complex discussion. Walbaum said that only 5 parents talked with them since the March work session presentation. After the March work session presentation, the administrators said they were turning the proposal over to the school board for a vote at the next meeting, so it’s not surprising that most community members sent their comments to the school board rather than administrators. Some parents put together a survey for students and parents to give feedback on the schedule change and they posted the results and the written comments online as well as forwarding them to school board members. I was disappointed that school board members did not even comment on the information from the survey.

Libby Sheffield, high school counselor, explained that the state made changes to the Graduation Pathways requirements that begin with the class of 2023. No longer will achieving a certain ISTEP [ILEARN] score be a graduation requirement. Under the new rules, students will need to complete at least one “employability skill” requirement and at least one “postsecondary-ready competency” as listed here, in addition to meeting the high school course requirements. A recent update makes active high school club participation a way to satisfy the employability skills requirement. She said that an advantage of the new schedule is that it has designated time for club meetings before school and that club attendance will be recorded so it can be used to meet this graduation requirement. She said that there did not used to be a set time during the school day when students would participate in clubs. Karpick asked and Ulrich confirmed that teachers are contracted to be at school by 7:45 am. Witt stated that research shows that participating in clubs helps students do better in school. Marley asked when students participated in clubs prior to COVID and Sheffield answered that clubs met during the 50-minute lunch period. I appreciated Marley giving a little pushback to the claim that students didn’t previously have time during the school day to meet with clubs. Moving club meetings from the lunch hour to before school will likely decrease student club participation, which is unfortunate.

Ulrich explained that the Jr/Sr HS has always exceeded the number of instructional minutes required by the state and the new plan still has more than the required number of instructional minutes. He pointed out that a benefit of the plan is starting the school day later which benefits students. He said that the new schedule will improve equity and that equity concerns are important. The new schedule allows students to use the library or meet with a club or a teacher before school. He said that increasing student safety is important. Ulrich concluded by saying that, as a former coach, one of the things he likes best about the new schedule is that it will get student athletes to practice a few minutes earlier so they can finish earlier and be with their families. Yin stated that the way this schedule change is implemented matters a lot and asked if students were really going to come in the morning before school starts. Yin suggested that the administrators should collect data on which students attend before school to specifically see if this increases club participation and teacher meetings for disadvantaged students. Killion responded that they will collect club participation data using next year as a baseline to improve on. Killion’s response really didn’t address Yin’s request for data to see if the schedule change yields the results that the administrators are claiming that it will. Administrators need to use pre-COVID club attendance data as the baseline to see if the new schedule causes an increase or a decrease. Specifically looking at how this schedule change affects disadvantaged students is particularly important. The administration is asserting that the new schedule will benefit disadvantaged students. I’m worried that it may have the opposite effect. 

Austin expressed appreciation to the administrators for meeting with school board members in small groups to answer their questions in private. Karpick said that change is always difficult and that he understands that this schedule change is not popular. Yin asked the administrators to commit to making future adjustments if there are unexpected negative outcomes. Austin stated that “it is important to note that this didn’t have to be brought to the school board or to the public that this was extra curricular – that the administration can make those changes on its own and I appreciate your wanting the feedback and the discussion about it. But in the end I think it’s important for us as a school board to support our administrators and that you know better than I do what is going to be best for our kids.” Killion said that the administrators will advertise clubs to get students to attend in the morning. I always appreciate school board members asking questions and having their discussion in public. There were more comments from school board members than normal, but I was very disappointed that school board members met in small groups or as individuals with administrators and did not allow the public to hear their questions and the administrator answers. Our school board culture of secrecy needs to change. Discussions of important school issues should happen in the open, not in small groups behind closed doors. Administrators bring contentious proposals to the school board so the school board can seek community input and represent the community. My view is that the school board failed to represent the community on this issue. I strongly disagree with Austin’s statement that the school board’s role is to support the administrators and that administrators know what is best for our students. If that is always true, then what is the point of electing school board members? Are they really just there to rubber stamp every proposal administrators bring to them? I’ve been paying attention to our school board for years and I can only remember one instance of a school board member voting against a proposal, the 6 to 1 vote to approve the first version of the reopening plan last summer. 

My concluding thoughts on the schedule change is that many of the arguments the administrators put forward were fairly weak. For example, claiming that the new schedule will help students get more sleep while also claiming that moving club time to before school will increase club participation is contradictory. The administration strongly asserted that the schedule change will benefit disadvantaged students, but they provided no evidence to support this claim and did not suggest how they will collect evidence to evaluate this claim going forward. Some families are worried that bus ridership will become stigmatized as an indicator of not having a car or a parent available for drop off when school starts more than a half hour after the bus arrives. After all the feedback from community members, I think the school board should have asked administrators to consider some of the proposed adjustments suggested by community members and then rescheduled the vote for the next meeting. Students and parents will be impacted by this change. The safety concerns about an open lunch are valid, but so is the student desire for an open lunch. It would have been nice to have seen an open discussion that involved students and parents on how to balance safety vs freedom on this issue. 

Voted 7 out of 7

7:33 – Killion asked for the school board to approve hiring a consultant to assist our school district in the process of completing an application to become an Indiana “Innovation School District.” Killion presented slides for the audience and explained that this could reduce the number of state restrictions on our district and could help our district decrease the time students spend in testing, add new student programs, and start an early childhood program, all while maintaining teacher rights. He said that this will take time to develop and that we may learn that the benefits are small and so could decide to stop the process. If they decide to go forward, Killion said that he would present everything to the community in an open forum and then take the decision to the school board. Schott asked what the first step would be and Killion answered that he would talk with DOE people to get recommendations of who to hire as a consultant. Yin asked if a partnership with Purdue would be possible and Killion answered that it depends, but that he would explore it. Presenting this idea to the community with informative slides is great. I don’t know anything about the benefits of being designated as an innovation school district, but I’m happy that our school district leaders are willing to explore alternative ways of doing things. I was surprised with Killion’s stated goal of reducing the amount of student testing in our district when our district requires teachers to do more testing than is required by the state. Student testing is an issue where school district actions and what Killion says are in conflict.     

Voted 7 out of 7

7:44 – Johnson shared that they updated the overview and training section of the seclusion restraint policy and asked the school board to approve the updated policy. She said they are continuing to train staff. Currently we have 13 staff at WLES, 13 at WLIS, and 15 at Jr/Sr High School who are trained. Our district has only had 4 instances where it was necessary to restrain a student this year, which is much lower than normal, probably because fewer students are attending in person. She also commented that the restraint numbers will increase once we have a self-contained emotionally disabled classroom.

Voted 7 out of 7

7:46 – Sloat shared that the federal free breakfast and lunch for all students will continue through the summer and proposed that our district participate this summer. It would be for anyone 18 years or younger. Weekly meal packages with 5 breakfasts and 5 lunches can be picked up on Mondays, 3:45 – 5:15 pm at WLES. They will also provide daily breakfast/lunch/snacks to 3 student camps: Safe Harbor, Hanna Center, and Lafayette Area Ministries. Sloat explained that our school district makes a profit from this program.

Voted 7 out of 7

7:48 – Ohlhaut shared the 2021-2022 tuition rates. This is for students who are considered transfer students who do not live within the district. The tuition rates for K-6 is $2,300/year and 7-12 is $2,900/year. Ohlhaut said that West Lafayette currently has only 2 transfer students that pay tuition. Karpick thanked Ohlhaut for responding to his question about this before the meeting, especially when it only concerned 2 students. I’m very surprised by the claim that our district has only 2 transfer students. I’ll write to school board members and ask for clarification because it is my understanding that our district has many more than 2 students who live outside our district. The children of teachers and staff members are exempt from paying the tuition, but I would be surprised to learn that all but 2 of the transfer students are the children of employees. How the school district handles transfer students has an important effect on district property values. 

Voted 7 out of 7

7:50 – Sloat explained that there are continuing disclosure requirements for the bond issued in 2020. He asked the board for approval for Baker Tilly to satisfy these requirements for 2021.

Voted 7 out of 7

7:50 – Ohlhaut asked for extending employee quarantine coverage. This is for the staff leave policy that relates to Covid quarantines and would include vaccines. This would be extended through 9/30/21.

Voted 7 out of 7

7:52 – Killion asked that the board grant him emergency authorization to hire teachers and staff members. He said that around this time every year he asks for this authorization and that it allows him to be nimble. Killion is correct that the school board grants him emergency authorization to hire every year. It makes sense why school administrators would want to be able to hire without needing school board approval. I don’t think that our school board routinely abdicating their authority over hiring is good for our community, though with a school board that just rubber stamps every proposal, I suppose this emergency authorization doesn’t matter in a practical sense. I wonder if surrounding school districts all have emergency authorization to hire?

Voted 7 out of 7

7:54 – Killion asked for acceptance of 3 donations for the athletic department. Yin recommended possibly a donors list on the website so that donors can be recognized and others can be encouraged to donate. Killion responded that some donors want to be confidential and that the central office does a good job sending thank you notes. He said he would see if any of these donors would like to have their donation be made public.

Voted 7 out of 7

7:55 – Killion asked for approval for the personnel report. I’m frustrated that the public has no idea what it is that the school board is being asked to vote to approve. Other school districts don’t keep the personnel report secret. Our school board needs to change their policy on keeping these school board meeting packets confidential (Bylaws Policy 0143). I’ll quote our school district’s policy here:

Because individual members may not have the legal expertise to recognize those matters which are legally required to remain confidential and because individual members are not entitled to exercise discretion for the Board as a whole:

  1. Materials found in the School Board’s meeting packet shall be considered confidential and shall not be released without the School Board’s majority vote to do so.
  2.  Communications between the School Board and the Superintendent shall be disseminated to the public, if at all, through the School Corporation’s attorney.

Voted 7 out of 7

7:56 – Ohlhaut recommended approval for the accounts payable. He noted that 3 months of billing Anthem showed up all at once on this month’s accounts payable. He also noted that the natural gas bill is higher than normal. Same comment as above – this should be made public before the school board is asked to vote on it. I will continue to submit an APRA request for this document each month, though wouldn’t it be great if this was made available publicly prior to the school board meeting!

Voted 7 out of 7

7:59 – Committee Reports

  • DEI Committee – Witt said they have met twice and will be meeting this week. They have been focused on foundational training and common definitions. She thinks it will start to get animated as they get to the meat of the matter.
  • Communications Committee – Austin said this committee has not met yet, but she is excited to get started and has lots of ideas about how they can be more transparent and correct misperceptions about our school district.
  • Park Board – Springer shared that construction has started for a new park in West Lafayette, Cason Family Park, with the anticipated completion in Spring 2022. 
  • Redevelopment – Marley talked about various West Lafayette city construction projects that will improve our community.
  • Karpick said that a newsletter will be coming out in the next couple of days

8:03 – Communication from the Audience (non-agenda Items)

Erin Moon-Walker spoke to the school board to share her view that the school board and administration are out of touch and do not appropriately respond to community concerns. She said that the school board prioritizes the administration’s agenda and desires. She said that our staff and administrators have an outsized influence in our district and are 96% white unlike half of our parents and students. She doesn’t like that it is up to parents to generate surveys to assess community desires rather than the school board and administrators seeking feedback. Moon-Walker complained that school board agendas are often vague (i.e. last month’s agenda said “Jr/Sr High School Presentation” when it was actually about changing the schedule and closing lunch). She quoted a comment that Karpick made in the January school board meeting, “You know our role as a board is not to be a representative body. It is a subtle distinction. But we are charged to respond to administrative concerns, needs and initiatives, to set policy, but not to enact law.” Moon-Walker stated that this is a contradiction of the board’s bylaws policy 0123: “Act as a truly representative body for citizens in all matters related to programs and operations.” This policy also states that the “board has an obligation to meet, determine, and assess citizen desires.” She said it says nothing about administrative concerns or supporting administrators. She had four questions for them that she said emailed so that they could respond:

#1 – What steps do you take to initiate contact with citizens to meet, determine, and assess citizen concerns?

#2 – If a group of citizens requests a meeting with one or more board members, under what conditions would this request be granted?

#3 – Have you ever asked the district’s attorney to meet with citizens when discussing concerns, and during those instances, did you invite the citizens to bring along their own attorney if they so desired?

#4 – Could the attorney’s presence have a chilling effect on the citizen’s expression of their concerns?

I agree that the school board does not do a good job of seeking community input. They seem to always turn to administrators to ask how they should vote on a proposal coming from administrators.  

8:07 Karpick adjourned the meeting

This was a more informative school board meeting than normal thanks to Killion’s slides and school board members comments and questions. The school board is still a long way from being transparent, but I’m happy to see small steps towards being more open. I continue to hope that our school board will change its policies and its culture of holding secret meetings rather than discussing issues in public meetings.

Future Meetings (calendar link)

  • May 3 at 6:30pm at HH LGI Room

Streaming: YouTube I am grateful that a video stream is available for those who were not available to attend in person. The in-person sound worked fine, though It was difficult to hear what board members were saying at times.

Attendance: 7 of 7 School Board Members (Yue Yin, Alan Karpick, Karen Springer, Bradley Marley, Thomas Schott, Rachel Witt, Amy Austin); Ross Sloat, Interim CFO; Stephen Ohlhaut, Assistant to the CFO; Robert Reiling, Jr., Lawyer; Rocky Killion, Superintendent

Audience: There were quite a few students, parents, and teachers in attendance to honor some of our great students. After the awards, the students and their families left the meeting. This left an audience of parents, administrators, and teachers union leaders. I loved watching the students smile as Killion walked around and congratulated each of them before the start of the meeting.

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.

One thought on “April 5, 2021 Summary

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: