HIGHLIGHTS: Hiring a School Mental Health Therapist (6:46); Summer Program to address Learning Loss (6:46); Update on Jr/Sr HS Bell Schedule (6:53); No Citibus, Yellow School Buses Only for 22-23 (7:13); Witt Accusing Yin of Failing in her Duty as a Board Member (8:04)
Voted 7 out of 7
6:31 – 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 “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. It is so rewarding to see our students’ be recognized!
6:40 – Communication from the audience on current agenda items (those who had signed up before the meeting began)
- I spoke and said, “I would like to comment on agenda item #5, the school board policy revisions. It is important for community members to be able share their views on proposed policy changes with school board members before the board votes. One way to do this is to sign up to speak at the beginning of a school board meeting. However, I am unable to provide any comments on the proposed policy revisions because the school board has not revealed which policies you are revising. The agenda just says that you will be revising unspecified policies. The revisions you will vote on later in this meeting could just be to fix a minor typo or the revisions you will vote on today could be something major that will impact my child’s education. By keeping the proposed policy revisions secret up until the moment when the board votes to approve the change, you are preventing any community input. I am grateful that you have now decided to share the school board packet after the meeting. This allows the community to be better informed about the school board’s decisions. However, you need to share the packet before the school board meeting so school board members can seek community input before the vote. I encourage you to apply the 1st reading / 2nd reading approach to all policy changes so that the vote takes place at least one meeting after the proposed policy change is first presented publicly. This allows the community several weeks to provide comments before the vote. Making the information public and allowing people time to comment is how representative democracy is supposed to work.” No one said anything in response to my comments.
6:42 – Greiner recommended hiring Mike Reuter as an Independent Financial Consultant to review the school district’s revenue and expenditures. I continue to be impressed with Greiner. It is wise for him to get outside help reviewing the school corporation’s finances as there are many questions about the school board’s recent borrowing and spending decisions.
Voted 7 out of 7
6:43 – Greiner shared the second reading of a new school board policy 4425 about nursing mothers which will allow non-certified staff unpaid breaks. He said that they received no questions or concerns from the community. Last month was the first time that the school board shared their packet with the community (after the meeting). Community members who are interested had access to read this new policy and could send board members comments before the vote at this meeting. This should be the default process when the board is voting to make a change.
Voted 7 out of 7
6:44 – Greiner asked for approval of 4 school board policy revisions. Three of them are small wording modifications: 5310 focuses on health services, 8500 focuses on food service, and 8606 focuses on electronic devices and transporting students. The fourth 8510 is about wellness and the school providing water for students. Greiner said that students can fill their own water bottles throughout the day at school. Chilled water bottles are available at the school for purchase. The school board only has one reading for policies that they are revising and does not share any information before the board votes. They don’t even say which policies they are planning to change until the vote occurs. Our school board needs to shift from a default of confidentiality to a default of openness.
Voted 7 out of 7
6:46 – Ohlhaut asked for approval to use the federal ESSER III funding for the following:
- Purchase 2 spare chromebooks for each classroom at the junior/senior high school for $40,256.
- Read&Write software subscription for $4168/year.
- Summer jumpstart program for $57,000/year for 2 years. Students currently in kindergarten – 5th grade will be invited for 2 weeks in late July and early August for 3 hours/day. This program will be for students with significant learning loss as indicated by their test scores.
- Mental health assessment, staff training, and consultation provided by Brettwell Behavioral for $18,000 for one year. The agreement says that the services will all be completed by May 24, 2022, so I am unclear why this was described as a one-year agreement?
- Hire a mental health therapist. The job posting is already up on Frontline. ESSER III funding would cover the first two years with the hope that the board would give approval for funding after the two years.
Yin asked about the summer jumpstart program and if this support to address learning loss could also be provided during the school year as an after-school program. Ohlhaut said after-school opportunities do exist and that this may be an option. Yin suggested that high school students may be a good resource to assist in staffing the summer jumpstart program. Witt asked if teachers and parents should work with each other to address student remediation and then bring it to the administration. Ohlhaut said yes. I am so pleased that Greiner is taking student mental health challenges seriously and is working to hire both a Behavior Facilitator and a Mental Health Therapist for our schools. When I was a teacher at WLES, I witnessed many instances where having people in these roles would have been very beneficial. I wrote about this back in 2020 in a post on the need for school social workers on my website. What a difference the change in superintendent has made on this issue. I’m very grateful that student mental health is finally being treated as a higher priority.
Voted 7 out of 7
6:52 – Ohlhaut asked to table the agenda item of the health clinic until May. He said that they are in the final stages, but have not yet reached an agreement.
6:53 – Shriner, Jr/Sr HS Principal, said that one year ago the school board voted to change the Jr/Sr HS bell schedule (April 2021 Meeting, 7:05) and at that time he said that he would come back a year later to report on how it went. Shriner listed the goals they wanted to achieve in revising the schedule: (1) support clubs by having a designated club time, (2) improve the ability for students to get academic help from teachers, (3) close lunch for safety reasons, (4) prevent students from bringing in carryout restaurant food to lunch for equity reasons, and (5) dismiss school slightly earlier to help with busy student schedules. Shriner has been gathering feedback from the staff. He reported that 75% of the staff met with him in February in small groups of 8-12 teachers before school. Departments had professional days in February and March where subs were provided so they could meet together to discuss learning loss and potential ESSER funding uses, but some of the discussion was about the revised bell schedule. Shriner said that all the departments gave feedback. He formed a faculty committee of 8 teachers (Theresa Blaisdell, John Ambrose, Fran Heim, Aaron Wood, Craig Shaeffer, Randy Studt, Michael Bennett, and Becky Creech) to review and prioritize the feedback. He said that he also met with the student council in March.
The teacher feedback has resulted in two recommendations: (1) to identify core values to reinstill in teachers and students and (2) revise the daily bell schedule. Shriner didn’t elaborate about (1), but gave reasons for wanting to revise the bell schedule again. Club participation has been less than they hoped for, instead of the morning club time, he is proposing a student activity period offered 1 day each week. The designated time before school has not increased students meeting with teachers to get help. Shriner said he is considering alternative ways to provide teacher support to students. He said that he will keep lunch closed but will extend the time for lunch to be the same length as class periods. Shriner said that he has not finalized the proposal but will share it once it is finalized. Yin asked if feedback from teachers, parents, and students could be collected to get their views on equity, club participation, and students seeking teacher support. Shriner said the feedback he has received from teacher meetings is data at its purest and he only wants data from conversations, not surveys. Yin asked if he could get more feedback from students before finalizing the proposed plan. Shriner said his focus is on the staff. Yin asked if it was feasible to share a survey via skyward to get feedback from parents and students. Shriner said it is possible but he is not willing to do it because he is getting solid feedback already. A parent in the audience asked to speak and Witt told him he could speak at the end of the meeting. The schedule issue was a topic at a recent parent council meeting and at that meeting Shriner also expressed being firmly against seeking parent or additional student input in developing the proposed bell schedule revisions. At the parent council meeting, a parent made the point that talking with the student council is not the same thing as getting broad student input. Shriner acknowledged the point, but said that he is not going to seek student or parent input because he is focused on his staff. My own view is that the bell schedule affects teachers, students, and the students’ families and so everyone should be able to give input. It would be nice if the principal would be willing to gather parent and student input, but if he is not going to, the school board absolutely should. We elect the school board to represent the community. Our school board mostly rubber stamps administrator proposals, claiming that they are letting the experts do their work without getting in the way. If the school board had done a better job of seeking community input a year ago, maybe the Jr/Sr HS would have avoided what Shriner now sees as mistakes: too short of a lunch period, before-school club time leading to low participation, and the teacher support time before school not working well. It is the school board’s job to give parents and students a voice in administration decisions like this one.
7:13 – External Transportation Provider – Doug Caldwell, WLCSC transportation director, shared a slide presentation about changes to busing. Citibus informed the school corporation that they will no longer provide buses to transport Jr/Sr HS students beginning with the 2022-23 school year. Caldwell shared 3 options to address this new challenge: (1) purchase 9 more school buses and hire more drivers which would allow school start times to remain the same, but would be costly. (2) Hire an outside contractor to provide all transportation, but the earliest this could begin is January 2023 and would lock the school corporation into a long contract. (3) Change the bell schedules and bus routes to allow all students in grades K-12 to be transported using the existing yellow buses plus one additional bus and increasing the existing drivers hours. Caldwell recommended option (3) and said that his drivers currently work 4 ¼ hours/day and his proposal would increase it to 6 hours/day which could help with driver retention. He suggested that the school corporation could consider offering drivers a benefits package. His main concerns were about having less flexibility for before-school pickup and after-school departures and the need to consolidate some bus stops. Caldwell said that currently staff children use the school buses to get from school to school and this would not be possible with option (3). The proposed start/stop times would not change for WLIS but would for the other two schools.
Austin asked how the proposed start/stop times would affect the earliest morning pickup and latest afternoon drop off. Caldwell said currently it is 7:06am and it would be 7:00am for the first morning pickup and currently the latest afternoon drop off is 3:56pm and it would be 4:05pm. Austin also asked if the instructional time would be affected and he responded that he would have to talk with administrators to get that answer. Marley stated that he likes option (3) because of the increased safety that comes with using yellow school buses. Witt asked if they would still have emergency exit drills. Caldwell said yes. Karpick asked about the availability of purchasing a bus and getting parts. Caldwell said that the school corporation has already ordered a new bus and confirmed that it is taking longer to get bus parts. Karpick asked if TSC would continue to provide maintenance for this additional bus and Caldwell said yes. Austin asked about providing a late bus for kids who stay after school. Caldwell said he would need to formulate a route but that it might be tough to get a driver for it. Austin asked how many staff children would be affected by the option (3) cut of the school-to-school buses. Caldwell said he would find out. Yin said she appreciated all the early morning hours he gives to this job and also appreciated his overhead slide presentation with the pros and cons of each option listed. She asked what the morning drop off for the Jr/Sr HS would be. Caldwell said that Jr/Sr HS students would be dropped off by 7:50am which would give them enough time to get breakfast at school if needed. Caldwell shared that the reason that WLES has the latest start and end time is because young elementary students are not dropped off at their stops without parents present. If there is no parent then the child remains on the bus and the driver will pass by their house later in the route. WLES drivers need flexibility to rerun routes. Greiner thanked Caldwell for his communication with administration and keeping this on a tight schedule. Witt asked if more work hours and benefits would address the driver shortage concern and Caldwell said yes. Springer asked if option (3) would still have spare buses for backup and Caldwell said they still would have spare buses and if needed they could rent a bus from TSC. I’m grateful that Caldwell prepared slides and presented this information at the board meeting so that the community is also informed.
7:37 – Ohlhaut asked for approval of a memorandum of understanding for alternative substitute coverage. This would provide a $25 stipend to teachers who substitute during their non-duty planning period. This request requires collective bargaining so they submitted the memorandum of understanding with WLEA to the Indiana Educations Employment Relations board and it was approved. It is only until the end of May 2022 and is retroactive to March 11th. Yin asked if teachers were not allowed to substitute for each other before this approval. Ohlhaut said they could, but were not compensated. Witt said she talked with each of the board members individually about this issue and said that this proposal should be good. When I taught at WLES, teachers had asked for this change but nothing happened. I am grateful that teachers are now going to be compensated for their time when they cover for each other. Witt’s admission that she talked with each board member individually about this issue before the meeting was surprising. Discussion between school board members is supposed to take place at public school board meetings rather than working everything out in advance in secret meetings. I think this is inappropriate behavior by the board president and discourages discussion during the public meeting.
Voted 7 out of 7
7:40 – Ohlhaut asked for approval of music and STEM summer camps. STEM summer camp is with Mr. Brantly for grades 4th-6th held May 31-June 10. Music summer camp is for grades 4th-8th held June 6-24. Yin said these camps are popular and asked what the procedure is for teachers to provide camps like this. Ohlhaut said that a teacher wanting to run a summer camp would bring a proposal to the board. Yin asked if all teachers are informed about this option because she would like to encourage it. Ohlhaut said that some teachers know about it, but said he doesn’t know if all do. Springer said that at the high school there are teachers who offer summer sport camps and Ohlhaut said that the aquatics director, Chris Klinge, is also planning summer swim camps. Yin asked if the administrators could inform teachers and parents about these opportunities. Yin then asked if there are scholarships for families who struggle financially. Ohlhaut said this would be something to ask the individual sponsor of the camp.
Voted 7 out of 7
7:45 – Ohlhaut asked for approval of the declaration of surplus for a 2003 diesel mini-bus that the school district no longer needs. Caldwell has been working to trade it in or get a quote and the only quote they have been able to obtain is for scrap value for $500. They hope to find someone who is willing to pay more, but can only sell it once the bus is declared surplus.
Voted 7 out of 7
7:47 – Ohlhaut gave an update on the Happy Hollow chiller. He shared that the chiller unit has reached the end of its serviceable life. It still functions but requires frequent attention when it shuts off. Per Indiana code, they have to have architectural and engineering renderings to determine the scope of the work before bids to replace the chiller are taken. Any plan to replace the chiller would include compatibility with potential remodel of the building in the future. All this will be collected before presenting a proposal to the board. Witt asked if the building would still be functional if the chiller stops working. Ohlhaut said yes, the building would be unpleasant but is functional without air conditioning. Witt asked if the tenants know that the chiller is not guaranteed to work this summer and Ohlhaut said yes. I am disappointed with the school board for having approved all the recent borrowing and construction plans without a plan for the future of the Happy Hollow building. The huge debt leaves the school corporation with no additional borrowing ability until 2040!
7:50 – Ohlhaut asked for approval of the robotics plan shared in the February minutes. They would pay $250/month contingent on the availability of the building. Yin said our robotics teams have received many awards and she is glad that they can use the building. Witt said that Mr. Pettit (band) and Mr. Florence (robotics) are working together to coordinate their use of the Happy Hollow building.
Voted 7 out of 7
7:52 – Greiner asked for approval for overnight field trips for the 5th grade camp to Camp Tecumseh and the HS music department trip to New York City. Springer asked if the 5th grade camp schedule had been modified. Mrs. Psarros, principal at WLIS, said because of scheduling and staffing that they will do 2 days of 5th grade camp rather than 2 ½ days.
Voted 7 out of 7
7:55 – Greiner asked for Emergency Authorization to Hire. Witt said that this is normal and that our school board approves this emergency authorization every year. I think granting emergency authorization to hire every year is not a common practice in most other districts. The name alone indicates that this authorization to hire without needing school board approval is intended for emergencies. This seems to me to be the ultimate rubber stamp where the school board essentially says that administrators can do whatever they want. It is this lack of due diligence by the school board that got our district into our current financial difficulties.
Voted 7 out of 7
7:56 – Greiner asked for approval for the personnel report.
Voted 7 out of 7
7:57 – Ohlhaut asked for approval for the accounts payable report. Yin asked about the payment for the financial consultant, Ross Sloat, and asked if Greiner will update the contract. Witt responded that Sloat is not actively working for the school district but will provide ongoing consultant services. She said that she sends weekly notes to board members and that she will share more information about Sloat. Witt said that Sloat still has a contract with the school corporation as well as a memo of understanding and stated that: “it’s typical school contract things. There’s nothing unusual there really.” Yin asked if Sloat’s rate is by the hour, by the day, or by the month. Witt asked Yin why she was asking how Sloat is paid. Witt said that she wants to have a constructive conversation and is not sure if this meeting is the place for it. Witt asked Yin to explain the nature of her question. Yin responded by saying that the school board approved paying a new financial consultant and that Sloat has left his CFO position and so wanted to understand the overlap. Witt responded that the Reuter contract is for an independent financial evaluation and not related to the contract the school corporation has with Sloat and stated that we will continue to pay for his consultations. Yin asked if it was a daily payment. Witt responded: “why ask, not here.” Yin repeated her question about potential overlap. Witt said the independent consultant, Mr. Reuter, is for a short-term independent review and that Sloat is providing ongoing consultation. Witt said that they need to finish the contract with Sloat and that she will share all about it in an email to board members. Greiner stated that Reuter would be working on the school corporation’s fiscal plan which is why he will perform an independent financial review. Springer said that the school corporation has been paying Sloat as an outside consultant and that they have paid him by the hour. The accounts payable report shows that Sloat received $13,685 on March 29, which does seem like a large consulting payment, particularly now that Ohlhaut has taken over Sloat’s old position. Sloat was the school corporation interim CFO from 2016 to 2021 and was typically paid around $10,500 each month through his consulting company “Pine Mesa LLC.” Yin asked a valid question about why the school corporation paid Sloat so much in March and rather than answer the question, Witt seemed to want to move the discussion either to email or some other secret meeting. Witt questioning Yin’s motivation in asking this question was similar to the November 2021 meeting (7:01) when Witt questioned Yin’s motivation for asking to see the survey data related to the proposed health clinic. Why is Witt trying to keep questions about this payment to Sloat away from the public’s view? Huge red flag in the way that Witt responded.
Voted 7 out of 7
8:04 – Superintendent Report – Greiner shared:
- Covid update – The first week before Spring Break had 3 reported cases at the high school and the following 2 weeks after Spring Break had zero reported cases.
- Assistant Superintendent Search – The position is posted and will close on April 15th. They will interview the candidates on April 19th and 20th. The interview committee consists of school board officers, central office staff, principals, and teacher representatives.
- 90 Day Transition Plan – He has been meeting individually with board members, principals, and directors; visiting classrooms; attending the First Saturday Feedback sessions; meeting with community members, the Mayor, Chief of Police, Purdue leaders, Mitch Daniels, and other area superintendents. He is focused on reestablishing the community council to start in the fall. Over the summer and fall he will review the strategic plan. Greiner stated that the strategic plan will be a guiding document and that it will be discussed at the board retreat with school board members, principals, and directors.
Yin said she appreciates Greiner for sharing information and increasing transparency. In relation to the Covid numbers she asked if the school district could share those numbers weekly to help parents make more informed decisions. Greiner said he would think about it and work with Roberta Julian, administrative assistant to the superintendent, who collects the information. Springer suggested that Covid counts could be shared on the school district website.
Yin said she is grateful that the assistant superintendent search committee consists of not only board officers but also central office staff, building administrators, and teachers. Speaking to Greiner, she asked if she could serve on the search committee. She explained that her PhD is in curriculum and instruction. The new assistant superintendent’s curriculum role is directly relevant to Yin’s training, research, and data analysis. Yin stated that she is qualified to evaluate the applicants. She said she didn’t push hard to serve on the legal counsel search committee because she doesn’t have knowledge or experience in that area. Witt responded that Yin has been honest about how surprised she was about the amount of time it takes to serve on the school board and that Yin has shared that she has difficulties in her difficult personal schedule. Witt explained that after the search committee has narrowed down the applications, they will share the finalist resumes and documents with the board in an executive session. Witt said that what Yin has shown in regards to her difficult personal and professional schedule means that she will leave the structure of the search committee as it is. Yin responded that she works from home and has a great deal of flexibility. She said that she checked the policies and they do not require that only officers serve on search committees. Witt responded, “I’m really trying to be very respectful and collegial but you are not giving me a lot of choice here” and then accused Yin of not completing her work as a board member and being non-commutative with her. Yin looked shocked and responded that she has been working very hard. Witt said that she agrees and that they could discuss this more but that she wasn’t going to increase the workload on Yin. Yin asked her to clarify the accusation about not completing work. Witt responded, “I am not sure this is a conversation for a public board meeting” and then proceeded to accuse Yin of having difficulty responding in a timely manner on numerous occasions. Witt said that Yin did not respond at all to her text messages. Witt said that Yin has shared that her schedule is busy so it has been difficult to read the board documents in the period of time given and that the central office has tried to accommodate her by providing the information earlier. Witt then said, “I am truly not trying to do this in a public setting and I’m sorry.” Yin responded that this is “an accusation and a lie.” Yin said she carefully reviews all the board packets, asks clarifying questions, and has helped the school district and yet Witt accuses her of not completing her duty. Yin shared that she did not accept Witt’s offer to meet privately before Christmas because Witt had been hostile to her and she did not feel comfortable meeting with her privately. Witt responded that this is something they could discuss together later, but that they are not using their colleagues’ time well. This was absolutely awful to witness. Witt’s behavior was totally inappropriate. The only way to understand how offensive it was is to listen to Witt’s condescending tone as she insults Yin (youtube link 1:41-1:47). Yin is the only member of the school board that is not part of the other 6 member’s RDP PAC and Yin’s perspective is sometimes different than theirs, but the way Witt, Karpick, and Springer have treated Yin in public meetings over the past 16 months is appalling. This attack came across as another attempt by the board leaders to justify having excluded Yin from any assignment where she could have influence. Two days later, Yin posted her response to Witt’s accusations on a Facebook group, Friends of WL Schools Open Forum where she said that Witt’s accusations are baseless.
8:16 – Board Reports
- West Lafayette School Education Foundation – Karpick shared that the fundraiser this past Saturday had 180 guests. 6 alumni and 1 former educator will be inducted to the wall of pride.
- Policy Committee – Schott explained that they meet every other Thursday morning. Springer said they are almost finished with the spring 2021 updates and then will work on the fall 2021 updates. She said next month would be lengthy but they would talk about that later.
- Park Board – Springer reported the 5 year master plan update is posted online and is 149 pages. The park board will approve it in May so it is still open for comment.
- Teacher Discussion – Springer said that they discussed the dual platform instruction committee, possibility of e-learning days for 2022-23 snow makeup days, ESSER funds for the summer jumpstart program and mental health therapist position.
- Public Foundation – Austin said that the cupcake run registration is live.
Yin shared that she had no reports to share because she hasn’t been assigned to any committees which are active. She commented on the Saturday Feedback session and said that many parents appreciated the opportunity to share concerns and make suggestions and were grateful for Greiner’s attitude of being willing to listen to the public’s input. She also said that Greiner has done a great job at sharing good news on Twitter and she encouraged the community to follow his Twitter account to see all the great things about our schools, teachers, parents, students, and community that he shares. She asked what parents should expect in terms of follow-up from the Saturday feedback session discussion on math placement and flexibility with the high school schedule. Greiner said that once the assistant superintendent is hired, it will be a priority to review math in grades K-12 and they will put together a study committee that will involve high school administrators and teachers. This is not just a recent issue but has been an issue for many years and so he wants to review it carefully and involve stakeholders.
8:28 – No one had signed up in advance to speak on non-agenda items, but the parent who had raised his hand after Shriner’s presentation was allowed to make a comment.
- Dave Kucik, a WL parent, said he hadn’t signed up because he didn’t know he had something to say until after he heard what Shriner said. Kucik asked if the public is going to have any input on the core values that Shriner is putting together before the school board votes on it. Witt responded that she didn’t know. She wasn’t sure of the process but appreciated the question. I thought it was wonderful to allow an audience member to speak without having signed up in advance. I am disappointed with Witt’s very non-committal response. It appears from this response and many others that Witt views her role as representing school administrators to the public rather than representing the community.
8:29 – The next First Saturday Feedback will be May 7, 2022 at 9am at Fresh Thyme Community Room. I attended the April Saturday Feedback Session. The focus of the conversation was about math placement concerns and the lack of flexibility with scheduling. Witt and Austin were the school board members who attended and Greiner was also there with about 8 parents. Two years ago, there was a school policy change to not allow students to skip ahead in math. Witt responded to parents questioning this change by saying that they discussed this issue as a school board with administrators three years ago and that the motivation for not allowing students to skip ahead in math was to improve student mental health. This is another example of the administrators and school board making decisions that impact our students’ education without seeking input or even sharing the procedural changes. To read more about the feedback sessions, Angie Janes provides great notes after each session.
8:30 – The meeting was adjourned.
Location: Happy Hollow Building, LGI Room
Streaming: WLCSC Regular Board Meeting April 4, 2022
Attendance: 7 of 7 School Board Members (Yue Yin, Bradley Marley, Thomas Schott, Alan Karpick, Karen Springer, Rachel Witt, Amy Austin); Shawn Greiner, Superintendent; Stephen Ohlhaut, Assistant CFO
Audience: Administrators, high school teachers, 1 elementary school teacher, 2 students, 5 parents
Future Meetings (calendar link)
- Regular School Board Meeting – Monday, May 2nd at 6:30pm at Happy Hollow LGI Room
- Saturday Feedback Session – Saturday, May 7th at 9am at Fresh Thyme Community Room
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.