HIGHLIGHTS: Reiling Resigns as Legal Counsel (6:42); Additional School Resource Officer (6:52); New Employee Benefits Provider (6:57); Replacing the Air Conditioner at Happy Hollow (7:05); WLES Nature Center Renovation (7:18); RDP-PAC Donor Reappointed to Library Board (7:31); High Teacher Turnover (7:33); Teacher Evaluations (7:44)
6:33 – The school board meeting was called to order. The board was asked to approve the agenda and the minutes from the June 6, 2022 meeting.
Voted 7 out of 7
6:34 – No community members signed up to speak on current agenda items.
6:34 – Greiner presented the first reading for 4 proposed new school policies that will be voted on next month:
- 1216 Dressing and Grooming: requires administrators to have the same dress and grooming standards as the staff.
- 1213.01, 3213.01, 4213.01 Staff-Student Relations: address staff-student relationships that may constitute criminal conduct, child abuse or sexual misconduct.
This new first/second reading procedure for all new policies is great because it allows the public to read the text of the proposed policies before they are voted on. The school board should adopt this approach to all policy changes. These new policies are drafted by a private company, Neola, and are provided to our school district for a fee and then the policy committee makes edits and then provides the proposed policies to the board for a vote.
6:36 – Greiner asked for a vote to approve policy 8305. It received a first reading at June’s meeting and there have been no questions. It requires cyber security training and data information protection.
Voted 7 out of 7
6:37 – Greiner asked for approval of 7 proposed policy revisions. Which policies were being revised was kept confidential until Greiner asked the board to vote to approve the changes.
- 0142.3 Vacancies – revises the policy about how school board vacancies are handled to require vacancies be posted to the school district website and to not require the school board to interview all the applicants.
- 0167.3 Public Participation at Board Meetings – state law now requires a period of public comments at all regular school board meetings and this policy is being revised to be in compliance.
- 2221 Mandatory Curriculum – updates the list of state and federal laws that apply to school curriculum.
- 2370.02 Flex Program – clarifies which students qualify for the flex program (an alternative path to graduation for at-risk 11th and 12th grade students) and how the program operates, specifically related to online academy credit recovery at the high school.
- 3220.01 Teacher Appreciation Grants – revised to add the definition of who is considered a teacher for the purpose of teacher appreciation grants: “a professional person whose position with the School Corporation requires a license and whose primary responsibility is instruction of students.” and also requires the board to approve this policy annually.
- 6110 Grant Funds – revised to require the school district to follow federal regulations regarding grants and to maintain documents that demonstrate compliance.
- 8500 Food Service Program – added a reference to the USDA procedure for filing discrimination complaints about school food programs.
These all seem like minor revisions, so why does the school board continue to refuse to publicly share the text of proposed policy revisions before they vote? Why not adopt a first/second reading procedure for all policy revisions?
Voted 7 out of 7
6:42 – Approval of WLCSC Legal Services Agreement. The three school board officers (Witt, Marley, and Schott) were tasked to review the district legal needs and the applicants. After receiving the 4 applications and a message from one law firm saying they would not apply because they were now too busy (probably Reiling’s firm), Schott stepped down from the committee and Yin was asked to join. The committee selected 2 finalists. Greiner and Marley worked on references while Yin and Witt interviewed the two firms. It was recommended that the school district hire Church, Church, Hittle, & Antrim (CCHA) as legal counsel. The monthly retainer fee is $1,800 with an additional hourly fee for most work. The primary team from CCHA will be Jessica Billingsley and Andrew Manna. The prior legal counsel, Bob Reiling with Reiling Teder & Schrier, resigned as of August 1st.
Yin said she was impressed with CCHA’s experience. She asked why the contract did not specify an hourly rate for legal work. Witt said that the document is an engagement agreement and not a contract but said that the hourly rate information is in their proposal. Yin asked if that means that the hourly rate details will come later. Witt said that she would see it on the invoices from the law firm. Witt said she could request that the hourly rate be added to the document. Yin said that she would like the hourly rate to be listed and also wanted the document to specify which services are provided as part of the retainer and which services would require the additional hourly fee. Witt answered: “it is very subjective based on the situation being dealt with and will be communicated as we go along.” Witt then asked Greiner to share his experience about what is typical in the paperwork for this type of agreement. Greiner just said that the invoice would show what the law firm charges for hourly work. Yin asked how these fees may change. Witt said she had already sent this information to the board in her weekly notes and that the law firm will possibly have a rate change in January, but that this would come after the school board organizational meeting where they approve the legal counsel rates. She said that the hourly rates and services listed outside of the retainer will be an addendum added later.
Voted 7 out of 7
I’m so pleased that Reiling is no longer our school district’s lawyer. He had too many negative interactions with community members (for one public example, see May 2021, 7:29) and he charged the school district around $300,000 per year for about 20 hours of work per week (see November 2021, 7:19). I’m hopeful that this new law firm will provide better service at a lower cost. In a quick search online it appears that they represent the Carmel Clay school district and the Noblesville school district among several others. I’m confused why the superintendent and school board seem to want to wait to see the invoices before they figure out what the hourly rate for legal services will be. Also, Witt’s claim that deciding which services are covered by the retainer and which will be billed at an hourly rate is “subjective” seems like a really good reason for her to ask the law firm to spell it out.
6:52 – Roth, the new assistant superintendent, asked for approval of the WLCSC and WLPD School Resource Officer (SRO) Agreement. She said that this agreement renewal states that WLCSC can hire off duty police officers. She shared that previously there was one SRO at the Jr/Sr HS and another that split time between WLIS and WLES. Because of grant funds, the school district will have three SROs, one at each building. Roth said that she believes that the WLPD pays for the SRO at the jr/sr high school and that the school corporation will pay for the other two. Roth seemed unclear about who will pay these police officers’ wages. It wasn’t clear who had paid them in the past and if there will be an increase in cost to the school corporation in the future. The cost should be clear before the board votes to approve. The written agreement only mentions the Jr/Sr HS and not WLES or WLIS.
Voted 7 out of 7
6:55 – Greiner asked for approval for a renewal of the Attendance Intervention Referral Program. This is a program run by the county with the goal of keeping kids in school and offering support. Greiner said that he was provided with an annual report but said that he did not want to share it because our school district only has a few students who participate and he didn’t want to risk identifying any of them. All three Tippecanoe county school districts participate in this program.
Voted 7 out of 7
6:57 – Konnie Laws, payroll and benefits specialist in the central office, asked for approval of a proposal from Steele Benefits and Madison National. Currently the school corporation provides employee health, dental, and vision benefits through Anthem, life insurance and long-term disability through Madison National, and voluntary benefits (like short-term disability and supplemental insurance) through American Fidelity and AFLAC. The proposal is to use Madison National for all voluntary benefits and end the relationship with American Fidelity and AFLAC. The school corporation would also contract with Steele Benefits to handle all employee benefit needs including communication, engagement, enrollment, and administration. This will modernize many aspects of employee benefit administration for school employees. There will be a switch to a new software program called Selerix and employees will make their benefits designations through the Steele Benefits portal. This contract with Steele Benefits will cost $5,000 per year and is set to begin January 2023.
Voted 7 out of 7
7:01 – Greiner asked for approval to hire McKibben Demographic Research to provide population estimates by age and school enrollment forecasts by grade and year for the school district. In the July work session (6:36), Mike Reutter recommended that the school corporation hire a demographer to provide these forecasts. The cost of these estimates is $4,000 and Greiner said that he would also like to pay an additional $900 for an in-person presentation of the results with the school board. Springer asked why this company was chosen. Greiner said that he used this company in his previous district and said that Reutter had recommended the company. Marley said that the Lebanon school corporation recently used this company. He mentioned that Lebanon voters recently passed 2 referendums, one for capital projects and another for operating expenses. Marley’s comment makes me think that at least some of our school leaders are considering proposing a capital project referendum (in addition to our operating referendum) to get the school corporation out of its debt problems and perhaps to renovate Happy Hollow.
Yin verified that McKibben lives in South Carolina and shared her concern about not having someone who lives in the area and understands local dynamics. Greiner responded that McKibben has access to many databases that gives him the information needed. Witt said that McKibben, “may not share every detail of how he does his work because it is proprietary knowledge that he uses to do his job well. He won’t necessarily roadmap exactly what he checks but I know when he comes to do the presentation that it will be very clear how comprehensive his work is.”
Voted 7 out of 7
7:05 – Greiner asked for approval of a Fanning Howey Proposal for Professional Service to facilitate the replacement of the Happy Hollow chiller and two WLES air handlers. Greiner said that he was previously asked by a board member to clarify if these services are just for planning the work or does the cost also include carrying out the work. He said that Fanning Howey will review the current capacity, produce a design, facilitate the bidding, and then serve as construction administrators. But, this does not include the bid and this fee is just to facilitate a plan with no construction being done. Fanning Howey’s fee for their services will be between $25,000 to $35,000. They need to start this now because it could take 32 to 40 weeks for materials to arrive with a plan to change the HH chiller in the spring and the WLES air handlers in summer 2023.
Yin said that she was concerned that the cost is high, but noted that she doesn’t have a lot of experience with this. She asked why the school corporation could not get several bids before voting on a service. Witt responded, “I love how you phrased that you don’t have a lot of experience with it, and I don’t either. I think that’s why Dr. Greiner is bringing to us a desire to get good information about the pros and cons about any changes we want to make and we will make the actual decision about doing the chiller based on how we progress over the course of the year.” Yin shared her opinion that it is a lot of money to pay just for the planning and Witt answered, “It is what it is.” Yin asked Greiner if there are any alternative companies in order to compare planning proposals and also asked why he picked this company. Greiner said there are probably comparable companies and this is the company that he picked to do the ten-year facilities plan that is the next agenda item. Karpick said, “This is a reasonable request from the superintendent to the board” and Witt said, “It is. It is. We would like to make a great decision and need more information to make a great decision” The current state of Happy Hollow has been a contentious topic in some school board meetings because it has sat mostly unused for several years with no current plan for what to do with it in the future. I thought Yin asked a good question. In general, I find it disappointing that the other school board members continue to rubber stamp every proposal, especially when they don’t have details to enable the oversight they are supposed to be providing. This is how bad decisions get made. The air conditioning in Happy Hollow is starting to fail, but why is it so important to buy a new air conditioning system now before developing a plan for how the building will be used in the future? Before spending even the first $25,000, shouldn’t we have a plan?
Voted 6 out of 7 (Yin abstained)
7:12 – Greiner asked for approval of Fanning Howey Capital Improvement Plan Service Proposal. This architecture company will complete a ten-year study of the school corporation’s facilities to help the school board know how to prioritize capital improvements. Yin asked for clarification on the $18,500 fee and asked if it would also include facility assessments in future years. Greiner said it just covers this initial assessment and development of the ten-year plan and that there would be additional fees if they were to be asked to come back in future years. This isn’t the architecture company that the school corporation has been using the past decade. The one that did all the work on the school corporation’s recent construction was KJG architecture based in Lafayette. Fanning Howey is an architecture company that focuses only on school projects and is based in Indianapolis. Greiner didn’t say why he is switching to a new company.
Voted 6 out of 7 (Yin abstained)
7:16 – Greiner asked for approval of Happy Hollow Boiler Project Resolution. He said that in February 2021 (6:50) the school board approved an emergency expenditure to replace the boiler at Happy Hollow using money from the Rainy Day Fund. However, the school corporation instead used the 2017 bond fund to pay for the boiler replacement. Greiner said that he is recommending this resolution in the spirit of transparency as well as to have consistency with the board’s vote. Witt asked Greiner to verify that they are not voting to spend money, that this is just a vote to match how the money was actually spent. Greiner agreed. I think what prompted this resolution is the recent open letter to the school board and superintendent from a local parent, Troy Janes, who noted that the school administration had not followed the school board’s resolution. It’s an example of the lack of oversight from the school board. No one on the board seemed to notice that the administration used money from a different account. I think replacing the boiler in Happy Hollow is different than replacing the air conditioning. If the school corporation were to stop heating the building, they would need to turn off the water and completely shut the building down. Not having great air conditioning isn’t a necessity for a hardly-used building.
Voted 7 out of 7
7:18 – Mrs. Wolf, a 3rd grade teacher at WLES, asked for approval to accept a $20,000 gift from the parent council and to spend the funds on a project to renovate the West Lafayette Elementary School Nature Center. She shared that the parent council held a Fun Run in November 2021 that raised $20,000. Colin Kippenbrock, a parent and staff member who passed away in July, built benches, tables, and raised garden beds for the Nature Center. The Kippenbrock family asked for donations for the nature center in lieu of flowers for his funeral and over $10,000 has been raised. The renovated nature center will be an outdoor learning space with the first priority to hardscapes that will be handicap accessible. The renovation will likely take several years. Witt said she appreciated the effort to lead the charge on this project and asked about the ongoing care and upkeep. Wolf said it will be low maintenance and that she will work with grounds staff. Yin asked if they would be doing something to memorialize Kippenbrock and Wolf said she is working with his wife and planning to do something. I was very saddened by Kippenbrock’s passing. I am grateful for his efforts to improve the nature center. When I served on the WLES parent council, many parents volunteered to help in the nature center. I appreciated Witt’s question as ongoing maintenance has been an issue in the past. When I taught at WLES, I used the nature center as an outdoor classroom and am excited that they are planning to improve it. A big thank you to Mrs Wolf for leading this.
Voted 7 out of 7
7:27 – Roth asked for approval of a revised Safe Harbor Agreement. Safe Harbor is the before- and after-school child care provider. The modifications are to change the times because of the change to the school start and stop times. Yin noted that several parents have shared that there is limited space in the program with a waitlist and asked how capacity could be increased. Roth said that she has heard the same and is also concerned. She said that Safe Harbor does not have enough staff, but that this may improve when Purdue students return. It is also because their current procedures have spaces reserved for families who may not use them and Safe Harbor won’t know if they have availability until school starts. Yin asked if providing an after-school program could help kids who are struggling academically? Roth said this is something to consider and said that there are plans in the younger grades to help with math.
Voted 7 out of 7
7:31 – Greiner asked for approval to re-appoint Martha Altschaeffl to the West Lafayette Public Library Board of Trustees for an additional 4-year term. There was no discussion. The school board is asked by several local government boards to appoint a member to serve on their board. For example, Springer is appointed to serve on the parks and recreation board and Marley is appointed to serve on the redevelopment commission. I don’t know why the school board does not think it is important to appoint one of its members to serve on the library board. This is the only appointment of a community member that I am aware of. Two years ago, Martha Altschaeffl donated $10,000 to the RDP-PAC to support the political campaigns of several of the current school board members. Each of the current school board members, except for Yin, is associated with this RDP-PAC. It was a very large donation for a local school board race, which now seems more like a quid pro quo.
Voted 7 out of 7
7:32 – Roth asked for approval of a resolution to address having paid Robert Troyer for Additional Days of Work. Paying Troyer more than was permitted and without a written contract was one of the issues noted in the recent school corporation audit that was reviewed at the July Work Session (7:59). Roth asked the school board to give retroactive approval for payments already made to Troyer. The audit focused on the school corporation’s lack of financial internal control, but another big issue this revealed is that the school board seems to have been keeping two versions of their meeting minutes. The original minutes have a section explaining the authorization to hire Troyer while the version posted publicly had that part removed. Note that Troyer also donated to the RDP-PAC. In addition, the outgoing lawyer, Reiling, donated to the RDP-PAC. So did the school corporation’s old architectural firm, KJG architecture.
Voted 7 out of 7
7:33 – Greiner asked for approval of the personnel report. He also introduced three new administrators that were in the audience: Michelle Cronk, the new CFO; Sara Delaney, the new WLES principal; and Rhoda Lanie, the new WLES assistant principal. Cronk has been the CFO for the Kokomo school district for the past 10 years and she worked for 10 years before that as a business teacher. Cronk will begin as CFO in mid October and Roth will be filling this role until then. Delaney has worked in our school district for over 20 years and was previously the assistant principal at WLES. Rhonda Lanie was previously principal for 5 years at Howard Elementary in the Northwestern School Corporation and before that she was assistant principal for 3 years at Klondike Elementary. No one discussed this, but the personnel report again shows that teacher turnover continues to be a problem in our schools. Over the 2021-22 academic year, 24 certified teachers (14% of the total) left. Several left to take teaching jobs in neighboring districts. There are many state-wide issues that contribute to high teacher turnover, but for one of the best school districts in the state to have a below average teacher retention rate suggests that we are not doing a good enough job supporting our teachers.
Voted 7 out of 7
7:40 – Roth asked for approval of the Accounts Payable report. The total expenditure is higher than normal because this report covers a 2 month period (June and July) and because it includes a semi-annual bond payment of $2.9 million. In addition, the school corporation transferred $3.25 million from the referendum fund to the operations fund ($1.75 million) and to the education fund ($1.5 million). Yin asked about expense details for legal services and Greiner said he would get those details to her later. At the July Work Session (7:35), the board discussed new state legislation that will require the school corporation to stop the practice of transferring funds out of the referendum fund and instead spend directly from the referendum fund. The purpose of the new law is to allow for better transparency so the public can see how referendum funds are spent. The law doesn’t take effect until next year, but I think it would have been wiser to start complying immediately. With the school referendum election coming up (probably in 2024), the school board needs to do a better job of showing how referendum funds are used.
Voted 7 out of 7
7:44 – Greiner gave a report on how our school district conducts Teacher Evaluations and provided the number of teachers rated at each level. He projected the information on the overhead which was very appreciated by the audience. Teachers are rated into one of 4 categories: highly effective, effective, needs improvement, or ineffective. The evaluation is based on 4 factors with weights: effective instruction (30%), instructional leadership (25%), student assessment/feedback (25%), and professionalism (20%). There are a minimum of 2 observations by the evaluator before completing the evaluation. The aggregate results for WLCSC 2021-2022 are:
|School||Total Teachers||Highly Effective||Effective||Needs Improvement||Ineffective|
If a teacher receives a rating of needs improvement or ineffective then they have to work with the principal to create an improvement plan. Yin asked who the evaluators are and Greiner answered that principals and assistant principals do the evaluations. Yin then asked about the student feedback factor considered in the evaluation and asked if parent feedback is also considered. Greiner responded that they do not get feedback from students or parents; this factor is about how the teacher provides feedback to the students. Yin asked if our schools could consider incorporating student and parent feedback in teacher evaluations. She said that she thought this would be especially helpful at the high school. Witt said that she would be concerned about doing this. Yin said that she receives evaluations from students every semester about how well she teaches at her university. Greiner said that individual teachers are welcome to collect student feedback if they desire, but that it would not be a part of teacher evaluations. He said that he is confident that principals consider feedback they receive from parents and students, but that this feedback is not an official part of the evaluation plan. Yin said that even so, systematically collecting student and parent feedback would be helpful for teachers. Greiner said he prefers asking parents to come in and talk one on one with a teacher to provide feedback. Witt said that consistency in evaluations are valued by the teachers and this is why there are only a small number of evaluators and she emphasized that she trusts Greiner’s assessment of good teacher evaluation strategies. Yin said that she also trusts Greiner, and just wanted to share about the student evaluation system that is familiar to her and that something like it may help our teachers improve. Greiner said that if he was a teacher that he would not be comfortable if a principal said that the students would evaluate him and that this student evaluation would be used in the final rating. Schott said a lot of teachers already do this and ask for feedback from the students all the time. Witt pointed out that for teachers, the final rating affects their salary and asked Yin if her pay is based on the student evaluations she receives. Yin said that the student evaluations do affect her annual evaluation and her salary to a degree and noted that a pattern of high student evaluation scores result in teaching awards and bonuses for faculty. Karpick said that it isn’t up to us because state law determines how teacher evaluations have to be done. This year 155 teachers were rated with 88% highly effective and 11% effective. Last year, 166 teachers were rated with 88% highly effective and 12% effective; see August 4, 2021 (7:08).
7:55 – Greiner said that the COVID: Return to In Person Instruction Plan is still in effect. The board approved it in May and a letter was sent to families a week ago reminding everyone of the rules.
7:58 – Board Reports
- Teacher Discussion – Karpick shared that he appreciated hearing input on the dual platform. Greiner said at this point they consider it for homebound instruction to meet specific individual student needs, as they have done in the past. Springer shared that they also discussed contracts, time clarification, teacher evaluations, health clinic, elementary class sizes, appreciation that transportation was able to accommodate busing of staff students, and CFO process.
- Negotiations – Marley said that they have done some pre-negotiations and said that he can’t share what was discussed, but he expects fruitful results.
- Redevelopment Commission – Marley shared that Salisbury and Yeager are supposed to be finished by the first football game but he said that he isn’t sure if that means WL’s first football game or Purdue’s first football game. Happy Hollow won’t be done until fall 2023.
- West Lafayette Schools Education Foundation – Schott shared that WL will play Harrison on August 19th at Lucas Oil Stadium. The alumni tailgate will be September 9th before WL plays Central Catholic. The foundation director now has an office at the Jr/Sr HS in room 1203.
- Park Board – Springer shared that the WL outdoor pool closes Wednesday. Fall classes for youth and adults are offered at the Wellness Center.
- Public Schools Foundation – Austin shared that the cupcake run will be September 18th and registration is open.
- City Council – Yin asked if a board member could be appointed to attend city council meetings as this was done for years up until the school board moved its meetings to the same day and time as city council meetings. Now that the school board has moved its meetings to a different time, a school board member could attend city council meetings. Witt said she would gather feedback from the rest of the board.
8:04 – No community members signed up to speak on non-agenda items.
8:05 – Greiner said he had a report to share also. He shared that the summer jumpstart program at WLES and WLIS went well. The focus was on closing achievement gaps especially in math and english/language arts as measured by NWEA assessments. They had strived for very small class sizes and saw benefits. He also congratulated the WL band who made it to the Sweet 16 and placed 14th.
8:09 – Meeting is adjourned
Location: Happy Hollow Building, LGI Room
Streaming: WLCSC Regular Board Meeting August 8, 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; Anna Roth, Assistant Superintendent
Future Meetings (calendar link)
- Regular School Board Meeting – Monday, September 12th at 6:30pm at Happy Hollow LGI Room
- Work Session and Public Hearing for 2023 Budget – Wednesday, September 21st at 6:30pm at Happy Hollow LGI Room
- Regular School Board Meeting and 2023 Budget Adoption – Monday, October 10th at 6:30pm at Happy Hollow LGI 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.