August 2, 2021 Summary

HIGHLIGHTS: Staff Evaluation (7:08), Superintendent Search (7:10), Revised Reopening Plan (7:13), Teacher Appreciation Grants (7:31), Happy Hollow Plans (7:39), Cell Tower at Athletic Complex (7:50), Teacher Turnover (7:56)

Location: West Lafayette Intermediate School

Interim Superintendent Pettibone welcomed each of us as we entered and introduced himself. It felt inviting. I appreciated how respectful he was to everyone. He was receptive and encouraging of questions asked during the meeting from school board members. 

6:34 Karpick called the meeting to order and for a vote to approve the agenda, the minutes from the regular school board meeting in June, and the minutes from the special meeting in July.

    Voted 7 out of 7

6:34 Karpick called for communication from the audience on current agenda items (those who had signed up before the meeting began). 

  • Ninghui Li – He lives in the school district and has 2 children in our schools. Last year, because of the uncertainty of Covid, his older child participated in online learning and the younger tried it and then switched to homeschool. The oldest is vaccinated and will attend school this year.  They would like their younger child to also attend school, but he is too young to be vaccinated and they are worried about lunch time when masks won’t be on. Li would like WLES and WLIS to allow for flexible options. For example, allowing kids to attend school half day and then spend lunch and the rest of the day at home. 
  • Randy Studt – He is a union leader and has been a teacher for 18 years at Jr/Sr HS. He said parents and teachers will work together to make this another successful year. He said that we need in-person instruction so masks, quarantines, and sanitizing will be necessary. In the 36 years he has taught, last fall was the only time he was never sick and he believes wearing masks made that difference.
  • Marydell Forbes – She lives in the district and teaches English at the Jr/Sr HS. She is the outgoing co-president of the union. She said that teachers risked their lives to teach last year and appreciates that the school board is willing to adjust the procedures to require masks. She believes that masks are health tools and that vaccines are effective.

6:41 Courtney FitzSimmons, food service director, spoke about the summer lunch program that was offered over 8 weeks. It served 29,175 meals to 615 students in 350 families. School breakfast and lunch will again be free this year, funded through a federal program. Witt shared that her kids participated in 7 weeks of free summer lunch and she said that it was well run and positive for our community. 

6:43 Sloat introduced a Purdue professor, Tong Jin Kim, to the school board and invited him to speak about Wonderland Experiential Learning Center. The presentation was for information only and not something the board was being asked to vote on. Kim is proposing a learning center in West Lafayette that provides robotics, coding, 3D printing, and other experiential learning. His group is considering opening it in part of the Happy Hollow building. Services would be available for students after school, on weekends, and through summer camp programs. Many other communities have this type of learning center. Burnett Creek has partnered with his group for in-school services and he wants to bring this to the whole community. The proposed learning center would be open to all in the area. He has the support of many elected officials in our community. Witt said that she liked a lot of what Kim presented and that it is important to say that the “learning centers” in our community are our schools and that it is incorrect to say that our community does not have a learning center. She said that the school board’s plan has been for Happy Hollow to become an early childhood center and so she is concerned about this group’s proposal. I think the proposed learning center could be a great thing for the community. The school board’s recent borrowing has exhausted our school districts ability to take on debt for the next two decades, so they may need to consider other uses for Happy Hollow which is currently sitting mostly unused. I was embarrassed by Witt telling this professor that he was wrong to say that our community doesn’t have a learning center. Her interactions are often quite abrasive (for example, see her response to me in June and her interactions with WL Care).

7:08 Teacher Evaluation – Pettibone shared the staff evaluation report which must be presented at a public meeting. He shared we have 166 staff that were evaluated by the administrators. 146 received the rating of highly effective, 20 effective, 0 needs improvement, and 0 ineffective. The meeting agenda stated that this was just informational, but Pettibone asked the school board to vote to accept this report. I think we have phenomenal teachers in our school district. However, I don’t think the practice of 90 percent highly effective ratings and 10 percent effective ratings with no teachers needing any improvement is a useful exercise. The community knows that we have some struggling teachers who need more support from administrators. 

    Voted 7 out of 7

7:10 Superintendent Search – Springer said that the school’s website now has a superintendent search tab that has the timeline, announcement of the vacancy, and the application. The posting went up on July 23 and the application will close on August 27. There will be a forum on August 23 where school staff and community members can give input on the desired qualities of the new superintendent. There will also be a community survey. They want the new superintendent to start in January 2022. I’m worried that the short application window, just as school is starting (a very busy time for superintendents), is not a great way to attract a large number of qualified applicants from across the country. The January start date will limit applications from administrators who do not want to leave their district in the middle of the school year. I hope the community survey will allow open comments and hope the results of the survey will be posted publicly. A survey that allows for open comments demonstrates that the school board wants to listen. Posting the results publicly demonstrates a commitment to transparency.

7:12 GLASS Resolution – Sloat asked for approval to give the Greater Lafayette Area Special Services the authority to make school placements with school input. Springer said that this is passed yearly.

    Voted 7 out of 7

7:13 Revised Reopening Plan – Pettibone shared the revisions made to the Reopening Plan and this snapshot was distributed before the meeting. Our district will begin in-person school on August 11 and masks will be required for everyone (K-12, indoor, non-eating) regardless of vaccination status. Vaccinated individuals who have been exposed must be tested 3-5 days after exposure and if they test positive they will have to quarantine. Unvaccinated students who are exposed will have to quarantine. Yin asked questions from parents: Can parents check out students for lunch? If teachers allow mask breaks, can these breaks be outside? Can there be a survey to identify needed flexibility in elearning? Pettibone responded that the school district plan doesn’t accommodate flexibility but said that Yin’s points are something they should consider. One of the two school district physicians, Bianculli, responded that mask breaks can happen inside with 3-6 feet distance, but that outdoor mask breaks are preferred. Austin asked if there is an update on when kids under 12 can be vaccinated. Bianculli responded that she thinks January or February is most likely. Margaret Psarros (principal at WLIS) and Ron Shriner (principal at Jr/Sr HS) both confirmed that teachers offer mask breaks and that parents can check out their kids during lunch. Witt asked Pettibone to state that teachers will not allow unvaccinated students to be treated differently. Pettibone said that would not be tolerated. Yin mentioned that Purdue tests the unvaccinated regularly and asked if we should do something similar. Bianculli responded that students without symptoms are less likely to spread and there is less risk. I appreciated the questions and the interactions on the topic because it helps the community be informed.

    Voted 7 out of 7

7:29 Truancy Mediation Agreement – Pettibone asked the board to vote to approve the truancy prevention contract for July 1, 2021 – June 30, 2022 at a cost of $2,040. He said that this is affordable and worth it, even if it just helps one student. The contract has to be approved each year. Springer said that it was developed with the county commissioners and all three school districts. 

    Voted 7 out of 7

7:31 Teacher Appreciation Grant (TAG) Approval – Pettibone said that WLCSC must approve a policy each year where the state-provided TAG funds are distributed to teachers only and that state funds must provide at least 25% more money to teachers rated as “highly effective.” Our policy then adds school district funds to top off all the other teachers to make the bonus the same for every teacher. It also adds staff members. He said this is the same policy from the past and that it meets the requirements of the DOE. Yin asked for clarification: do the 146 highly effective teachers get more than the 20 effective teachers? Pettibone responded that the state TAG money is distributed in this way, but that our school district has decided to use general fund money so that all teachers get the same bonus. Yin commented that in academia, merit-based pay is the norm and asked if the school district should consider doing something more like that. Sloat responded and said that he wants to treat everyone equally and said this is because of negotiations with the union. At the December 2020 school board meeting (time 7:20), Killion discussed our school district’s TAG policy but didn’t clarify what was required by the state. There had been some confusion and frustration by some. I appreciate Pettibone’s explanation of how our school district has gotten around the state’s TAG requirements. 

    Voted 7 out of 7

7:37 Ohlaut asked for approval to terminate the recent agreement signed with Bright Star Nursing. He said that after the agreement was signed that they raised their rates. He recommended that we sign an agreement with Nurses and More for substitute nurse assistance. Austin asked if there would be any fees charged with terminating our agreement with Bright Star Nursing and Ohlaut said no. Witt asked how often he thought we would need these nurse substitutes. Ohlaut responded that we need nurse substitutes frequently, particularly with all the extra COVID quarantine work. I am grateful to live in a school district with certified nurses at our schools!

    Voted 7 out of 7

7:39 Happy Hollow Plans – Sloat asked for approval to lease a room at Happy Hollow (room 154) to a group from Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation for 2 years for $2500/year. They warehouse adaptive special education equipment. He said it is not a lot of money but is a service we can provide to the special education students in the state. Karpick asked if the contract allows for flexibility if they want to lease the entire building to some other group. Sloat responded that nothing is currently in the works for the whole building, but yes there is flexibility and this shouldn’t limit us with future leasing. Yin asked how they are advertising to find groups who want to lease the building. Sloat said that the long-term goal for Happy Hollow is an early childhood center, but that the funding situation is not practical, so they need to find groups to lease Happy Hollow and fill all those empty rooms. However, he doesn’t want leases that limit future options and so he is not interested in advertising, but they do consider those that ask. The school board frequently mentions their plan to convert Happy Hollow into an early childhood center, but their borrowing and construction decisions have left the school district without the ability to pay for the remodeling. It is good that Sloat explained that financial reality. It is unfortunate that the school board has no feasible plan for Happy Hollow. This will likely be a challenge for the next superintendent.

    Voted 7 out of 7

7:46 Ohlaut asked for approval of an agreement for custodial cleaning with a contractor, Office Pride. There was discussion with Karpick, Ohlaut, and Yin clarifying that our district does not have enough custodians and that they are advertising positions on the website, frontline, and at Our schools have increased sanitation protocols in place. The fees are only paid if we need their services, but if we find our own staff then we won’t have to use them.

    Voted 7 out of 7

7:50 Cell Tower at Athletic Complex – Sloat shared information about possibly putting a cell tower at the athletic complex. Pettibone clarified that this is information only and would not be voted on. Sloat explained that several years ago the school district was approached about putting a cell tower behind Happy Hollow and they said no because the area is so residential. This proposed tower would provide $1000/month to the district with a 9-year contract. Each year, the rate would increase up to 1.5 percent. Sloat said when he talked to the athletic director, Joel Strode, that he didn’t want it near the football field but possibly by the soccer field and that maybe the revenue stream could go towards athletics. This would not be until spring or summer 2022. Karpick said they are interested in getting more information about the cost and benefits, but also more information about the health concerns. Pettibone recommended that concerns and questions are forwarded to Sloat so that he can ask the representative as they get more information. This is the type of issue where the school board should reach out to community members for input.

7:55 Pettibone asked for approval for overnight field trips. The dance team already took their trip and the cross country goes this week. 

    Voted 7 out of 7

7:56 Teacher Turnover – Pettibone asked for approval of the personnel report. Yin commented how we have a lot of new staff members and asked if we have a mentoring and evaluation system for the new teachers. She said several Purdue professors have offered to help in our schools if there are teacher shortages. Pettibone responded that we had a lot of teacher turnover and that he would come back with information on mentoring programs as well as address the reason for our high turnover rate. Witt said she didn’t see any issues with our teacher turnover rate and said that we are losing high numbers of paraprofessionals and support staff and asked Sloat to verify. Sloat said that our teacher turnover rate is not unusual for our district. Schott said there is a mentoring program that has been in place for years. I’m confused why Witt and Sloat gave pushback to Pettibone when he said that he would look into reasons why we have a high teacher turnover rate. Without access to the personnel report (it is public information, but school board policy doesn’t allow it to be publicly released until one month after the meeting) we don’t know how many teachers left our district. However, Yin and Pettibone saw the report and both thought that the number of teachers leaving seemed high. Witt and Sloat thought the teacher turnover looked normal for our district. Both could be right. Outsiders like Yin and Pettibone may wonder how one of the best districts in the state could have so many teachers leaving to teach in other districts? Insiders like Witt and Sloat know that high teacher turnover is normal for our district. I’m always shocked when school leaders say that everything is fine, teachers are happy, and that they are already doing everything that can be done. Low teacher satisfaction continues to be a big issue in our district and we need school leaders to address it. When I taught at WLES, there was no mentoring program, but perhaps there is one at the Jr/Sr HS as Schott said.

    Voted 7 out of 7

8:01 Ohlaut asked for approval of the accounts payable. I will continue to request public access to these records and post them since they are supposed to be public information. I wish our school leaders would voluntarily post this information.

    Voted 7 out of 7

8:03 Board Reports

  • WL Foundation – Austin said that they are going to do mini-fundraisers. The first will be on August 21st at Brokerage with more information at their website.
  • Negotiations – Marley and Karpick said that negotiations will start soon. I went to the public hearing to start this process on August 3. This is the first time I’ve seen the school district advertise the negotiations public hearing.
  • Park Board – Springer said that the last day of the outdoor pool behind HH will be August 8th. The Wellness Center will have its ribbon cutting on August 14th and the community is invited to come and visit the center for free. The New City Hall will have its ribbon cutting on August 13th at 3pm. 
  • DEI – Witt said Laura Falk, Diversity Initiative Specialist, has been working this summer and working with the outside consultants. Also the principals will be sharing updates in their back to school messages. 
  • Public Schools Foundation – Yin said they will be meeting tomorrow morning (August 3rd) and that teacher grants opened today. She was going to make sure teachers are reminded of this opportunity. 

8:07 Karpick adjourned the meeting

I think we are seeing a slow shift in school board culture away from rubber stamping towards open discussion. This meeting had more questions and discussion than any I have previously attended. Perhaps the change in superintendent means that less is being decided before the meeting behind the scenes. No major school district issues will be addressed until we get a new superintendent, but I hope a priority will be to change our school board policies that keep public information hidden. The school board packet should be made public at the time of the meeting. Some school board members and the school lawyer clearly want to keep information hidden as is clear from the recent dispute about the Open Door Law. You can read about it in local news sources: WLFI, Purdue Exponent, and Dave Bangert’s Substack.

Future Meetings (calendar link)

  • Thursday, August 26 at 6:30pm at WLIS (Work session for the budget which the public is invited to attend)
  • Tuesday, September 7 at 6:30pm (location to be announced)

Streaming: YouTube I am very grateful that our school district continues to provide a live feed. The sound didn’t work as well at this meeting and the live stream was also hard to hear.

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; Michael Pettibone, Interim Superintendent

Audience: Parents, teachers, union leaders, administrators, media, and Anne Marie Bianculli, MD (school corporation physician).

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 (1 month from now). Previous agendas, minutes, and audio recordings can be found at the WLCSC website.

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