HIGHLIGHTS: New Hire for Student Mental Health Support (6:31); Transfer Student “Policy” (6:42); Budget Hearing and $9.5 million Proposed Capital Expenditure (6:51)
Voted 7 out of 7
6:31 – The school board will resume recognizing students with the “Way to Go Award” in October.
6:31 – The school district counseling team (Sasha Jones, Courtney Murtaugh, Libby Sheffield, Alysse Gruss, Candace Dobson, and Mary Russell) was recognized for their efforts to meet the needs of students academically, socially, and emotionally. Heather Levy was recently hired into a new position: Mental Health Counselor Support. Building administrators and the counseling team did the recruiting, hiring, and training for this position. I am grateful that our school district is directing additional resources towards student mental health. An issue that I am passionate about is the need for social workers in schools and this seems like a step in that direction.
6:33 – No community members signed up to speak on current agenda items.
6:34 – The board opened a public hearing on collective bargaining with the teachers union. The collective bargaining discussion window begins on September 15 and closes on November 16th. Greiner said they have met informally to discuss items that will be discussed during the bargaining window. Indiana code requires this public hearing to allow testimony to be given. Teachers union representatives Amanda Hart, Lori Windler, and David Joest were in attendance, though no one signed up to speak so the public hearing was closed. It wasn’t clear to me what type of input was being invited. I think the way to get good input from students, parents, teachers, and other community members is for the school board to provide information in advance of the hearing about the current teacher contract, the pay scale matrix, class sizes, teacher retention rates, and some indication about what is likely to be up for discussion during the bargaining window. Without information, it is difficult to provide good input.
6:35 – Greiner asked for a vote to approve new policies:
- 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.
These new policies received a first reading at August’s meeting. There was no discussion. I love this new first/second reading procedure that the school board is now using for newly proposed policies because it gives people a month to read the text of the school policy and provide input to the board before they are scheduled to vote. However, this first/second reading procedure currently only applies to a very small number of school board decisions. The board routinely votes on important issues without having shared anything about the issue before the vote. I would like to see this first/second reading procedure used for nearly all school board votes.
Voted 7 out of 7
6:36 – Request of a vote to approve revisions to 3 dress and grooming policies: 3216, 4216, and 5511 (for staff, support staff, and students). The revised policies have references to hairstyle removed and “his/her” language is changed to “their.” Why is the school board unwilling to share the text of proposed policy revisions before they vote?
Voted 7 out of 7
6:37 – Roth asked for approval for the Outdated Curriculum Disposal proposal. New materials have been adopted so WLIS has asked that the math and language arts textbooks that are no longer being used be declared surplus. School policy is for anything that is declared surplus to be given for free to families, sold, recycled, or trashed. Parents who are interested in any of the books listed in the link above can contact the WLIS administrative assistant to the principal to request materials for free. Remaining materials will be offered to local agencies who provide after school tutoring. Yin thanked Roth for answering her questions and said that she is grateful that parents are being offered these materials. Yin asked Roth to send an email to WLES parents offering the free materials after giving WLIS parents an opportunity. Roth said she would.
Voted 7 out of 7
6:39 – Greiner asked for approval of the Personnel Report.
Voted 7 out of 7
6:40 – Roth asked for approval of the Accounts Payable report.
Voted 7 out of 7
6:41 – Witt shared that the school board is beginning a self-evaluation process and said that Karpick will be leading it.
6:42 – Greiner gave an update on enrollment and transfer students. He said that September 16th is the ADM (Average Daily Membership) count day where enrollment as of that day is used to determine state education funding which follows the student and is how teachers are paid. He said that he doesn’t have the ADM number yet, but reported that in-district enrollment is holding steady. Greiner said that our district has 30 more TSC transfer students than last year. At the July meeting (6:36), Greiner said that 124 transfer students were registered so far and that he was expecting that number to increase.
Our school board has not set a transfer student policy to govern how many transfer students to accept and how to select which applicants will be allowed to enroll. Decisions are left to the discretion of the superintendent with no oversight. An optimal policy would probably accept some transfer students in order to balance student numbers across grades in order to operate the schools at an efficient level and prevent classrooms from sitting empty. On the other hand, the high property values in our school district reflect the strong demand for our schools and a significant increase in the number of transfer students would cause a decrease in the premium buyers are willing to pay for a home in our district. It is the school board’s job to set a clear transfer student policy for our school administrators to follow.
About 55% of the school districts in Indiana accept transfer students through a process called “open enrollment” where the school district posts a transfer student policy that spells out how many open enrollment transfer students to accept in each grade and what to do if more than that number apply. Parents can submit an application for their child to attend any public school that accepts open enrollment transfers. State education funding follows the student and the receiving school district is allowed to charge the family “transfer tuition” up to the amount determined by a state formula. WLCSC is among the 45% of school districts in the state that do not accept open enrollment transfer students. So, how does West Lafayette have so many transfer students?
Indiana also allows two other mechanisms for accepting transfer students. The first type of “other transfer” is that a school district can choose to allow the children of employees (with an annual salary of at least $3,000) to transfer into the district. The second type of “other transfer” is that a school district can enter into a special agreement with another school district to allow transfers between them. Unlike with open enrollment, school districts using these two methods are not required to post a transfer student policy, do not have to provide an application form, and do not need to advertise a cutoff date for applying.
WLCSC has a transfer agreement with the Tippecanoe School Corporation (TSC) that allows the WL superintendent to determine if a particular TSC student will be allowed to transfer in and if transfer tuition will be charged. TSC parents are told to contact the WLCSC superintendent if they are interested in transferring and he will make a decision. In addition, teachers and staff who live outside the West Lafayette district are permitted to transfer their children into the school district and are not charged transfer tuition.
The map below reports the number of “other transfer” students leaving each district. Most of the transfer students leaving TSC transfer into WLCSC. The map makes it clear that the West Lafayette school district is using the special transfer agreement process to a much greater extent than any other school district in the state. There are other districts with larger transfer student populations, but these other school districts accept transfer students following clear transfer policies through the open enrollment process. West Lafayette is one of the only districts in the state to use the less-transparent transfer agreement process.
So, why does this special transfer agreement process matter? I see two issues:
- In our school district, it is the superintendent alone who decides if a student will or will not be accepted as a transfer student with no rules to govern his choice. This means that the parents of current and potential transfer students have had to be careful to stay in the superintendent’s good graces or they risk being told that the school no longer has capacity to accept their transfer student. This type of unilateral power is easily abused.
- If a student is accepted as a transfer student, the superintendent alone decides if transfer tuition will be charged and how that transfer tuition is spent. The prior superintendent, Dr. Killion, appears to have had transfer tuition deposited into a school cash account (fund 2070) called “Promotion of Schools/RATM” and this money was used at his discretion rather than being deposited into the education fund to pay teachers or into the operations fund to keep the schools running.
The promotion of schools account (often called the “PR account”) seemed like a strange place for depositing transfer student tuition, so I submitted a public records request for the 2019 transactions, to see what the money was used for. Most of the PR account transactions are just monthly payments on two credit cards, so I also requested the statements for two months in 2019 for those two credit cards. These documents are available for you to download here: 2019 PR Account Transactions, 2019-April Credit Card Transactions, and 2019-October Credit Card Transactions. I picked those months because I learned from an earlier school document request of the March 2019 personal report that Dr. Killion had used school funds to go on a trip to London in October 2019 and that he had made the travel arrangements in April 2019. I wanted to see how much he spent and if these expenditures were paid out of the PR account. They were.
The PR account transactions show that the transfer student tuition was used to pay for: “London Trip,” “Construction Trip,” “Construction Project Fundraising Travel,” “Consultant Travel,” “Apple Order,” “Luncheons,” “Business Meetings,” and “School Board Travel.” The April 2019 credit card statement shows $14,837 in payments to a travel agency for what seems to be the trip to London, though the destination is redacted. There are also charges for a couple of thousand-dollar meals and several hotel rooms in Philadelphia that appear to be part of a trip for school board members. The October 2019 credit card statement shows a large number of transactions that occurred in London. It also shows a charge for a flight to San Francisco. Both of the credit card statements have a variety of other miscellaneous expenses.
The documents show that tuition payments from transfer students directed into this “PR account” were used to purchase airline tickets for the superintendent and others to travel to London in the same month that the school board voted to reduce costs by firing all first-year teachers at WLIS and WLES. Was the school board just not paying attention to what the superintendent was doing with transfer student tuition payments? No, in fact the school board voted to approve using these school funds to pay for the London trip at the March 2019 meeting (see the Personnel Report – Revised item F) but kept it quiet by never speaking about the London trip during the meeting and then redacting the reference to it from the document posted to the school website (see the public version of the Personnel Report). I found confirmation and some additional details in the WL Education Foundation minutes from March 2019 which report that Schott said that the school board had approved paying for 5 or 6 people to travel to London to attend a concert at the Royal Albert Hall where a member of the Kelly family was performing as part of the celebration of the construction of the Bob Kelly Performing Arts Center at the Jr/Sr HS (see foundation minutes, item IV, B).
Facebook has photos of the group that traveled together to London including the superintendent, high school principal, school board president, WLIS nurse, and others before departing on the trip and at the concert in London.
Deciding how many transfer students to accept shouldn’t be a decision that is tied to superintendent and school board member travel expenses. Our school district needs a well-thought-out transfer student policy that is clearly communicated to school administrators, the families of potential transfer students, and the community.
6:43 – Greiner shared that the Indiana Department of Education recognized the Jr/Sr HS for its successful STEM programs at a State awards ceremony last Friday. Greiner said that this was the only award given for STEM education and that it also recognizes the impact of elementary school teachers and the community in creating these successful programs. The award comes with a cash award from the state. Roth attended the ceremony with seven other administrators and school staff members. It is great to see this recognition for our students, staff, and schools! I found more about the Governor’s STEM team, which included a WLCSC student, in this press release.
6:45 – Board Reports
- West Lafayette Schools Education Foundation – Karpick shared that the Wall Pride 2023 names and date was announced. There will be a convocation with the students on April 14th.
- Redevelopment Commission – Marley shared that the Casson family park off of Cumberland Avenue is going to be a great addition to our community. Also a RFP for a public safety center and evaluation of the space needs at the police department on Navajo is underway.
- Park Board – Springer shared that the Global Fest will be Saturday, September 17th, 3:00-10:00 pm on the street by City Hall and WL Library. She has served on the Global Fest committee for 20+ years.
- Public Schools Foundation – Austin shared that the cupcake run will be September 18th and there is still time to register.
- Community Council – Austin shared that they will restart the community council on Monday, October 24th at 12pm. They have invited 2 school board members (Austin and Yin), building administrators, WL education foundation, parent councils as well as representatives from Purdue, WL Public Library, parks and rec, and mayor’s office. When I was president of the WLES parent council, I attended the community council each month. It is a way to coordinate efforts between these various government groups. It is not meant to be a place for parents to share concerns with school administrators. The First Saturday Feedback Sessions which were held from January to May 2022 were a wonderful way for the superintendent to seek input directly from parents. I would like to see that monthly meeting restarted!
6:51 – The school board’s budget hearing will be Wednesday, September 21st at 6:30 pm. The school board posted a Notice to Taxpayers on the school district website that shares plans to approve $9.5 million in construction and other capital expenditure projects. The bus replacement plan will also be presented at the budget hearing. The document offers no insight about how the school board plans to pay for $9.5 million in new construction spending. The school’s financial consultant, Michael Reuter, reported at the July meeting (6:59) that the school corporation won’t see any decrease in debt payments until 2038 and has so much debt that it has exhausted its current ability to borrow.
One of the projects listed on the Notice to Taxpayers is $240,000 to replace the air conditioner at Happy Hollow. At the August meeting, Greiner said that the air conditioner is starting to fail, but he didn’t explain why it would be important to replace it before developing a plan for how the mostly-empty building will be used in the future. Having less than perfect air conditioning doesn’t seem like much of an issue for an unused building. The other projects listed on the notice (including the $7 million for renovating the Jr/Sr HS locker rooms) seem more important than many of the recent construction projects that the school board approved. The current locker rooms are not in great shape and are used by a very high fraction of students. In contrast, how much did the school corporation spend to excavate and then put in a recording studio underneath the Jr/Sr HS auditorium? Did they ask the music teachers if they needed an underground recording studio? How many students have ever used that space? When was the last time that the school board denied a spending request?
6:52 – Meeting is adjourned
Location: Happy Hollow Building, LGI Room
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)
- 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.