September 7, 2021 Summary

HIGHLIGHTS: Using Excess Bond Funds to Make Debt Payments (6:37); Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Professional Development (6:48); Surprise Agenda Item: Changing Covid Quarantine Policy (7:04); Cell Phone Tower Update (7:57)

6:34 Surprise Agenda Item – Karpick called the meeting to order and reminded everyone to speak into their microphones to try to improve the sound quality. He called for a vote to approve the agenda. Pettibone then asked to add an item to the agenda: changing the school Covid quarantine policy. He also asked to add Laura Falk as the presenter for the Professional Development Services agenda item.

I was very disappointed that the school board failed to inform the community that they would be voting on a Covid quarantine policy change. Sharing the complete agenda with the community before the meeting is important so that community members can provide input before the school board votes. Choosing to wait to add items to the agenda until the meeting begins, limits community input which is not how we want our school board to make decisions.

Voted 7 out of 7

6:36 Karpick called for a vote to approve the minutes from the August 2, 2021 school board meeting.

The high rate of teacher turnover indicated in the personnel report from the August 2 meeting raised concerns from Yin and Pettibone (you can read about the pushback from Witt and Sloat in the August 2, 2021 summary 7:56.) WLCSC lost 18 certified staff in 2020-2021, another high year of teacher turnover at more than 10 percent. Some of these teachers are now working in neighboring school districts and I think that the high turnover in the math department at the jr/sr high school is a major concern. I hope our next superintendent will prioritize increasing teacher retention.

The personnel report also reveals that the school board voted to hire our former superintendent, Rocky Killion, as a consultant at $150/hour plus expenses. The hourly wage alone is equivalent to a full-time $300,000 salary. The personnel report doesn’t explain what type of consulting he is doing. This seems like a great deal for Killion, but this decision by the school board really surprised me. 

Voted 7 out of 7

6:37 Sloat began the budget hearing by listing the proposed expenditure from each of the school corporation funds as well as the proposed tax levy for each fund. The amounts were the same as presented at the August 26 Budget Work Session. Sloat emphasized that the school corporation’s recent bonds raised more money than was needed for the construction and he stated that the surplus bond funds would be used to make debt payments. He reminded board members that they do not vote to approve the budget at this meeting; the purpose of the budget hearing is for public comment. I think it is irresponsible that the school board borrowed so much money for construction that it couldn’t afford the payments and then borrowed even more to be able to make the debt payments.

6:40 Karpick invited communication from the audience related to the budget.

Troy Janes, a parent, spoke about the school district’s large debt. He said that “Mr. Sloat’s presentation at the budget work session clearly shows that the school’s debt payments related to the RDP construction projects exceed related tax revenues, by nearly $1 million in the budget.” Janes suggested that the plan to use excess bond funds to make debt payments is like taking a cash advance on a credit card in order to make the monthly credit card payment. “The result is that we pay a lot of extra interest.” Janes asked the school board to use the excess bond funds as well as the money raised by the foundation to pay off some of the debt early. He referenced Reiling’s claim at the August 26 Budget Work Session (at 7:22) that even if interest rates were to drop to zero that the school corporation couldn’t take advantage of it for the first 7 years. Janes said that while there is a call provision that could be exercised after 7 years, the school district is always able to make an open-market purchase of the debt. He estimated that at current prices, $20 million in purchases would save the school district about $800,000 each year in interest payments, enough to wipe out the annual shortfall. Janes said that the administration denied a request to provide the bond fund balances (right before Killion announced his retirement). He encouraged the school board to request a full accounting of expenditure from the bond funds and future plans for the remaining bond funds and then to make these records public. He emphasized that the school board is spending taxpayer’s money and that we have a right to know how it is being spent. Sloat responded by saying that at the time he received the request for the school corporation’s current bond fund balances, the information wasn’t available and so he could not provide it.

There are still financial questions our school administration has not yet answered. They recently explained that they borrowed additional money in 2020 to be able to make the debt payments. They finally admitted that the long-run plan is to use referendum funds (at 7:04) to make the debt payments, contradicting their earlier promises not to. However, they have never explained how they spent the $95 million they borrowed. The administration-reported cost of the six construction projects only sums to $78 million. I agree with Janes that a full accounting of all expenditure from the bond funds should be made public. It’s the school board’s responsibility to ensure that the public has access to find out how our tax dollars are spent.

6:45 Karpick then invited communication from the audience on current agenda items.

Alice Pawley, a parent of a kindergarten student and 4th grade student, asked the school board to keep school quarantine procedures in place. She said that quarantine and testing are important tools for keeping our community safe. She shared that her children are too young to be vaccinated and urged the school board to not change policy now with cases spiking and the delta variant spreading. “Don’t just think about the high school students, think about the younger children when you make this decision.”

Had the school board announced in advance that they would be voting to change the Covid quarantine policy, I think many additional parents would have signed up to speak to provide input. Our school board needs to do better, particularly when faced with important policy changes like this one.

6:48 Laura Falk, WLCSC Diversity Initiative Specialist, gave an update on teacher professional development. She explained that Dr. Rene Azziz provided training at the February 2021 staff development meeting and proposed the school board approve hiring Azziz again to lead the February 2022 professional development. In the professional development training this month, Falk is going to complete the work Azziz recommended. Falk said she is focused on the challenges that children face and reminded the school board that not all children come from an ideal home situation. Yin said that some students do not feel comfortable reporting situations and asked what is being done to improve this? Yin also said that sometimes students make insensitive comments that are offensive and suggested that training would help. Falk said that she is working with the high school counselors and will start a student advocacy group to help develop a program to address this and will start the process in October. 

I look forward to hearing more about this student group and what we are doing to help train teachers and students to be kinder, particularly to those who are facing discrimination.

Voted 7 out of 7

6:57 Sloat asked the school board to approve the Investment Resolution. He explained that when he makes an investment at a bank outside of the current school district boundaries, he needs approval. Currently all of our CDs are within our boundaries but this gives us more options for more investments. Karpick said that the school board approves this every year. I am curious if Sloat is actively looking to change investment options or if he just wants to keep his options open. Most of the school district’s debt has an interest rate of 5%; I doubt Sloat is going to find any investment opportunities that offer a 5% return. It may be that the best investment would be to buy back some of the debt. 

Voted 7 out of 7

6:59 Pettibone thanked the community and everyone for keeping us all safe. He said he had a zoom meeting last Friday with Dr. Ho, a school board member, and building leaders. His understanding is that the governor’s motivation for allowing less restrictive quarantines was to get school districts to require masks. In our district, few of the students who have been quarantined have tested positive. He said that we have high compliance with masks in our schools and said that in-person learning is more effective.

7:04 Dr. Chester Ho, one of the school corporation physicians and Carle Health Chief Medical Officer in Champaign, Illinois, joined the meeting via zoom. He said that keeping the kids in school is best instead of being isolated at home. We are doing a great job masking even with the younger students. Last year they collected data on every positive Covid case, students and staff. He wants to keep kids in school and said that the data shows that students in close contact in a classroom with someone who tests positive are unlikely to test positive themselves. He said that the spread is happening at home and not generally at school. If the data changes and they see evidence of spread happening at school, then they will change the policy and start requiring quarantines again. He recommended that the school board approve the motion to follow the governor’s executive order to not require quarantines with close contacts in classrooms when masks are worn.

Austin motioned to table this item to collect more data. She said she would like to give it a month to learn from the experience at other schools and then see if we want to loosen it up at that point. Yin seconded the motion. 

Voted 2 out of 7 (Marley, Schott, Witt, Springer, and Karpick opposed)

The motion to table failed, so discussion continued. Witt, Yin, and Schott asked several questions about close contact at lunch, recess, and during athletics when masks are not worn. Ho explained that this policy change would not affect how school leaders handle close contact situations at lunch, recess, and during athletics. This policy change only affects quarantine policy for students in close contact in classrooms while masked. They will continue the current policy of assessing the close contact unmasked situations on a case by case basis. Yin expressed concern that the school district did not seem to have a clear policy of who is quarantined and who is not when the close contact occurs in unmasked situations. Ho confirmed that these situations are handled on a case by case basis. Ho stated that CDC recommendations match the governor’s executive order of not quarantining close contacts when masked.

Austin said that 27 percent of current Covid cases are pediatric and that with the increase in cases, this is not the time to loosen up. Young children can still not be vaccinated. Ho said that he is worried about the increase in cases but again said that he is not seeing transmission in our classrooms because students are wearing masks. He also said that he would like to see an increase in vaccination rates. Yin asked if the school board could be told the percentage of students at the jr/sr high school who were vaccinated. Pettibone said that he has chosen to only get student vaccination status data when nurses need it for close-contact quarantines. Springer said that parents will be notified if their child has had close contact with someone who tested positive, including if that close contact occurs in a classroom so that parents can choose to self-quarantine their child. Austin asked when they would reassess to change the policy if needed and Ho responded that it would happen immediately if needed. 

Yin then asked for clarification about close contacts that happen at lunch. She said that while WLES and WLIS have lunch seating charts, the jr/sr high school does not. So, how does contact tracing take place when the close contact is at lunch? Karpick responded that they have already said a couple of times that they have the ability to track completely where students are and what they are doing in lunch and athletics. Witt said that students in grades 7 and up can speak for themselves and have accountability for their personal behavior. The way Karpick and Witt responded to Yin came across as very disrespectful. Yin asked a valid question that had not been answered.

Austin made a motion to amend so that the policy change would only apply to the jr/sr high school and leave WLES and WLIS quarantine policy unchanged. There was no second. Then Karpick called for a vote on the policy change.

Voted 6 out of 7 (Austin opposed)

This discussion indicates that the school board meeting culture is starting to change. I have never witnessed this level of interaction and questions among school board members. Previously I think all the interactions were happening behind closed doors. Open discussion at school board meetings is better for our community. I wish that the school board had put this important item on the agenda, or at least tried to share beforehand that they would be voting on this at the meeting. The school board just doesn’t seem to value community input – unless it turns into petitions and outcry.

7:48 Pettibone shared his start of school update. Class sizes are less than at many other schools. In 2020 the average daily membership (ADM) was 2316.  He anticipates the ADM will be slightly higher in 2021. The count will be on September 17th. TSC students are not counted in the ADM and are added later. He likes students being in the school buildings and is particularly worried about young students and emerging readers if they are quarantined. 

This response that West Lafayette class size is lower than at many other schools is the same response Killion gave when teachers and parents complained about the increase in class size. A point of pride for our school district was our small class size, particularly in the elementary and intermediate schools. Families moved into our district specifically because they wanted a small class size for their children. However, over the past two decades the administration has increased class size even after getting pushback from teachers and parents. Both referendum campaigns promised that the referendum money would be used to keep class sizes small. It’s clear that without the referendum money class size would have been much larger than it is today, but diverting referendum money towards construction and other operations costs is not getting our class size back down to where it was. I believe that our community wants to return to the small class size we had in the past and our next superintendent will need to address this.

7:50 Springer gave an update on the Superintendent Search. She thanked everyone who gave feedback through the anonymous survey. She said that the school board posted an article that discusses confidential superintendent searches. The board met in executive session, reviewed the applications, and is preparing for first round interviews.

I am shocked that our school board has decided to evaluate superintendent candidates without the help of a hiring committee. The prior two times our school board searched for a superintendent, they appointed a hiring committee with teachers and community members to help provide them with input. I don’t understand why this school board now thinks that they don’t need input from teachers (about behind the scenes issues) and community members (to get diverse viewpoints). The previous two superintendent searches were confidential, even with the involvement of teachers and community members; why is it so important to the school board that this superintendent search be conducted entirely in secret? This feels less about the school board just not valuing input and more about them having already decided who they are going to hire and then trying to control the process to make sure they arrive at that outcome.

7:52 Pettibone asked for approval for an unspecified change to the attendance policy for WLIS.

The school board should make their information packet public before the school board meeting so that we know what policies the school board is voting on. We have no idea what this attendance policy change is. It’s probably something totally reasonable, but why do it in secret? Other elected entities do not vote on laws or policy changes without first publicly explaining what they are voting on. It is not acceptable that our school board continues to do this!

Voted 7 out of 7

7:53 Sloat asked for approval to lease part of the Happy Hollow building to a church on Sundays for a year with a right to terminate with 6 months notice. The church would pay $1,500 per month. This brings the number of Happy Hollow tenants to 3: GLASS for $22,000/year, another school district for $2,500/year for a storage room, and this church for $18,000/year for a total of $42,500/year.

I appreciate those who are working to find ways to use the Happy Hollow building to bring in some revenue and I hope our school board will make it a priority to determine the future plan for this property.

Voted 7 out of 7

7:57 Sloat gave an update on the proposal to place a cell tower on school district land. He said he received answers to questions and sent those responses to the school board members. He invited Brett Blackhurst from Fortune Wireless to answer additional questions. Vertical Bridge would be the owner of the cell tower and it would be used by T-Mobile and potentially other carriers. Currently there is a cell tower on the American water tower that needs to be removed. They are proposing about $1,250 per month of revenue to the school district. They are looking at putting it at the athletic complex either near the football field or possibly soccer field. The board had concerns about the location, noise, and safety.

Blackhurst said the area they need to serve is a residential area and this makes it hard for cell companies to find a location. They are looking for a 50 ft x 50 ft area with a post that is 150 ft tall. The equipment would be on the ground near the pole and it would be fenced in. He wasn’t sure if there would be a generator but said many T-Mobile sites have generators. If the power goes out, the generator goes on, but it would be muffled. There is a small motorized fan that keeps the equipment cool. Marley asked Bob Troyer, previous WLCSC project coordinator, in the audience for his suggestions. Troyer said possibly the northwest corner of the soccer field or maybe behind the maintenance shed. 

Karpick said he wants more information about where to put it before they discuss it more. Sloat said they were trying to determine if the school board was interested before doing a lot of research. Schott said they are interested, that it is “free money”. Yin suggested that they seek community input before making a decision. Karpick said “you have the right to if you have people you want to talk to.” Springer responded to Yin saying that it is currently on a water tower in a residential neighborhood, so it is fine in a residential area.

In the August meeting (7:50) when Sloat brought this idea forward, he shared that previously the school board was not interested in a cell tower by Happy Hollow because it was so residential. They have not addressed why this situation is different. I appreciate Yin advocating for community input. I am unclear why Karpick and Springer seemed to give her pushback about seeking community input. It’s important that the school district be a good neighbor.

8:08 Pettibone asked for approval for a $5000 donation to the dance team and a cello donated to the orchestra. Yin asked if we could acknowledge the donors’ names in the school board meeting minutes. She has requested this in the past but it was not done. Karpick said it is done and that the names would be in the minutes. 

I am unclear why Karpick was frustrated with this request from Yin. Showing appreciation by recognizing the donors in the minutes (unless they have asked to be anonymous) encourages other donations.

8:10 Karpick asked for approval of the Personnel Report. Yin commented that the report shows many teachers in extra curricular activities and she wanted to appreciate them. 

For the first time ever, the school district posted this personnel report to the website soon after the meeting in the documents section. Normally they add it to the bottom of the minutes and don’t post that until after the next month’s meeting. This is a step in the right direction of sharing public information with the public. Hopefully next month they will post the personnel report before the school board meeting so the public can give input before the vote takes place. For example, if the community knew that former superintendent Killion was going to be hired as a $150/hour consultant the month after he retired, some community members may have spoken about this at the board meeting before the school board vote.  

Voted 7 out of 7

8:11 Sloat asked for approval of the accounts payable. Yin asked for more information about the Greater Lafayette Career Academy. Pettibone said that high school students can take classes there and we have to pay some of the overhead. 

Another exciting first for our school district: they posted the account payable document to the school website soon after the meeting. Previously they were not willing to share the accounts payable document with the community. I have had to make a public access request each month to get this public information and have posted all of them on my website. It is great that the school board has finally decided that they are willing to share this information with the community. In the future, they need to post the document before the school board meeting so community members can give input before the school board votes.

Voted 7 out of 7

 8:15 Board Reports

  • Park Board – Springer said youth basketball and adult volleyball is starting at the wellness center. They are also expanding their summer camps to also include winter break and spring break. 
  • West Lafayette Education Foundation – Schott shared the fundraising dinner will be on March 26th and the wall of pride ceremony will be on April 8th. They also added 3 new members to the board.
  • Public Schools Foundation – Yin said there are two events to advertise. September 18th will be the cupcake run fundraiser. The teacher grant applications deadline is September 27th. She also shared that they gave updates from other school districts and said that TSC’s enrollment is historically high and they are overwhelmed by students. She said the TSC superintendent is fine with TSC students transferring to WLCSC. Yin had brought up transfer students during the August 26 Budget Work Session (7:33) and received pushback from Reiling. Yin asks questions and offers new ideas. It is disappointing that other board members and school administrators keep giving her so much pushback. What’s wrong with considering new ideas?

8:19 Karpick adjourned the meeting 

Location: West Lafayette Intermediate School

Streaming: WLCSC Board Meeting 09/07/2021 The sound was much better! I appreciate the participants spoke into the microphones. 

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; Robert Reiling, Jr., Lawyer; Michael Pettibone, Interim Superintendent

Audience:  A few parents, WLES Principal Dr. Targgart, Teacher Union Leader

Future Meetings (calendar link)

Monday, October 4th at 6:30pm at WLIS 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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