HIGHLIGHTS: Legal Services Cost (7:05), Covid Update (7:31), Employee Turnover (7:37), Teacher Classroom Supplies Fund (7:48), First Saturday Feedback Sessions (7:50), Robert’s
Rules of Order Violations (8:18)
6:31 – This school board meeting was split into three parts: the organizational meeting, the regular meeting, and the board of finance meeting. Karpick began the organizational meeting. Yin asked why the agenda doesn’t allow comments from the audience. Karpick said that comments from the audience would happen during the regular meeting, not during the organizational meeting.
6:33 – Springer said that the nominating committee received nominations for school board president and announced that the majority of school board members nominated Witt to serve as president. Yin thanked Karpick and Springer for the many years they served as board leaders and said that she had nominated Marley to serve as president and asked why Witt was the only name presented for a vote. My understanding is that Springer emails each school board member and asks for nominations to serve as president, vice president, and secretary. It’s just her, so I don’t know why she refers to herself as the nominating committee. It appears that the school board members (excluding Yin) coordinated and decided to all nominate Witt.
Yin said she appreciates Witt’s dedication to our schools but expressed her view that Witt is not ready to be in a leading role and shared some examples:
- When Yin said that the $1,200/day pay rate for the interim superintendent seemed too high, it was Witt who defended the pay as normal. However, when Yin did research, she found it was double the typical rate.
- When Yin suggested the board use a survey to gather community input on the superintendent search, Witt was against the survey and only supported asking for public comments at a meetings. It turned out the public appreciated the survey.
- Yin started to share an experience about when she requested that the DEI director be included in superintendent interviews. Springer interrupted and said that this happened during an executive session and so Yin could not share this without violating confidentiality. Yin apologized and said she would move on.
- At the November 1, 2021 meeting (7:01), when Yin asked to see survey results related to the proposed medical clinic, Witt questioned her intentions and then incorrectly told her that the survey results were already provided to her in the school board packet. This was an important example of Witt being confrontational; she seemed offended that Yin would ask to see survey results. Witt’s position appeared to be that Yin should just trust school administrators and not ask questions. She never publicly apologized for her unkind treatment of Yin at this meeting nor for her inaccurate statement about the survey results being in the board packet.
Karpick said that Witt has served on the school board for seven years and has been an exemplary board member. He said she is helpful, thoughtful, she does what is best for the kids in our district, and “has high ability to articulate what she needs and what she wants.” He said he appreciates Yin’s examples but thinks the opposite of Yin. Karpick said that Witt has been the “go to” person as a school board member.
Yin brought up her nomination of Marley and shared why she nominated him. She said that he is experienced and communicates very well. She said she was impressed with his research on the proposed cell phone tower, his work on the superintendent search, and his attention to the budget. Karpick asked if Yin wanted to nominate Marley now and she said yes. Karpick asked for a second and with no second, the motion failed. Austin then asked Marley if he was interested in serving as president. Marley responded that he recently started a new job and is not interested. The whole nominating committee process seemed very contrived.
Selecting Witt as president of the school board was a huge surprise to me. She has had more negative public interactions over the past couple years than any other school board member, both in meetings and on social media. Yin seems concerned that Witt will not provide a good environment for civil discourse. I can tell you that Witt is not a fan of me writing these school board meeting summaries each month. After having written my first few summaries, I emailed each school board member and offered to correct anything I had written that was inaccurate or taken out of context. Witt sent me a message in reply saying: “I have scanned your writing and found more in the way of errors, omissions, questionable logic and grossly negligent extrapolation than truth. . . . I have every right to decline to be bullied by you. I cannot in clear conscience support your denigration of our schools for your personal gratification.” Witt’s aggressive response to me is similar to what she has sent to many others and I’m worried about what she will say when acting as the voice of the school board.
Voted 6 to 1 (Yin opposed)
6:41 – Witt thanked those board members who selected her as president and thanked Karpick for serving as president of the school board for the past 9 years. She said that she has big shoes to fill and that she will be honest, humble, and will work hard.
6:42 – Springer announced that the majority of board members nominated Marley to serve as vice president. Yin then nominated herself as vice president. She said that she would bring fresh eyes to ongoing school issues. She noted that she has kids in the elementary and high school so has first-hand knowledge of what is happening in our schools which would enable her to represent parents and teachers. She said that she also represents taxpayers because she has been paying close attention to school spending and finding ways to reduce unnecessary spending. Yin said that she asks questions, shares suggestions, is an educator, and is a researcher in the field of education with expertise in assessment and quantitative methods. Witt asked if there was a second to Yin’s self-nomination. There was not, so the motion failed.
Voted 7 out of 7
6:45 – Marley shared that he has served on the school board for 14 years and said that he has Karpick to thank for his involvement. He has known Karpick from his days at Purdue. They are neighbors and their spouses worked together at Cumberland Elementary (WLES) for years. His wife and their children graduated from WLCSC. He was involved in 2003 when they identified that the school district would need financial assistance. He has served on the negotiations committee, insurance committee, redevelopment commission, and finance committee which sets the rate for the referendum fund. Marley said he will continue to put his shoulder behind our schools. Witt then thanked Springer for her 10 years serving as vice president.
6:49 – Springer shared that the majority of school board members endorsed Tom Schott to serve as secretary. There was no discussion.
Voted 7 out of 7
6:49 – Schott thanked Karpick who he has known since he came to Purdue in 1990 and thanked Springer. He said that both have been excellent examples for school board members. Schott served on the school board for 9 years. He prides himself on his passion for the school district. His two sons graduated from WLCSC and one currently works for the school district. His wife also works for the school district as a teacher, coach, and an administrator at the high school. This is his first time in a leadership role.
My feeling is that school board members should not serve for so many years on the school board. Most don’t have children in our schools anymore. I think we need term limits for school board members. New board members bring new perspectives and question if doing things the way they have always been done is still what is best. It is surprising how closely connected many of the school board members were even before joining the school board. Now that Karpick and Springer have stepped down from their leadership positions, I would not be surprised if one or both resign from the school board in the next few months. Dave Bangert wrote about the pattern of the West Lafayette school board selecting its members before elections in this article.
6:52 – The board was asked to approve 5 bonded treasurer positions. Yin asked Sloat to explain what these bonds are for and why the designated amounts were chosen. She also asked why we have more than 1 treasurer. Sloat answered that the school corporation purchases these bonds as insurance against fraud. The treasurer oversees the spending, the deputy treasurer does the day to day depositing of funds, the extra-curricular treasurer works with the schools and clubs to deposit money from activities, and the athletic secretary deposits money from athletic events. Austin added that the more money the person handles then the higher the amount bonded. Yin asked several clarifying questions trying to understand if they were voting on these individuals’ employment in these positions or on the bonded amounts and asked if they should wait to make this decision until the new superintendent begins. Sloat said they are voting on both, they are approving these individuals to handle the money and on the amount of fraud insurance to purchase. Karpick said that all these individuals already work for the school and that their salaries would be unchanged if these additional treasurer responsibilities were to be removed. Sloat said they could wait for Greiner, but thinks that he will want these same treasure positions. He said that Greiner can change who serves in treasurer positions once he arrives, so this decision does not need to wait for him.
Voted 7 out of 7
7:02 – The board was asked to approve the two school corporation physicians. Sloat shared that Ho has moved from the state, but will continue to work with Bianculli. He said that the two physicians split the fee of $450, so having two physicians doesn’t cost our school district more than if we only had one. Karpick noted that his wife worked as a nurse at WLES for 16 years and said that even though Ho has not lived in Indiana for the past two or three years, he has been very helpful.
Voted 7 out of 7
7:05 – The board was asked to approve the rates for school corporation lawyers. Witt noted that the board is not being asked to vote on a contract, just the schedule of rates for these specific lawyers. She shared that the board has begun reviewing the school corporation’s legal costs, but are waiting for the new superintendent before discussing the review. Sloat said the rates are the same as last year and that the other lawyers listed are partners in Reiling’s firm. He noted that the $255 cost is a membership fee for Reiling with the Counsel of School Attorneys which provides education and contact with other school lawyers. Yin asked how many of our school attorneys attend this organization’s conference and Sloat said that it is usually just Reiling. Springer verified that only Reiling attends and said that the ISBA puts on two law conferences each year to provide continuing education and updates on changes to school law.
Yin asked if the $290/hour rate is comparable to that of neighboring school districts. Sloat said he didn’t know, but said it is important to have a high quality attorney that has experience and knows the local community well. He noted that Reiling does not push for work, he just responds to requests from the superintendent and board president and that he works at the pleasure of the board. Sloat said that legal costs have been higher in recent years because of construction, legal cases, a racial discrimination case, a gender discrimination case, and personnel issues. Austin asked if the pandemic has also increased attorney costs and Sloat responded yes.
Schott commented that Greiner will review this when he begins. Karpick then clarified that Reiling is the school board’s attorney. Karpick also confirmed that the board leadership is already working on a review to determine how the board will move forward with legal services. Yin asked them to share with her what is being reviewed. Witt said that Yin would be allowed to see the data they collect at some point. Yin requested the review of the lawyer and his legal fees at the November 1, 2021 meeting (7:19); it is unfortunate that they won’t involve her in the review.
Yin said that she is concerned that we pay Reiling $500 each time he attends a school board meeting. Other superintendents and the ISBA said that having a lawyer attend each meeting isn’t necessary. Witt responded that she agrees with Yin and noted that Reiling wasn’t at the meeting. Karpick said that for much of the last 10 years, Reiling has not attended meetings. Springer said that over the past 24 years, the presence of an attorney at meetings ebbs and flows depending on the issues. The responses given to Yin’s concern are misleading. I checked each of the school board meeting minutes since June 2018 and out of the 48 meetings, Reiling attended 47 of them. It’s great that the school board leadership asked Reiling to skip this meeting in response to Yin having mentioned it, but then making it sound like Reiling isn’t normally at school board meetings is misinformation.
Austin requested that as board leaders review the attorney costs that they look at the line item for APRA (public information) requests and how much those have cost the district. I am so grateful Austin asked this question. School lawyers vigorously fighting to keep school documents secret in response to requests for public information has been a major issue in our school district. It would be great to know how much the school board has spent over the past several years trying to limit community access to public documents. For example, I started requesting the accounts payable document each month starting in December of 2020. The first few months, the district did not give me the entire document. It took me a while to realize that they were removing specific pages of the report each month before providing it. I had to follow up with additional APRA requests to get the entire document. For each request, they paid a lawyer to go through the report and redact information with a marker. Each time I received a document, I posted it to my website on the documents page. Finally, in September 2021, the school board decided to stop paying the lawyers and just post these accounts payable documents directly to the school website. I have since been requesting the other documents provided to the school board in the board packet. The school lawyers agree that the documents I am requesting are not confidential, but have not complied with any of my requests because I do not know the names of the documents in the school board packet each month; they want me to list each individual document. Two school board policies require board members to not disclose any information about the documents they are provided in the school board packet, which prevents the public from being able to request the documents. I filed a complaint with the Indiana public access counselor and am waiting for their ruling. Maybe after seeing how much it costs to try to prevent the public from accessing public information, the school board will decide to just provide the information voluntarily like they recently did with the accounts payable reports. Our neighboring school districts voluntarily provide these documents on the website and as handouts at school board meetings.
Yin said that she is concerned about several negative interactions Reiling has had with community members. Even if it is necessary to stay with his firm, she said that she would prefer our schools use other attorneys, not Reiling, to help rebuild relationships of trust with community members. Witt said that she respects the question and said that she would like to discuss this during the lawyer review process and not at this meeting. Yin asked if Greiner would be able to determine if he wants to continue legal services with Reiling. Witt verified that this was just a rate schedule and not a contract. Karpick again reiterated that Reiling is the school board’s attorney. Witt said that Reiling and his firm have a great deal of institutional knowledge. Springer said that Reiling has worked for the school board for 20 years. Witt said that it could be expensive to hire a new law firm because they would need to “grow in their knowledge and understanding.” Witt said she looks forward to the review with Greiner where they will discuss specifics and not just speculate. Yin asked if Reiling was the attorney that wrote the contract for former superintendent Batagiannis and if he was involved in that lawsuit. Sloat said yes, and argued that Reiling saved the district a lot of money in that lawsuit. I’m not impressed with claims that a lawyer has to know the local community and our school corporation’s institutional details in order to provide the district with effective legal representation. All our neighboring school districts have excellent legal representation. Reiling isn’t the only Indiana attorney with experience representing a school district.
Voted 6 to 1 (Yin opposed)
7:17 – The board was asked to approve its own compensation ($2,000/year + $112 per evening of regular or special meetings + $62 per evening for executive or work sessions). Sloat noted that this is the same compensation as in prior years. Yin asked why our district has 7 school board members when 5 is a common number for other school districts that are larger than ours. Sloat said that there is a legal process to reduce board membership down to 5 that the board could choose to pursue.
Voted 7 out of 7
7:20 – The board was asked to approve Schott and Karpick as members of the board of directors of the West Lafayette Schools Education Foundation. Schott served on the foundation board last year with Austin, but Austin asked for a different appointment so Witt said that she asked Karpick to take the second spot.
Voted 7 out of 7
7:21 – The organizational meeting was adjourned. At the January 4, 2021 meeting, the board voted on all of these same items without any explanation about what was going on. Yin asking questions has encouraged discussion and this year’s meeting was more informative.
7:21 – The regular school board meeting was called to order. Witt shared that the focus of these meetings is on students and shared the mission statement which she projected on the screen. She said they set up the room differently to provide better viewing and that the community is encouraged to send feedback on the alignment. She also said that according to board bylaw po0161 that Robert’s Rules of Order is the parliamentary rules they use for meetings. After attending the meeting, I watched some of the livestream and didn’t like that we cannot see several of the board members’ faces; the camera is behind them. But, it does seem better to have the board members sitting closer together rather than spread out across the whole room. Perhaps the camera could be moved to the opposite side, facing the board members?
7:23 – The board was asked to approve the agenda and the minutes from the December 6, 2021 regular meeting and December 20, 2021 special meeting.
Voted 7 out of 7
7:25 – Communication from the audience on current agenda items (those who had signed up before the meeting began)
- 7:25 – Cheng-kok Koh, a parent of two graduates with one child at the high school, spoke about the board not allowing public comments at the December 20, 2021 meeting. In addition, Karpick did not allow any discussion that was not specifically relevant to the agenda. However, later in the meeting he disregarded the agenda and asked the new superintendent to speak. Koh reminded the board that their policies state that both regular and special school board meetings are required to have a written agenda and time for public participation. He reminded the board that their bylaw po0123 “Philosophy of the Board” requires the board to maintain two-way communication with the citizens of the corporation and encourages the citizens to bring aspirations and concerns to the school board. It also states that the board should act as a “truly representative body for citizens.” Koh said that the school board contradicts its philosophy and it’s policies when it has a special meeting and does not allow public participation. He said, “It is important to know that we, the West Lafayette Community members, are the biggest resource. While we may not speak with a single voice, we share the same goal of making West Lafayette Schools the best learning environments for children, and perhaps adults, in the community. Please be inclusive and be respectful. Do not push us away.” I completely agree with Koh and appreciated him sharing the quotes from the board’s philosophy as well as calling out the prior board leaders for their recent decisions to limit public participation. The quote about the board being “truly representative body” stands in stark contrast to Karpick’s claim at the January 4, 2021 meeting (6:35) when he said that “our role as a board is not to be a representative body. It is a subtle distinction, but we are charged to respond to administrative concerns, needs, and initiatives, to set policy, but not to enact law.” I agree with Koh that the school board should represent the community.
7:30 – Sloat shared an update on school facilities. There have been delays obtaining materials, so the completion of the stair tower at the high school is being delayed until the end of March. Once complete, all major construction projects will be complete. Some of these construction projects were necessary while others were arguably not, but they were very expensive. In a ranking of every school district in Indiana, WLCSC comes in second highest for debt per student at over $53,000 per student. The district ranked third has $39,200 in debt per student. The average debt per student across all 286 Indiana school districts is $14,500. Our school corporation has 17 more years of debt payments that are so high that unless property tax revenue increases pretty dramatically, the school corporation will have no ability to borrow. Nearly two decades of not being able to borrow is not a good situation for the school board to have left us in.
7:31 – Sloat shared an update on Covid numbers since the first day of the new semester, Jan 6. He said that the Covid cases were spread during the winter break, not at school (unless possibly from athletics). 87 students had positive or pending tests on Jan 6. The day of the meeting there were 99. Austin said the state’s website is not correct and Sloat said they would follow through to find out why. Sloat said that he did not have the numbers for how many were positive versus how many were waiting for test results. 45 students were absent because of close contact on Jan 6 and the day of the meeting there were 51. 11 students who were in close contact with someone who tested positive, but were vaccinated, attended school on Jan 6. The day of the meeting there were 41. These students are being observed. WLIS Principal, Psarros, commented that these students have to remain fully masked at school and eat lunch isolated from other students. 16 staff were positive on Jan 6 and the day of the meeting there were 8. Sloat shared that Dr. Ho continues to recommend in-class instruction because they haven’t seen a huge increase in in-class transmission but they are monitoring that every day. He also said they are continuing the practice of 10 day quarantines. Sloat said they are struggling to get subs and having permanent subs last year was helpful. He said that in the personnel report they are requesting to hire permanent subs if needed. Yin asked if we have data for the total vaccination rates. Sloat said he does not.
7:35 Ohlhaut asked for authorization for check runs and appropriations transfers. He said this gives them approval to move from one major budget classification to another. Sloat said they pass this resolution every year. Witt asked, “Just to be clear, if you were to make those transfers they would be legal” and Ohlhaut said yes. I am not sure why Witt asked this question but possibly because it used to be very difficult for school districts to transfer funds from one account to another. Killion always referred to these as budget silos and complained that not allowing transfers forced the school corporation to do things that didn’t always make sense. Today, the school board can transfer money between accounts and spend the money nearly any way it wants.
Voted 7 out of 7
7:37 Sloat asked for approval of the personnel report. He mentioned the provision to add 2 permanent subs to each building if needed. Yin shared that she had asked Sloat about looking into the high turnover rate for our school district and that Sloat said if the school board was interested then the central office staff could collect data. Yin asked if the school board would request this data so they could analyze it and determine why we have a high turnover rate. Springer asked if Yin was talking about certified or non-certified staff. Yin responded that the non-certified staff turnover was especially high. Sloat said that when someone leaves they have a process where the individual talks to their supervisor and said they could do a better job of tracking that data. He said that the schools have many employees who are part-time coaches or lunch supervisors and that this is where we see the highest turnover. He said they could develop a better process and track turnover. Witt asked that they wait until Greiner begins to take any action. Austin responded by saying that she works in human resources and that in 2021 the Bureau of Labor Statistics said the overall turnover rate was 57.3% and that she believes that our school district has a turnover rate that is well below that. Sloat said that he looked up certified staff turnover and it is in the 8 to 10 percent range over the last 4 years. He said non-certified turnover is higher. It would be great for the school district to start paying attention to our district’s high turnover rates both for non-certified staff and certified staff (teachers). I wrote about the high recent teacher turnover in West Lafayette as compared to other districts in a prior post. Austin’s argument, that our district probably has a turnover rate that is well below 57.3% and therefore is a very low turnover rate, is exceptionally misleading. First of all, the BLS report she is citing is not for 2021, it’s for 2020 and includes the March 2020 shutdown separations. As an example of how unusually high this number is, the total annual separation rate for the leisure and hospitality sector is reported to be over 130%. In contrast, teacher turnover nationwide has declined since the start of the pandemic. Rather than use a number that is not at all specific to education and is the highest national annual separation rate reported, I suggest comparing our school districts turnover rate to that of neighboring school districts. It is clear that the district has a lot of work to do on this and should start by collecting data.
Voted 7 out of 7
7:42 Ohlhaut requested approval of the accounts payable. He pointed out several claims and answered some questions that were sent to him about various payments. He noted a $23,268 final payment to Administrator Assistants for the superintendent search and interim superintendent, Pettibone. Yin thanked Ohlhaut for his explanations and asked about the payments of over $10,000 each month to Pine Mesa LLC. Ohlhaut responded that this is Sloat’s company. Sloat said that unlike Ohlhaut, he is not a regular school district employee and receives no benefits. He set up his own contracting company and the school corporation pays him through this company. Yin then asked about the $23,000 payment to Administrator Assistance and asked if that included the $10,000 fee for superintendent search. Ohlhaut said that he hadn’t seen the invoice. Sloat said that he had and clarified that $10,000 of the $23,000 was for the search and there were some additional items for meetings and mileage with the rest of the expense covering Pettibone’s daily rate for December. I am impressed with the amount of preparation Yin clearly puts in to be ready to ask questions. I feel like other school board members should be willing to also ask these types of questions to help the public know what is going on. Sloat was paid $139,332 through Pine Mesa LLC in 2021. Administrator Assistance was paid $92,268 in 2021.
7:48 Yin asked about the teacher supply fund. She said she appreciated that the central office recently sent an email to teachers (in response to her earlier request) explaining how they can use the district supply funds to buy classroom supplies. Sloat confirmed that there is money for supplies and the teachers just have to ask for it. Yin asked if teachers need to make these requests through the principals and Sloat said that the principals are given a budget every year and then they distribute according to their own procedures. He said that there are years with leftover money in the supply fund. Sloat said that some teachers decide to spend their own money buying supplies even though there are school funds available. Ohlhaut said that they prefer not to reimburse teachers for prior purchases and want the teachers to request the supplies so they can be ordered centrally. He said they would try to make it convenient and agreed that there is money available to buy classroom supplies. Yin asked if there was a way to simplify the process so teachers don’t have to spend their own money. Sloat said it is already as easy as it is going to get and that teachers need to take initiative. Austin said that parent councils also provide funding for classroom supplies at the beginning of each semester. I taught 1st grade and kindergarten at WLES for several years and I never heard about this classroom supply fund. I spent hundreds of dollars purchasing supplies for my classroom and know many other teachers that did the same. None of us had any idea that we could simply make a request and that the school district would purchase these classroom supplies for us. Sloat claims that teachers all know about the supply fund, that it is easy to get supplies ordered, that there is plenty of money available, and that the only reason teachers don’t make requests is that they are not taking initiative. This wasn’t my experience. If Sloat is right, why do so many teachers in our schools send out classroom supply wish lists and post classroom supply requests to donorschoose.org. Clearly, something isn’t working. I’m grateful that Yin continues to ask about this because an improvement here could really help our teachers and provide supplies that will enhance the learning experience.
Voted 7 out of 7
7:50 Witt read a statement that the central office emailed to all parents in the school district the day after the meeting. She announced that a school administrator and a school board officer will be available to meet with community members beginning this Saturday, January 15th, from 9:00 to 10:00 am in the West Lafayette Payless upstairs dining space. Witt said that this opportunity for open dialogue would then be offered on the first Saturday of each month at the same time and place. I am very enthusiastic about this new opportunity for community members to talk with school leaders. It is certainly a big departure from the school district culture of not listening. In the past, the message has always been that if you have questions or concerns, you should contact the superintendent via phone or make an appointment for an in-person meeting. School leaders would not discuss issues by email or in public meetings. They requested that all communication happen in private. I’ve had private meetings with school leaders to share concerns. In response to my concerns, I was told that this is one of the best school districts in the nation and that I need to trust that the school administrators are already doing what is best for the students. I was told that administrators are the experts and they do not need uninformed input from community members. When I was teaching, I attended a Purdue engineering training program for teachers of young children; it was excellent. I asked the program leaders if they would be willing to provide the training and all the classroom supplies they gave me to all the teachers in my grade at WLES. They told me that they had asked WLCSC leaders year after year for permission to offer the enrichment program to our teachers for free and that the response was always no. So, my hope is that this is the beginning of a culture shift where school leaders encourage feedback and input from community members. We could all be doing this together! An important part of encouraging community members to “speak up” is for school leaders to “listen up” and then to “follow up” on the questions and concerns. I would like to see a brief report about the concerns and suggestions shared at these open dialogue meetings presented at the following school board meeting so everyone can hear what was discussed. This report should include answers to each question and what was done to try to address each concern.
Witt noted in her statement that each school board member’s email address is available on the school website and noted that the responses often come from the board president. My own experience is that it is best to email all school board members even though the response usually just comes from the board president. If you only email the board president, your email will be shared with some, but not all of the school board members.
One sentence in Witt’s letter has become a point of contention: “Throughout the United States school boards, including this one, have increasingly been subjected to personal insults, threats and a steady stream of destructive communication.” After the meeting, Yin, put out her own statement saying that “I don’t perceive that it is the case, especially in our district. I found that our community members are respectful and constructive. I deeply appreciate our community’s devotion to education. People did disagree on some issues, such as the mask policy, the search procedure, legal service, spending… But all the people, who spent their precious time reaching out and/or making public comments, deeply love our district, care about our students and teachers, help further improve our district, and they were respectful and constructive. I am so proud of our community! I value democracy and cherish people’s freedom of speech, for both the public and the school board members. The president certainly has the right to express her view. But I don’t want to be fully represented by the letter.” If Witt’s statement that school board members were threatened is true then it is absolutely unacceptable. Threats are never appropriate and are totally inconsistent with civil public discourse. If threats have been received, police reports should have been filed and the community should know about it.
I don’t know, but I think it is more likely that Witt is misinterpreting criticism of her statements and school board votes as personal insults and threats. I’ll give an example, Witt recently sent me an email in which she complained that I had called her names. She referenced my summary of the August 2, 2021 meeting (6:43) where the new Wonderland learning center was being presented. Witt wrote “Your ‘report’ said very little of what I actually said, instead you chose to cherry pick words that fit your bias and label me ‘embarrassing’ and ‘abrasive’. Do I take that personally? Yes. This is what I mean when I say personal attack. It’s plain and simple bullying.” In the summary itself, I never called her embarrassing or abrasive, instead I wrote “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).” My view is that saying that “I was embarrassed” and pointing out that “her interactions are often abrasive” is not name calling. I was describing how I felt and then labeling her behavior, not her as a person. Perhaps she feels that my summaries are threatening her or personally attacking her when I’ve pointed out that some of the things she has said are offensive.
Yin asked what documents school board members are allowed to share before a school board meeting, during the meetings, and after the meeting. Witt said that if a document is on the corporation website then it can be shared and that if there are questions then she should ask the superintendent or Witt to decide if a document can be shared. Yin responded that things change, for example, when Killion resigned as superintendent, the school board started sharing the accounts payable document after the meeting. Witt replied that in her 8 years on the board, documents are becoming more and more available. Yin asked about a memo that she received from Sloat and Ohlhaut answering questions about school spending that she would like to share with the community. Springer said that their answers were given at the meeting on public record and recorded. Yin said that she has been encouraged to ask questions before the meeting rather than at the meeting and she wants to share these answers with the community. She asked if she should repeat those questions that have already been answered in the public meeting as a way to inform the public. Witt told her that she should give the board advanced notice if she wants to share something with the community. Karpick said that the leaders need time to prepare to share a document with the public. My view is that school board discussions and questions should happen in public. Anytime Yin has something that she thinks the public should know, she should definitely ask about it at a public meeting, even if she has already been provided with the answer before the meeting, so that it is on public record. Our school board’s culture was to have all discussions behind closed doors. School board meetings were short, uninformative, and just a lot of rubber stamping. When Yin was elected this started to change. The school board is now sharing more information than ever before and meetings have become much more informative. For a list of progress that Yin has made on school issues, see her 2021 work report.
8:00 Board Reports
- WL Schools Foundation – Schott shared that they had tours of the James R. Guy Education Wing and Bob Kelly Performing Arts Center. The student council president said they are planning a food drive as well as prom and graduation. Giving Tuesday was a big success. John Taylor (class of ‘57) gave the single largest gift to athletics and the money will be used for student athletic enhancement like an advisory committee and to fund half-time entertainment. March 26th is the Scarlet and Gray Gala.
- Greater Lafayette Career Academy (GLCA) – Yin attended a tour and was very impressed. She said that Sloat shared that our high school students are well informed about this learning opportunity and that we have high participation. There is an open house on January 19th, 4-6pm. Yin asked for ideas about the best way to share the information about the GLCA open house. Shriner, WL Jr/Sr HS principal, said that information about the open house had already been forwarded to parents. It was good that Yin asked about sharing this information because the email about it went out to all families the day after the meeting.
- Park Board – Springer shared that the Wellness Center one-year anniversary will be January 29th. There are 2 gaga pits outside the center that were donated by the Kiwanis. She said that she is president of the parks and recreation board and that they are looking for a new board member to serve a 4-year term. She said that they can only consider republicans for this board position. I don’t know how the park board works, but how does it make sense that state law would require this new park board member to be a republican? I think political party affiliation should have nothing to do with local government.
- Alumni Committee – Karpick said the Wall of Pride event will be in April
- Redevelopment Commission – Marley said they have gone virtual for their meetings. They approved a spending plan for 2022 of 25.9 million dollars in debt and projects. TIF districts are approaching 800 million dollars in assessed value. He said that the only thing we get from TIF districts is the general fund. I think Marley meant to say that the only thing we get from TIF districts is the referendum fund, not the general fund. My understanding is that the debt service fund and operations fund levies are not imposed on TIF district assessed value, but the school’s referendum fund levy is imposed on all property in the school district, including on the TIF district assessed value.
8:07 Communication from the audience on non-agenda items (those who had signed up before the meeting began). The microphone at the podium did not pick up the speakers very well.
- 8:07 – Randy Studt (Union leader and German teacher at the high school) spoke against several bills being considered by the Indiana general assembly. He said that SB 167 and HB 1134 would have a huge negative effect on curriculum and teachers. He said WLCSC DEI Director, Laura Falk, and a WLCSC student gave testimony last week against SB 167 and Falk gave testimony Monday morning against HB 1134. SB 144 and HB 1042 are about partisan school board elections which would cause more divisions. HB 1072 and HB 1083 would have a negative effect on our funding and referendum. He also shared his concern with part of SB 167 that goes after librarians to jail them or fine them for materials in their collection. He said, “I ask you and I ask the community to get involved, know what the bills are, and begin to make moves to do something about this.” Studt said that this is a short session and will be finished by the beginning of March. I appreciate all the work that Studt does to keep teachers and community members informed about state legislation being considered. I’m happy that Studt is able to publicly speak about these bills and advocate against them, before they are voted on. Imagine what it would be like if the state legislature refused to provide the public with the text of proposed bills until after they voted. How would we be able to voice our views if we didn’t even know what was being proposed? The leaders of the school board think that it is acceptable to vote without having first publicly shared the details of proposed policy changes. My view is that the details of every agenda item being voted on in a public school board meeting should be made public before the school board meeting.
- 8:15 – Angie Janes (parent) spoke against the board continuing to use the legal firm, Reiling Teder & Schrier. She and others have shared concerns in emails, public comments, and on social media. She requested to have an agenda item on the December school board meeting to explore other options, but the school board denied her request. The vote at this meeting wasn’t a contract, but that doesn’t mean a contract doesn’t exist. Janes asked for public access to the contract or agreement with Reiling or his firm. She said Reiling is not the right fit for our community. We shouldn’t pay more in legal fees than other larger school districts like Carmel and Zionsville. The community wants open and respectful dialogue, as well as public information shared with the community. There are other local firms who know education, our community, and public officials and these firms are hired by TSC and LSC. Reiling’s website bio lists professional expertise but does not include education. Janes thanked board members for recent responses to her emails and she encouraged them to share the findings from their upcoming legal services review with the community. She said that she only knew our community was paying more in legal fees than our peers because of Dacia Mumford’s monthly public records request for the accounts payable document. Janes asked that the school board take the next step and provide the entire board packet publicly before the meeting so that the community can be informed. She noted that providing public information would save money in legal fees as apparently the cost of complying with public records requests is high. She said, “We want to be partners in the collaborative process of education, Please let us.” I really appreciate all the work Janes did to inform the community about the amount of debt the school district took on in recent years. I learned about it from her. She has been a strong advocate for making public information publicly available.
- 8:18 – Cheng-kok Koh (parent, also spoke at the beginning of the meeting at 7:25) spoke about the board misusing Robert’s Rules of Order. He said the board leaders selectively choose when to use the rules and when not to use them. He shared 3 incidents when they were inappropriately applied to silence another board member:
- November 1, 2021 (7:01) a board member who had the floor was asking for information from an officer when another board member interrupted. The interrupting board member was not recognized by the president so did not have the floor. The interrupting board member questioned the motives of the speaking board member for asking the question which is not allowed by Robert’s Rules of Order. The president did not apply Robert’s Rules of Order when he allowed the interrupting board member to continue and then also questioned the motives of the member who had the floor. Robert’s Rules provide guidelines on how the board should act when disorderly behavior occurs. Koh has yet to see good-faith actions by the board to rectify this.
- December 13, 2021 (5:24) a board member who had the floor was presenting an analysis of the proposed superintendent contract. Again, a board member interrupted. Since this was a public hearing, possibly Robert’s Rules of Order don’t apply. However, the same pattern was followed in this situation. The president allowed the board member to interrupt without the floor. To the president’s credit, he allowed the board member who had the floor to continue after the interruption.
- December 20, 2021 (5:42) a board member who had the floor was explaining the vote to be taken on the superintendent candidacy. Another board member interrupted. The interrupting board member was not recognized by the president, so didn’t have the floor, so the speaking board member continued to have the floor. The president did not allow the board member who had the floor to continue to speak but quickly moved to vote on the previous question. The president moved so quickly that it prevented any board members from getting the floor, when the speaking board member still had the floor. Putting a question to vote with such rapidity is a violation of Robert’s Rules of Order. Legal counsel did not help to properly apply Robert’s Rules but assisted the president in violating Robert’s Rules. Legal counsel also pointed a finger at the board member who had the floor and told the board member to stop speaking. The person chairing the meeting, the president, not legal counsel, had responsibility to maintain order. Legal counsel spoke out of order and overstepped the boundary.
Koh said, “I respect that the board has the right to set fair and just rules on how meetings should be run. However, I expect the board to consistently and properly apply the rules. Please do not selectively apply the rules and please do not improperly apply the rules just so to short-circuit discussions, or worse, to suppress alternative voices.” I appreciate Koh’s willingness to bring this to the public. When school board leaders misapply the rules to silence discourse that they don’t like, it’s up to community members to call them on it and ask for better behavior.
8:25 – The regular school board meeting was adjourned. I felt that Witt did a nice job conducting the meeting for her first time.
8:26 – Schott began the annual meeting of the board of finance. He asked for approval of the agenda as well as the minutes from January 4, 2021. Note that they turned off the livestream and the audio recording at this point. The board of finance meeting was included in the livestream and audio in past years; so it’s not clear why they stopped the recordings. I am grateful that I was able to attend in person but wish it was available for all to listen to who could not attend.
Voted 7 out of 7
8:27 – Scott said that after several years of serving as president of the finance board with Witt as secretary, it is time to pass this responsibility to others. Springer nominated Austin to serve as president. Yin asked Springer to explain her justification for nominating Austin. Springer said that Austin’s job gives her extensive financial training and experience.
Voted 7 out of 7
8:28 – Schott asked Austin if she would like to take over the meeting as she is now president. Sloat told Schott to go ahead and do the secretary nomination. Witt nominated Karpick to serve as secretary. Seeing everyone else being put into leadership positions with Yin excluded is additional evidence of the apparent dislike that the other board members seem to have for Yin. She is the only board member that is not a member of the union-supported RDP PAC.
Voted 7 out of 7
8:28 – Austin began conducting and Ohlhaut shared the Investing Officer’s Report. He shared the interest earned in 2021 until November was $91,628 and highlighted other figures in the report. At the meeting, it was hard to follow all the numbers Ohlhaut shared without a copy of the report he was referencing in my hand. However, I am grateful that he posted the report to the website after the meeting ended.
Voted 7 out of 7
8:31 Ohlhaut shared the Fiscal Indicators Report which is required by Indiana code. They handed out a powerpoint of the 2021 WLCSC Board of Finance Annual Report and also the School Corporation Fiscal Indicators Data Sources. The information he shared was directly from the powerpoint handout. He said that the graphs are better viewed from the Indiana government website because the graphs can be confusing but at the in.gov website you can click on the graphs and see the sources of the data. He said that WLCSC continues to carry strong fund balances as a percent of expenditures on an annual basis. Average daily membership started to decline in 2020 so stabilizing and reversing this trend will be important. Ohlhaut said they have maintained a healthy cash balance in the education fund. The referendum fund revenue continues to support both the education fund and the operations fund and he said that the renewal of the referendum fund will be critical to the financial stability of the school corporation going forward. He said that as we look forward to Greiner starting as superintendent that the business office will develop new financial reporting to share with the board and the public on a regular basis and said that this new reporting will be more digestible and easier to understand. I haven’t been able to find the two handouts he provided on the website yet so I scanned them in and provided the links above, but I will update the links if I find them posted to the website. I am grateful that Ohlhaut is doing so much to publicly share the school district financial information. Ohlhaut appears to be doing a great job, though I still wish we had a certified accountant looking at school finances. I feel much more confident in a CPA’s ability to catch financial issues. Back in the summer of 2015, the school corporation hired Tim Clary, an experienced CPA with a degree in accounting, to the position of CFO. However, Clary resigned after just 6 months on the job and apparently signed a non-disclosure agreement to not speak about his time working for our school district. He eventually was hired as the Controller for the City of Lafayette. Sloat, a retired superintendent from Benton Community Schools, has served as “interim CFO” for the school district since Clary resigned.
Yin asked how they decide what amounts to invest, how they research other options for investing, and if they know how other school districts are investing. Ohlhaut said that generally Baker Tily recommends the best options. He noted that public entities can’t invest in risky investments and are limited to government backed securities and low risk investments like CDs. Ohlhaut said that they shop around to different banks that offer different CDs to find the best rates. Yin asked if Baker Tily gives us options to choose from or if they just tell us what they think is the best option. Ohlhaut said they give several options and they also present options as a CD matures that depend on how interest rates change. He noted that if rates are high enough they may put money into the Hoosier Fund where it is locked in for 12 to 18 months. Yin asked when they make these decisions and Ohlhaut said that investment decisions are made on a rolling basis. I always feel more informed when Yin asks questions.
Voted 7 out of 7
8:38 – The annual meeting of the board of finance was adjourned
Location: Happy Hollow Building, LGI Room
Attendance: 7 of 7 School Board Members (Yue Yin, Alan Karpick, Karen Springer, Bradley Marley, Thomas Schott, Rachel Witt, Amy Austin); Ross Sloat, Interim Superintendent and Interim CFO; Stephen Ohlhaut, Assistant to the CFO (note that the school attorney, Robert Reiling, Jr., was not in attendance)
Audience: 4 administrators, 2 union leaders, 1 high school teacher, 10 parents, 1 reporter, 2 students, and a police officer in the back.
Future Meetings (calendar link)
- Monday, February 7th at 6:30pm at Happy Hollow LGI Room
This is the same night and time as the city council meeting. This may be an important city council meeting with a possible agenda item of an ordinance to prohibit conversion therapy. It’s also an important school board meeting as the first for new superintendent Dr. Shawn Greiner. Deciding to hold the school board meeting at the same time as the city council meeting was a very poor school board decision. This happened at the June 2021 meeting (7:38 & 7:42). Yin proposed that the school board switch to another evening that doesn’t conflict with city council meetings but Witt pushed back and Yin’s motion failed. Our community should not have this conflict of local government calendaring.
These are 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.