November 1, 2021 Summary

HIGHLIGHTS: Teacher Contracts and Incentive Pay Question (6:40); School Calendar and School Board Confidentiality (6:52); Employee Health Clinic (7:01); Superintendent Search Update (7:16); High Attorney Fees (7:19)

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 October meeting.

    Voted 7 out of 7

6:32 – No one from the community signed up to speak at the meeting. But, I am grateful to see that the school board changed the wording on the agenda to be more inviting of comments and the instructions no longer say that all questions have to go to the superintendents’ office. 

6:33 – Shelby Johnson, Assistant Principal at the Jr/Sr HS and Director of Special Education, invited the principal from each school (WLES, WLIS, Jr/Sr HS) to recognize students with the “Red Devil Pride Way to Go Award” for being great citizens. Two 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. We have great students, parents, and teachers in our school district who work hard to make our schools so wonderful!

6:40 – Ohlhaut asked for ratification of the 2021-2022 teacher contract. The pre-ratification meeting was on Tuesday. Representatives from WLEA (the teachers’ union), Karpick, Marley, Pettibone, and Sloat were responsible for the collective bargaining. Each cell of the teacher salary matrix increased 5.65%, and those teachers who are not on the salary matrix will have an increase of 4%. The average teacher raise is $4,323. The minimum teacher salary is $43,464 and the average teacher salary is $63,517, which Ohlhaut said exceeds the state minimum. Karpick commented that this is only a one-year contract instead of the normal two-year contract because of school corporation financial reasons. Ohlhaut said this one-year contract allows some time to see what things look like in relation to enrollment and the pandemic. He also said this would give them an opportunity to address other issues that didn’t get addressed this year. The references to uncertain financials as the reason the administration would only agree to a one-year contract would worry me if I was still teaching in our district. I’m happy to see the 5.65% increase and agree that teacher pay in our district is slightly higher than in neighboring districts, which suggests that salary is not the primary reason that our district is struggling to attract and retain great teachers. I’ve written more about this in a post about prioritizing teachers. I hope the new superintendent will focus on better supporting our teachers and making work climate and other changes to increase teacher retention and increase high-quality teacher applications for open positions.

Yin asked the administrators to consider a merit award or other recognition for outstanding teachers. Our teachers are paid the same if they have the same amount of education and years of experience, regardless of outcomes. Teachers who go above and beyond do not get extra pay. Yin referenced Mrs. Ware from TSC who was named Indiana’s 2022 Teacher of the Year and suggested that our schools should recognize those teachers who put in extra time and effort. Sloat responded that Indiana code provides guidelines and school districts have to pay according to salary schedules. Ohlhaut shared that the purpose of collective bargaining with the teachers union is to equalize pay and that the most common factors over which school districts equalize pay are education and years of experience. The Indiana Education Employment Board has very specific guidelines about bargaining for a master contract. Ohlhaut suggested that performance incentives could be provided to teachers, but said that this is something that the future superintendent and school board could discuss. It’s not surprising that teachers’ union leaders would be against performance incentives, but I am surprised that the administration is not more interested in the idea. I read the new teacher contract and it has a small performance incentive. Each year, teachers are evaluated by their principal and the contract states that those teachers who are rated as either “highly effective” or “effective” are given a $1,000 bonus. The other rating categories are “needs improvement” and “ineffective.” It sounds like this is the type of thing that Yin was suggesting, however, in our school district every teacher is given an effective or highly effective rating each year and so in practice there is no performance incentive.

Yin mentioned that administrator pay is not part of the salary schedule but is negotiated with the superintendent and other administrators. She suggested getting community input on administrator performance so that those administrators who go above and beyond can also receive recognition and possibly additional compensation. She asked if the only way for a community member to provide feedback about a school administrator is to talk with the superintendent. Karpick responded by confirming that community members should reach out to the superintendent to provide comments about administrators’ performance. I think it would be wonderful for our school district to provide a way for community members to comment on the effort and performance of both administrators and teachers. This would help the superintendent identify both problems to address and outstanding efforts to celebrate.

Voted 7 out of 7

6:50 – Sloat asked for approval to give the same 5.65% wage increase to non-certified staff and administrators. Marley said he would abstain from voting. I assume Marley’s abstention is because his wife is a school employee. Schott’s wife is a teacher/administrator and his son is a school employee, so I’m not sure why Marley would need to abstain if Schott did not need to?

Voted 6 out of 6 (Marley Abstained)

6:52 – Pettibone asked for approval of the 2022-2023 School Calendar. State law requires that school administrators discuss the school calendar with teachers’ union leaders before it is approved by the board. The discussion with principals and union leaders went well. The 22-23 calendar mirrors the 21-22 calendar. Pettibone said that the reason for the timing of fall break is that it is scheduled for the end of the first term (nine weeks) and spring break matches with Purdue University’s spring break. Yin asked if the school board could share information, like the proposed calendar, with the community before the school board meeting. She also suggested projecting it at the meeting so community members know what the school board is voting on. She said that during interviews, she asked superintendent candidates about publicly sharing school board packet information before meetings and many said that is the practice in their school district. Karpick responded by saying that they are putting up more things in advance of the meeting and that other things are policy driven. He then claimed that the calendar has already been out for a period of time and then referenced discussions with teacher union leaders and administrators. Pettibone said that the school calendar impacts teachers and administrators and also impacts the community. I love Yin’s question and I completely agree with her that the school board should publicly share what they are voting to approve before they vote. This would allow for community input before the vote to approve. Karpick’s response was confusing. The only information the school board releases before a school board meeting is the agenda. Two months ago, the school board started posting the accounts payable and personnel reports on their website after the meeting, not before. The proposed 22-23 calendar was not publicly shared until after the school board voted to approve it. What Karpick said about not sharing information being “policy driven” is a reference to policies that the school board voted to set in place 5 years ago requiring that the entire school board packet be kept confidential. I wrote a post about this gag policy and I believe that revoking it should be the first thing changed in our school district. As an example of a great way to share information with the community, consider the Indianapolis Public Schools. They use the same software our school district uses to display school policies on a website and also use this same software to share their school board packets before each meeting. They share everything each month from how they are using their ESSER Covid relief funding to attorney invoices. Our community wants the opportunity to give input. Our school board needs to stop trying to hide what they are doing.

    Voted 7 out of 7

6:58 – Sloat asked for approval of the health, dental, and vision benefits plan renewal. Health is with Anthem and will have a 2% rate increase in January. Vision is with Anthem and will have no rate increase. Dental is with Delta Dental and will have no rate increase. Karpick asked how they were able to get just a 2% increase in health rates. Sloat said that health claims have been as anticipated and that keeps the increase low. He said they decided that it was better to have a small rate increase this year rather than have none and then possibly a large rate increase next year. 

    Voted 7 out of 7

7:01 – Ohlhaut shared more information about a possible Health Clinic for school district employees and covered family members. The agenda listed this as a proposal to be voted on, but Ohlhaut said that they were not yet ready for a vote and just wanted to provide some additional information to the board as they continue vetting the proposals. One option is to partner with TSC and LSC and use Proactive MD. It would have a base cost of $21,000/month. Another option is to use Everside Health which would have a base cost of $15,500/month. Everside uses nurse practitioners and medical assistants whereas Proactive uses physicians and nurse practitioners. The clinic would provide basic services at a lower cost than a traditional provider. Ohlhaut explained that cost savings to the school corporation would depend on the level utilization of the free clinic; the higher the utilization, the larger the cost savings. If 65% of employees utilize the health clinic, Ohlhaut said it would take three years before the school corporation would start realizing cost savings, but if 75% of employees utilize the health clinic, cost savings would begin in less than two years. The contract would be year to year so the school corporation can observe utilization and re-evaluate each year. Sloat shared that they have been considering providing an employee health clinic for a couple years, but the reason to do it now is because federal ESSER III funds can be used to help cover the costs for the first year. Sloat said that they want employees to have access to the clinic starting in January. Karpick asked for confirmation that there would be no additional cost to employees and that the clinic would help cut costs. Witt asked if lab work is available and Ohlhaut responded that both basic lab work and basic pharmacy services would be available at the health clinic. Witt asked Ohlhaut to bring a brochure listing the services that will be available to the next meeting and Ohlhaut said that when he brings the actual proposal to the board it will come with documents describing all the services. Yin asked if this proposal would limit any other options available to employees. Ohlhaut said there would be no changes to employee health insurance and that the clinic would be in addition to their current options. 

Yin suggested that a survey of employees would help them get a better estimate of clinic utilization. Ohlhaut said that the teachers’ union already surveyed their members (a little more than half of the teachers are union members) about their interest and needs in relation to the health clinic. The district central office surveyed the non-certified staff. Yin asked if Ohlhaut could share the results of these surveys at the next meeting and Ohlhaut said that he has access to the non-certified staff survey and would be happy to share it. When Yin tried to thank Ohlhaut, Witt interrupted and pointedly asked Yin if there was something that Ohlhaut presented that made Yin not trust what he was saying. Witt stated that she believes Ohlhaut and was just curious to know why Yin does not believe Ohlhaut. Karpick jumped in stating that Witt had asked a good question. Yin responded by saying that wanting to see the survey results has nothing to do with trusting Ohlhaut; she does quantitative work and interpreting survey results is something she has experience with and that she would like to see the survey results. Witt then stated that the survey results were already included in the school board packet. Karpick confirmed this, saying “it is all in the school board documents” and then stated that Ohlhaut had mentioned the surveys two meetings ago. Ohlhaut responded and said that he didn’t recall what was in the school board packet, but again emphasized that he was happy to share it. Yin said that if the survey was included in the school board packet then she apologizes because she must have missed it. Ohlhaut again said that he didn’t recall if it was or was not in the packet. It was a confrontational exchange. Witt and Karpick both seemed offended that Yin would ask to see the survey results. Their position appears to be that Yin should just trust school administrators and not question their decisions. I’m grateful that Yin stood up to them while remaining kind and respectful. I’ve received aggressive emails from Witt and Karpick when I’ve questioned school board decisions; this seems to be the way they respond to people asking for additional information. Yin’s request to see the survey is a great example of what a school board member should be doing.

7:16 – Springer gave an update on the superintendent search and said that they are currently completing 2nd round interviews. She said that the reason they are not allowing teachers or community members to serve on the hiring committee is because of confidentiality concerns and noted that the candidates they are interviewing prefer their names to be kept confidential. Also, not allowing teachers or community members to serve on the hiring committee was a recommendation by Administrator Assistance, the search consultant company they hired. I still do not understand why the school board does not want input on this search. It is normal that candidates would want to keep their name confidential; that hasn’t changed. However, this is the first time that our school board has decided that they don’t need teacher and community views to help them evaluate the candidates. My view is that they should publicly announce the final candidates who are being considered. As an example, in 2015 our interim superintendent, Mike Pettibone, applied for and was selected as a finalist for the superintendent position at Niles Community Schools in southern Michigan. I liked the way this newspaper article described their search process: “Pettibone was one of three candidates chosen by the board to come back for [a second] round. . . Each of the finalists will spend a day in the district, touring buildings and meeting with staff and others in the community. Each day will culminate with an interview set to start at 6 p.m.” This is the way to have an open and inclusive search. Springer was on the school board for the last two superintendent searches and used an inclusive process then. 

The entire superintendent search process this year raises red flags for me, starting with the timing of the contract with Administrator Assistance. The date at the top of the contract is June 2, 2021, which would have been a great time to begin the superintendent search, but instead they waited until the beginning of the new school year, a terrible time to get a large number of applications. The fee is $1200/day with no details spelled out about the specific services provided. I asked Sloat if the fee is every day or just school days and he told me that Pettibone usually comes in 3 days a week and that the school corporation only pays Administrator Assistance for days when Pettibone comes in. There are other superintendent search firms, like the Purdue faculty-affiliated University Superintendent Search Team (seem more in line with our community), that our school board did not even consider. And then there is the dramatic increase in secrecy surrounding this search with the school board not allowing anyone else to look at the applications or interview the candidates. They apparently do not even intend to name the finalists. The only motivation I can come up with is that the school board had already determined who they wanted to hire before the search began and they are structuring the process accordingly. Or maybe this school board just wants complete control over the process, even if it results in a worse outcome.

7:17 Pettibone asked for approval of an anonymous donation to the WLES Principal’s Discretionary Fund for $2500. Last month there was also an anonymous donation for the same amount to WLIS. I love this community and all they do to support our schools!

Voted 7 out of 7

7:18 Pettibone asked for approval of the Personnel Report. Yin asked if we have a retirement party planned for the end of the year. Karpck said it will be in June and retirees will also be recognized at the school board meeting.  

Voted 7 out of 7

7:19 Ohlhaut asked for approval of the accounts payable. He mentioned the Covid stipend that was paid to teachers. Also that the ESSER III payment of $4,330 was for water fill stations at the high school. Yin commented that the attorney’s legal services fee of $17,000 for the month seemed high to her, but she wasn’t sure if this fee is normal. Karpick responded that they only use the attorney when needed and are frugal about it. Sloat said the cost varies month to month but with Covid and Rocky’s retirement as well as the search it has been higher. Witt commented that the contract was approved in January at Yin’s first board meeting and she told Yin that she should wait to ask this question in January. The school corporation attorney, Reiling, responded by saying that Yin needs to understand that he doesn’t initiate work and that the superintendent, CFO, and school board president authorizes all his work. He said that this month’s services were high and noted that legal services for Indiana school districts of a similar size have doubled because of Covid. Yin said that her motivation for asking these questions is that the school district has some financial challenges and she is looking to cut costs and pay teachers better. The attorney’s response to Yin was defensive, but that is understandable given that she was questioning if paying him so much was worth it. I went to the accounts payable reports for the past year (Nov 20 – Oct 21) and looked up all the payments to consultants. The first thing to note is that $17,000 is actually much lower than Reiling’s average monthly bill of $25,000. In total over the past 12 months, Reiling was paid $302,387 which at his rate of $290 per hour plus $500 per meeting implies about 1,000 hours of work, equivalent to 20 hours per week. So, the school district is paying its part-time attorney $300,000 per year. The school board should consider hiring an in-house lawyer like in our neighboring districts. I think it would save the schools a significant amount of money and we would get a full-time rather than part-time attorney. 

Voted 7 out of 7

7:36 Board Reports

  • WL Schools Foundation – Austin shared that the Scarlet and Gray event will be March 26th. They have also started the first cycle for teacher grants. Schott also said that Wendi Ailor, new executive director, is visiting schools to introduce herself and encourage grant applications. 
  • Redevelopment – Marley said that there is a lot of street construction on Salisbury. 
  • Park Board – Springer reported that there is an online survey as well as an open house at the wellness center on 11/5 seeking input for their 5 year vision. 
  • Teacher Discussion – Springer shared that they talked about the Covid stipend that was in the October 20th paycheck; Teacher Appreciation Grant (TAG) money will be distributed in November or December; and they talked about the 2022-2023 calendar. 
  • Yin expressed appreciation that Springer has been providing great leadership on the superintendent search and spending a lot of time compiling the public feedback and board members’ interview questions.

7:32 Karpick adjourned the meeting.

Location: Happy Hollow Building, LGI Room

Streaming: WLCSC Board Meeting 11/01/2021

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:  Administrators, a few teachers from the union, and reporter J&C 

Future Meetings (calendar link)

Monday, December 6th at 6:30pm at Happy Hollow LGI Room  

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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