May 3, 2021 Summary

HIGHLIGHTS: School Rankings (6:44), Wearing Hats at School (6:51), Questions about the DEI Committee (7:14), Questions about Services for Students with Disabilities (7:22), School Corp. Lawyer Reiling’s Intense Statement about Defaming School Board Members (7:29), Dr. Killion’s Retirement Announcement (7:32)

Location: Happy Hollow Building, LGI Room

6:30 – 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.

The school board voted to approve the minutes from the prior month’s meeting (April 2021) and will be posted to the school board website within a few days. Our school district’s process means that we have to wait a month to find out what policy changes, handbook revisions, teacher/staff changes, etc. were approved by the school board. In general, the public doesn’t know what it is that the school board is being asked to approve. This isn’t the case in neighboring school districts where they provide the text of the proposals publicly before the school board is asked to vote.

A few days ago, on April 28, the school board posted revised minutes from the March 1, 2021 meeting. Does the school board need to vote to approve revisions to old minutes? A vote would signal to the community that a change was made. In this case, my understanding is that a community member had noticed that the school board had not recorded the resolution they approved which authorizes the school district to transfer money from the operations fund to the debt service fund. The revised minutes added the text: “Approval also recommended that the administration is authorized to allocate circuit breaker loss from any funds allowed by law to maintain the current district current debt service tax rate of .5375.” This resolution provides the final link which allows the school corporation to use referendum money to pay for the recent construction. The school district has already transferred money from the education and referendum funds to the operations fund and this now allows transferring money from the operations fund to the debt service fund which is used to pay for the construction.

Voted 7 out of 7

6:31 – 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. The school board started this wonderful tradition in January 2021. It is a great way to begin each school board meeting. I love that our incredible students are being recognized!

6:41 – Courtney FitzSimons, food service director, recognized Ivan Balicky, assistant director of food service. He was awarded the School Food Service Employee of the Year from the IDOE. He was awarded a check for $200 from the Indiana Nutrition Council. He had his family in attendance with their 4 little ones. Thank you for your service to our children!

6:44 – Killion announced that WLCSC has again been designated by the Indiana Department of Education as a performance qualified school district. This allows certain waivers (i.e. 2 Professional Development days and 178 instructional days instead of 180 instructional days). Killion also announced that the US News rankings were recently released and the West Lafayette Jr/Sr High School was ranked 2nd in the State of Indiana, and 239 in the United States. Killion emphasized that this excellent ranking for the Jr/Sr High School is also recognition of the outstanding work happening at WLES and WLIS. “This is really a K-12 award.”

It is great that our school district continues to receive high rankings. US News ranks schools by state test scores, AP tests, SAT scores, and the graduation rate. West Lafayette students do very well on these tests and the school offers a large number of AP course options. Newsweek uses a very similar set of measures for their rankings and so our district also ranks quite high in their listing. Our district does worse in the school rankings on (a popular real estate site) because they include a measure of student equity in their ranking formula. To increase this ranking (frequently seen by those looking to buy a home in our area) our school district needs to do a better job at helping disadvantaged students who “may be falling behind other students in the state.” I wrote about school rankings in a post on my website.

6:48 – Killion shared that the recently built aquatics center will have a summer program. The program is modeled after the Zionsville summer swimming program and he hopes that it will be a good source of revenue. He asked the school board to approve adding the summer aquatics program to the risk insurance. He mentioned that Zionsville brings in about $100,000 in revenue from their programs and renting out their pool and he hopes that our pool will be able to raise a similar amount of revenue.

 Voted 7 out of 7

6:51 – Killion said that school administrators updated the Student Code of Conduct and the Staff Handbook and he asked for school board approval of the revisions. Yin said that one of the revisions to the Student Code of Conduct is that students would now be allowed to wear hoodies at school. She asked why administrators chose to remove this restriction. Killion said that classroom rules are up to teachers and that administrators don’t want to police everything students wear. Ulrich, Jr/Sr HS assistant principal, said that administrators met with the student council and that allowing hoodies and hats in the building was a student request. He said that teachers will enforce their own rules in their classroom. Yin asked if teachers were aware of this change in policy and Ulrich said that teachers knew about the change. 

It is not surprising to me that students want to be able to wear hats and hoodies at school, but I would have asked if teachers were supportive of this policy change. My experience is that most teachers prefer having a common set of school standards enforced by administrators rather than having different standards in each classroom and having to enforce student behavior standards on their own. I was disappointed that the public has no way to know what changes to these two documents were approved. It would have been easy for administrators to project the proposed changes for the audience so we would know what the school board was being asked to approve before they voted. I appreciated that Yin asked some questions here and at other points in the meeting. Her asking questions will hopefully encourage other board members to discuss proposals at the public school board meetings.

 Voted 7 out of 7

6:54 – Sloat requested approval to cancel outstanding checks that are over 2 years old. Yin asked if the individuals had been contacted before the checks were to be cancelled. Sloat said that they tried to contact most, but that some couldn’t be contacted because they had moved. 

 Voted 7 out of 7

6:56 – Sloat shared the planning for the 2022 budget calendar: June & July – budget workshop from the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) and the Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF); August – school board work session to review the proposed budget which must be published to Indiana Gateway by August 25th; September – public hearing on the school budgets; October – approval of adoption of budgets at school board meeting; November 8th – submit final proposed budget to Indiana Gateway for DLGF review; January is usually when the school learns what the final tax rate and revenue will be from the DLGF.

Voted 7 out of 7

6:58 – Ohlaut requested approval for textbook rental fees. He said that they have changed a little bit in part because of the adoption of the new Social Studies textbook curriculum. Yin asked what the school district does to help those who qualify for free/reduced lunch and would likely struggle to pay these book rental fees. She wondered if funding from the CARES Act could be used to help pay the book rental fee for those students with financial need. Killion said that federal guidelines restrict what CARES Act money can be used for and said that while the district does not have the resources to help with textbook assistance, there are other programs that help with this. Ohlaut said that there is an ongoing program where students who qualify for free/reduced lunch are given reduced textbook rental fees.

This is my family’s 14th year in the district and we have four children. So, we know first hand that textbook rental fees can really add up at the beginning of each school year. I am grateful that Yin brought up her concern about low-income families struggling to pay these fees. I also really appreciated her willingness to think outside the box and suggest ways we could help these families. The textbook rental schedule should have been provided to the public before the school board was asked to vote to approve it. It makes no sense to claim that this fee schedule is confidential.    

Voted 7 out of 7

7:01 – Killion asked for approval to cancel the July 5th school board meeting and authorize the administrators to do the normal business duties with formal authorization coming at the August school board meeting. Karpick noted that the school board cancels the July school board meeting every year, except last year when they held a July school board meeting to approve the reopening plan.

The school board treated the July 7, 2020 school board meeting as an announcement of the reopening plan without having tried to gather public input. A large number of students, parents, and community members showed up at the meeting and expressed their concerns with the plan, but the school board voted 6 to 1 to approve it without considering the concerns that were raised. It took petitions and community outcry to get the school board to push pause, listen to the concerns, and make significant adjustments to the plan. I wrote about this meeting as illustrating a pattern of ignoring community input in a post on my website.   

Voted 7 out of 7

7:02 – Killion asked for approval of the personnel report. He commented that Jennifer McCormick, previous Indiana Superintendent of Schools, would be hired as a consultant to help the district in preparing an Indiana Innovation School District application. 

Other than hiring McCormick as a consultant, I don’t know what the school board is being asked to approve. Other school districts share the personnel report with the public before the school board is asked to vote. Our school board needs to change their policy of keeping the personnel report confidential, there is no reason for the month-long delay in sharing this with the public.

Voted 7 out of 7

7:03 – Ohlaut noted a few of the school expenses from April that he found interesting and then asked for approval of the accounts payable. 

I will continue to make a public records access request each month and share the accounts payable document on my website until our school district is willing to voluntarily share spending data directly with the public. TSC posts a monthly financial report to their website and also has copies of the accounts payable available for the public at the school board meeting where it is approved. 

Voted 7 out of 7

7:05 – Committee Reports

  • Communication Committee – Austin shared that they met for the first time (Yin, Austin, and Karpick) and began discussing the goal of the committee, platforms to share information, frequency of sharing information, capabilities, and how other districts are doing it. I am really excited that the school board has started talking about getting better at sharing information with the community. 
  • Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Committee (DEI Committee) – Witt shared that the committee met twice in April and will be meeting twice more in May. She said that they have decided on definitions of 4 key vocabulary words that are unique to WL and they are listed on the website. She also said the students worked with a HS faculty member to look at textbooks and other resources for a new class to be offered at the high school on ethnic studies. She said that there is obviously a lot more work to do but said that she thinks the committee is doing a good job. I appreciate the time and effort of those who are working to bring more diversity, equity, and inclusion to our school district. I am uncertain what makes the 4 vocabulary word definitions unique to West Lafayette? I was hopeful that this committee would have proposed action items to the school board by this point. Witt’s announcement of the creation of an ethnic studies class initially sounded like some progress was being made, but then later in the meeting, Ila Chaubey (one of the WL CARE’s leaders) stated that an ethnics class was offered this school year at the high school and so it is not really a “new course.” I think it is good that students are working with a teacher on the curriculum for the course.
  • WL Foundation – Austin shared that they are planning a Scarlet & Gray Fundraiser; also that they have awarded 4 grants
  • Parks – Springer said that outdoor shelter reservations are available, the outdoor municipal pool is opening Memorial Day weekend, and that the Happy Hollow dog park is opening on May 12.
  • Public Schools Foundation – Yin shared that the foundation awarded six recipients in spring 2021. One of our teachers, Mrs. Katie Price received the grant. The fall grant cycle will open August 2, 2021 and close on Sept 27, 2021. The maximum amount is $2000 per grant. The foundation strongly encourages collaborations among teachers, schools, and corporations. Educators can also collaborate with community partners, but the grant writer must be a K-12 public educator in our county.
  • Redevelopment Committee (City) – Marley said that dogs are welcome at the ribbon cutting for the dog park on May 12th. Also the Health and Wellness Center has 950 members and is ahead of schedule in people purchasing memberships!
  • Schott thanked the student council and those involved in planning the WL Prom that took place on Saturday and said that it was a huge success.
  • Austin participated in the National School Board Association conference. She said that there was a huge emphasis on diversity and equity at that meeting.

7:13 – Karpick invited communication from the audience on non-agenda items (those who had signed up before the meeting began)

7:14 – Ila Chaubey, 2016 WLCSC graduate, started her comments by sharing a quote from James Baldwin: “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” She said that she loves West Lafayette schools and for this reason she wants the school board to strive to do better. In her 9 months of activism with our schools, she said that she has observed the school board failing to acknowledge their mistakes and ignoring parent feedback. She shared the example of the reopening plan last summer where parent feedback was ignored. When Dr. Yin, who wasn’t a school board member at the time, did her own parent survey to provide information about community views to the school board, “a pretty disparaging remark was made about the survey.” Chaubey also shared the example of the recent change to the Jr/Sr High School schedule and how parent feedback was ignored. Once again, a parent put together a survey with a large number of responses. The majority of parent and student respondents were not supportive of the schedule change and hadn’t even known that a schedule change was being considered until they received the survey, and yet the school board ignored the community feedback.

Chaubey stated that it is the responsibility of school leaders to make statements to show their commitment to the safety of minority students and complained that our school leaders made no statement about the Black Lives Matter protests last June until pressured to do so by over 800 students, parents, and alumni. A similar situation happened when school leaders did not release a statement about hate crimes against Asians until 2 weeks after the Atlanta attacks, and only after Chaubey and others wrote asking the district to make a statement. She said that the school board did not plan to make the DEI committee applications public until after Daniel Afolabi posted on Facebook saying that a public committee should have a public application. After the DEI committee was formed, there was no adult Asian representation on the committee and the public had to come forward and point out that this is an issue in a school district with so many Asian students. One Asian parent was retroactively added to the committee.

Chaubey said that our school district has a culture where people are afraid to speak up and said that this comes in part because of disparaging comments from school leaders about those who do speak up. She said that school leaders ignoring community feedback and criticism also contributes to this negative culture. She said that she was nervous to speak at the school board meeting and said that shouldn’t be the culture we are creating. She then asked some questions that she said she would also email to the school board:

  1. What steps will the board take to actively remediate this culture of fear that’s been created?
  2. What will the school board do to more proactively seek out parent feedback? Not just on the big school schedule change, COVID-plan type policies, but every single change that’s happening. As publicly elected officials, it really is your responsibility to make sure your decisions reflect the views of the community.
  3. The Indiana Department of Education already mandated an ethnic studies class across the state in 2018. My questions are: (1) Is there a difference with the new ethnic studies class that’s being created? (2) Currently classes that are optional but don’t receive enough enrollment aren’t offered at all. Will the ethnic studies class be mandated, regardless of how many students enroll, or will there be a student enrollment minimum?

7:19 – Angie Janes asked questions about school committees and then asked the school board to be more accepting of parent feedback. She said that administrators have previously claimed that they get parent feedback from those parents who serve on school committees (Reimagining, Strategic Planning, Jr/Sr HS Schedule). However, as an involved parent (and parent council president) who has lived in the district for 9 years, Janes said that she has never been invited to serve on a committee. She asked the school board to respond to the following questions:

  1. How were the members of these committees selected?
  2. Were there call-outs or publicized invitations (as in the case of the DEI committee) or were parents chosen by the administration or school board?
  3. How often are the same parents asked to serve on multiple committees?
  4. What is the ratio of parents to administrators and teachers on each committee?
  5. When committee feedback differs from the administration’s agenda, are committee recommendations followed?

She then said that there seems to be increased frustration from the school board leadership about questions and concerns raised by parents. She wants to see everyone working together with connection, inclusion, and respect. Janes concluded by saying, “Parents will continue to offer feedback. It is your choice to become bitter or better.”

7:22 – Erin Moon-Walker shared that the Child Find Mandate in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires school districts to identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities. She shared that she has seen parents in our school district that have to request evaluation for their children and she has also seen children who are eligible for special education who are being denied services in our district. Moon-Walker shared that she attended West Side and that none of her disabilities were identified when she was a student. At the age of 32, she was finally evaluated and her disabilities were found. After this, she earned her Masters Degree with a 4.0 GPA. During that same time, she struggled in our school district to get both of her children identified and served. She requested that the school district track and publicly report the number of children who undergo evaluation each year, by all demographics, and track and release the number of student evaluations that result in identification and eligibility for an Individualized Education Program (IEP).

7:25 – Karpick said they would answer some of the questions asked at the last meeting. The first four questions answered were from my email sent to school board members on April 7th. Erin Moon-Walker had asked questions at the previous school board meeting and Reiling responded to some of her questions.

1. In the April school board meeting, Mr. Sloat said that our school corporation makes a profit from providing free breakfast and lunch that is funded through the federal program. How much profit does the school corporation make in a typical month from providing these free meals? Prior to the pandemic, how much profit did our school corporation make in a typical month from the sale of food (breakfast and lunch)?

Sloat responded by saying that the current net profit with the federal free breakfast and lunch is $7,500/month. He said that during the pandemic shut-down there was an average loss of $11,000/month. He also announced that the breakfast and lunch free program will continue next year. It wasn’t clear from his answer how much profit the school district makes from food sales in an average pre-COVID month. I was wondering how much food sale profits were driving the Jr/Sr High schedule change and closing lunch decision?

2. In the April school board meeting, Mr. Ohlhaut said that our school district currently has only two transfer students who pay tuition. How many total transfer students does our district have? Of the total, how many transfer students have a parent who works for the school district? What are the other reasons why a transfer student would not pay tuition? Once a student has been accepted as a transfer student, do school district policies allow that student to be denied enrollment in future years?

Ohlaut responded by saying that we have two “cash transfer” students. They were grandfathered in and are both seniors who will graduate this year. The other transfer students are from a local transfer agreement with TSC. He said that we have 61 transfer students from TSC (9 at WLES, 9 at WLIS, and 43 at Jr/Sr HS) and 77 additional transfer students who are the children of staff members and therefore do not pay any tuition. The process for the transfer students from TSC is that WLCSC bills TSC the allowable costs based on a state determined formula and then TSC bills the family for the difference between WLCSC costs and TSC costs. This is a very helpful answer, though I’m still unclear about our school district policies with respect to accepting transfer students. Once a student has been accepted as a transfer student, can school administrators deny that student enrollment in future years? 

3. During Dr. Killion’s presentation in March, he shared data on special education enrollment. What explains the large jump in special education enrollment in the 2012-2013 year? Also, why has special education enrollment been gradually declining since the 2016-2017 school year?

Johnson shared that from 2016 to 2020 there was a decrease of 18 students in Special Education at WLCSC. She said the biggest decline was 10 fewer students this past year, likely because of the pandemic. She said that TSC and LSC each have fewer special education students this year as well. It was good to hear her share the numbers, but I’m still wondering why our district had a large jump in special education enrollment in 2012-2013? Was it a definition change or a new policy? Why has there been a decline in special education students over the past few years?

4. Does our school district comply with Indiana Code 20-26-11-32 with respect to publishing the number of transfer students the corporation has capacity to accept in each grade level each year and the date by which requests to transfer must be received? Is this information on the school corporation website?

Sloat responded that they don’t take cash transfers which is why they don’t advertise. Refusing cash transfer students and instead only allowing transfer students from TSC through a local agreement seems to allow the school district to not have to publish capacity figures.

7:29 – Reiling addressed some of Moon-Walkers questions from the April meeting. He spoke aggressively and directly to Moon-Walker about a lawsuit and a non-disclosure agreement. I was surprised that Reiling confronted Moon-Walker in public to accuse her of violating the conditions of a non-disclosure agreement. I would think that a conversation like this would be more appropriate in private, not during a public school board meeting. In my opinion, Reiling’s behavior was not professional and was certainly not pleasant to witness.

Reiling then read Moon-Walker’s question: 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? He said that he has participated in 2 or 3 meetings with school district patrons in 20 years. He then said that he had a recent meeting where a patron made a defamatory statement about a school board member and that the patron retracted his statement. He said he recognizes the right of the 1st Amendment but said that a small group of patrons continue to make derogatory attack comments on school board members and staff. Reiling said that he is watching social media to determine if any comments cross the line and defame school board members or staff. It sounds as though the school district is paying Reiling $290/hour (equivalent to a $580,000 annual salary) to look for potentially defamatory statements about school leaders on social media so he can publicly reprimand them? Wow.

Reiling then shared Moon-Walker’s question: Could the attorney’s presence to discuss citizen concerns have a chilling effect on the citizen’s expression of their concerns? He responded, “Yeah, I guess so.” And then again accused Moon-Walker of violating her court agreement. This whole thing was crazy to watch. You can watch it for yourself on youtube or read the transcript. Reiling’s statement illustrates the poor treatment that community members often encounter when they suggest a need for improvement in our schools.

The school board did not respond to her other two questions:

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?

7:32 – Karpick then read a statement from Killion announcing that Killion has chosen to retire at the end of June 2021 and plans to spend more time with his family. Killion said he would like to help with the transition and that the school corporation would retain an interim superintendent at the August board meeting. Killion thanked everyone for his 14 years here. He wants to spend time with his two grandchildren, with one born just 2 weeks ago. Congratulations to Killion on the birth of his new grandbaby. I’m grateful for all the good things Killion did for the school district and I wish him the best. Why is the school board assuming that they will hire an interim superintendent? Perhaps the two months till Killion’s retirement is not enough time to do a full search. I think that the most important thing in the search process is to give teachers in our district, every teacher – not just a few representatives, a way to provide direct input on the candidates being considered. Teacher morale in our district has deteriorated in recent years (one indication of this is that teacher retention in our district is much lower than in neighboring and peer school districts) and I think we need to prioritize the views of our teachers in hiring a new superintendent. We don’t need a group of school administrators and teacher union leaders picking the next superintendent and then asking the school board to rubber stamp it. Every teacher should have the opportunity to meet the final set of candidates and question them about their experience and views. Every teacher should have a way to provide feedback on the final set of candidates to the search committee.

7:34 Karpick adjourned the meeting

Future Meetings (calendar link)

  • WEDNESDAY, June 2 at 6:30pm at WLIS

NOTE: They announced the meeting will be on Wednesday, June 2, but the school board website still shows June 7 as the date of the next meeting. I hope that the meeting will be held on the first Wednesday rather than the first Monday because the first Monday is when City Council meetings are held. This allows community members to attend both the School Board meeting and the City Council meetings. They didn’t say why they are changing the meeting location to WLIS.

Streaming: YouTube

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: 3 students from each school, along with family members, were there at the beginning of the meeting to receive the “Way to Go Award”. Also there were several parents, 2 teachers union leaders, administrators, and a police officer in uniform. An audience member asked the police officer why he was there and he said that he had been asked to be there in case the topic of school resource officers was brought up during the question period. It wasn’t. 

This is not the official minutes from the school board meetings. I am a parent of WLCSC students 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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