March 6, 2023 Summary

HIGHLIGHTS: Diversity Initiatives (6:58); Summer School Offerings (7:12); Releasing the Board Packet Before the Meeting (7:18); Policy Committee Not Following Open Door Law (7:31)

The following is my summary of the public school board meeting, not the official meeting minutes (which will be released one month from now). My personal thoughts and opinions are given in italics and represent my own views which do not necessarily reflect those of any other member of the school board. I identify myself as Mumford in the summary but use first person when describing my personal thoughts and opinions.

6:30 – The school board meeting was called to order. The board was asked to approve the agenda for the March 6, 2023 school board regular meeting. Wang made a motion to add an agenda item to discuss the high ability committee. Yin seconded the motion. Witt said she has been talking with Wang about this topic and said that she plans to share about it during her board report. Witt then asked if there were any questions for Wang about adding this agenda item and there were none. Witt called for the vote and the motion to add a discussion of this topic failed.

Voted 3 out of 7 (Austin, Marley, Schott, and Witt opposed) 

Yin asked why there had not been any discussion on why individuals didn’t support the addition of this agenda item. Witt said the discussion period for the motion is before the vote, not after. She added that she would share information on this particular issue during her report at the end of the meeting and suggested that Yin would see that there is no need for additional discussion after hearing her report. Witt said she wants discussion about adding agenda items and other discussions to be done before meetings in her chair notes document. Yin said that she has heard a lot of concerns about the high ability issue and so would like to have a public discussion at the school board meeting. Wang asked for clarification about the appropriate time to discuss the process of adding items to the agenda. Witt said she has already provided the related policy to him. Wang said that he read them but wanted to discuss how to add agenda items. Schott proposed postponing the rest of this discussion until after the recognition of the students and Witt returned to asking for approval of the agenda.

When there were no questions for Wang, I figured that everyone was fine with adding a discussion of the topic and was surprised when the 4 PAC members (Austin, Marley, Schott, and Witt) voted against it. Apparently, Witt only wanted the public to hear her viewpoint and did not want to allow a public discussion on the topic. I don’t like that Witt is trying to push board members to move discussions to her chair notes document rather than holding discussions in public meetings (this topic is discussed later at 7:41). The discussion that Schott suggested postponing until later in the meeting did not happen.

The vote for the agenda without the additional item:

Voted 6 out of 7 (Wang opposed)

6:38 – The board was asked to approve the minutes from the February 13, 2023 meeting. Mumford noted that there are still errors in the previous minutes and motioned to move this discussion and vote until after the academic achievements recognition.

Voted 7 out of 7

6:39 – Rhonda Lanie, assistant principal at WLES, recognized students who were in the Good Citizenship Club for the life skill of cooperation. One student from each grade (kindergarten-third grade) were recognized and honored. We have wonderful students and families in our school district! I appreciate the administration and teachers for recognizing them.

6:46 – Communication from the audience on current agenda items (those who had signed up before the meeting began) 

  • Amanda Hart, Jr/Sr HS Teacher and Union Leader, said she wasn’t sure what policy revisions would be discussed but she wondered if it might be related to staff appreciation and how we communicate appreciation. It would be great if the school board packet was released before the school board meetings so everyone can know what policies are being revised so they don’t have to guess.
  • Don Collar said that he is in favor of more transparency and said that posting the board chair notes online increases transparency. He asked board members to use the board chair notes to communicate with each other and said that names should be included in the notes. Witt did not ask him to share his address so I am not sure of his connection to the community. My view is that discussions should be held in public meetings, not via email or an online document. More discussion took place at 7:41.
  • Lisa Mills, Jr/Sr HS English teacher and Union Leader, recognized several awards received by students this past weekend: 2 ninth graders were finalists of the Young Playwrights for the Indiana Repertory Theatre; 39 seventh-twelfth grade student writers were honored at the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards; 2 students (eighth and tenth grade) had the top 2 of 5 writing pieces in the state and will be going to nationals. She also shared that words have power and that words matter.

6:55 – The prior motion for approval of the minutes was continued. Mumford shared that there are still two remaining errors on the minutes for the January Organizational Meeting. Witt said that they have already been corrected. Mumford said that the organization meeting minutes still do not include the motion, second, and vote for Yue Yin for vice president and said that the vote for Brad Marley for vice president was not a “yes” or “no” vote. The same is true of the vote for secretary where we voted either for Amy Austin or for Dacia Mumford. The minutes need to be revised to reflect the motions and votes that actually occurred. In contrast, the minutes are correct with regards to the vote for Board President: we voted either “yes” or “no” for Rachel Witt for president. Witt said this had been discussed in the previous meeting so there would be no discussion and called for a vote to approve the minutes from the February meeting and the proposed changes to the organization meeting minutes. These errors were pointed out previously and I’m disappointed that two months later Witt still hasn’t corrected them. At last month’s meeting, Austin, Schott, and Witt all spoke in favor of not recording all votes in the minutes in order to promote unity (Feb 13 meeting at 6:31). That’s obviously inappropriate. Failing to accurately record votes at meetings violates our own policy: “The minutes shall include all votes taken at the meeting” (bylaw po0168.1).

Voted 7 out of 7

6:58 – Laura Falk, Diversity Initiative Specialist, shared a power point of the recent professional development session and an overview of what they are doing to address inclusion, equity, and access. The professional development was for teachers, staff, paraprofessionals, and administration. Equity was the focus. The teacher equity teams assist in organizing the professional development. Also the student group I Am Power helped choose topics and participated in a panel discussion. Several Purdue professors volunteered their time to participate. Feedback was solicited after the session. 

Falk reported that there are continued conversations on inclusion, diversity, equity, and access. Teachers can request lessons throughout the year. There have been discussions with the bus drivers on how to create a community on the bus. Falk also meets with teachers and students individually. There are two new clubs at the high school: Black Student Union (BSU) and Celebrating Culture Differences and Diversity (CCD). Both meet bimonthly and all students are invited to join. Falk is working with Purdue to create opportunities and programs for our students. Yin asked if the club meetings are open to the whole community or just students. Falk said club meetings are for Jr/Sr HS students. Roth shared that Dr. Azziz from Virtuoso, who has done previous teacher developments, is going to do a community presentation on April 4th at 6:30pm at the Jr/Sr High School. She said more information would be coming out this week (Those planning to attend are asked to fill out a short form.) Falk did a phenomenal job putting the training together. It was great to hear about discussions and clubs as well as collaboration with Purdue in regards to equity, diversity, inclusion, and access. 

7:12 – Roth asked for approval for the WLCSC Social Studies online summer school. This is taught by our Jr/Sr HS social studies with the purpose of addressing learning loss and also to create consistency with the courses offered during the school year. She clarified information she  had previously shared (Feb 13 meeting at 7:29) about our contract for Indiana Online Academy explaining that the cost is covered by the school district and then we seek reimbursement from the IDOE and also use ESSER learning loss funds to make it cost neutral for our district’s education fund. Mumford asked if feedback has been collected about how this pilot program has gone over the past 2 years and asked about the future plans for the program. Roth said that this would be the last year of the pilot program and that feedback will be collected to determine the future of this program. Mumford said that the board is being asked to approve summer school programs after they already have students registered and asked if next year she could come to the board with these summer school programs earlier? Roth said this can be done. Mumford asked about the Indiana Academy Online and if this is only used in the summer or also used during the school year. Roth said there are some classes offered during the school year. Mumford shared that some parents have shared concerns that summer school courses are becoming more and more restrictive. What can parents and students do to address this concern? Roth said the counselors are the best ones to contact with concerns as they work with administration and department heads on scheduling and can suggest possible options for students to get around restrictions in order to reduce student stress. Witt said, “the guidance office can address the stress and that one of the things we know about our students is that they also benefit from not being in school year round.” Witt asked if the guidance office addresses that mental health component. Roth said yes. Individual students have different needs and I want our school district to offer flexibility and design options with input from students and parents. 

Voted 7 out of 7

7:17 – Cronk asked for approval for a technology purchase. Currently, chromebooks at WLIS  are used as a supplemental resource and are nearing the end of their useful life. The Technology Department is requesting to purchase 400 new Chromebook devices and received 3 different bids from Red8 LLC, Trafera, and CDW. The lowest quote was provided by Red8 LLC in the amount of $98,764. The purchase will be paid for from technology grant funds and the Education Fund. The old chromebooks will be used as spares at WLIS and the Jr/Sr HS. 

Voted 7 out of 7

7:18 – Greiner presented the first reading for revisions to bylaws 0143 and 0143.1. The revisions allow the superintendent to release the school board packet before school board meetings. The revisions were sent to the school’s attorney and the attorney endorsed the changes. Witt shared that the policy committee met to discuss these revisions and the gray shading is what they recommend to be deleted, yellow shading is what is to be added, and the red was added by the attorney during the legal review. Mumford asked about the final sentence in paragraph three which states “No member of the Board shall be denied documents or information to which they are legally entitled and which are required in the performance of their duties as a Board member unless the majority of the Board has voted in a public meeting to censure the member for violating School Board policy.” She questioned the legality of preventing school board members from accessing information. Witt said this is standardized text and that it is referenced in po0167 and po0167.8. Austin asked Witt to explain when the board would consider censuring a board member. Witt responded that it is clearly outlined in board policy 0167.8 and is rare. School boards that use Neola all have a similar policy format, but among the set I checked (TSC, Carmel Clay, Zionsville, North Montgomery, and Kokomo) none have a policy that allows a majority of the board to restrict a board member from being able to access information.

Schott asked when the packet would be released to the community before each board meeting. Witt said it would be at the discretion of the superintendent. Mumford asked about policy 0143 at the end of the fourth paragraph/Section A that seems to restrict board access to personnel records to only situations “when the School Corporation attorney advises the Board that they should view specific personnel records.” Witt said, “I have found in my experience on the board that personnel matters are difficult and require very sensitive handling. One hundred percent of the time the attorney is already involved and we would want to abide by our attorney’s advice. They are experts in this and it is their role to help us to keep it legal and do the right things for our employees.” She said she didn’t have a problem with this in the policy and was willing to take feedback from anyone else on the board. There was no response. I’m concerned about these West Lafayette-only additions to standard policies that limit school board member access to information.

Mumford asked about the final lines in po0143.1: “Individual board members shall not disseminate information about the proceedings of executive session meetings.” Mumford said that this is just a repeat from po167.2 which covers the policies related to executive meetings and seems out of place in this policy. Witt said she agrees that it doesn’t necessarily need to be included but because of past issues she wants to leave it in. Greiner said that the attorney had recommended that they put it back in because initially they had planned to remove it. The main point of revising these policies is to remove the restriction that “prior to a school board meeting, the school board packet shall be considered confidential and shall not be released.” This will allow the superintendent to post the meeting packet to the website before the meeting. If we get this done, it would be great for our community!

7:31 – Mumford asked why the policy committee does not allow the public to attend its meetings which seems to be required by the open door law and by our own policy: “Meetings of committees appointed directly by the School Board or its President and given authority to take official action upon public business are subject to the Open Door Law and shall give notice of meetings and hold public meetings as required by that statute. ‘Official action’ includes receiving information, deliberating, and making recommendations. A committee subject to the Open Door Law shall keep minutes of its meetings” (po0155). Mumford said that she checked with the Indiana Public Access Counselor who verified that the details of our policy are required by Indiana code. Austin responded by saying that the policy committee is not taking official action in their meetings and are instead just revising the policies in an informal way before bringing the policies to the school board meeting for official action. Witt said, “There is nothing obscured. How is this different from the meeting that you have with anyone in the corporation office regarding the topics you have met upon? They are work sessions and an opportunity to prepare the highest quality of information for the board to see. If we were deleting sections of these and not showing them to the board or not being completely transparent in the nature of the edits that could be constituted as decision making. It is not decision making.” Mumford pointed out that our policy (and state law) defines official action as receiving information, deliberating, and making recommendations. Official action is not just voting. Austin said, “We are not making the recommendation in the policy committee meeting. We brought the recommendation here tonight to the public meeting.” Witt asked: “Does this mean that you have gone to the Public Counselor to complain about the operation of a board that you are currently a member of?” Mumford said that she emailed the public access counselor to try to understand the policy committee’s responsibility to comply with the open door law. Wang asked how many people serve on the policy committee. Witt said she assigned herself and Austin and they also meet with Greiner. She said, “We sit down and prepare materials for the board to review. We are doing the homework Mr. Wang.” Wang asked who is the chair and Witt said there is no chair. Witt said, “It isn’t any different than if you meet with Mrs. Cronk. Why isn’t that open door? If Mrs. Mumford, Mr. Marley, and Dr. Greiner with members of the West Lafayette community and the work they have been doing, why isn’t that open door? Because realistically we still have to do some work and prepare materials and information for the rest of the board.” Witt went on to say, “I don’t know how to say this any more clearly and I am just going to be direct. We are just not that important Mr. Wang. As individual members, we are not all that important. We are only important when we get together.” Wang said he thinks more people should be included in the policy committee. We could have community members, parents, and students involved. He said that getting more people involved would lead to better policies. Austin said that if anyone has any recommendations for changes to the policies that they should email Greiner. If the community wants to suggest something like “to stand on our heads during the meeting then we could think about it.” Witt said, “There is nothing hidden here in the process. Everything, including who said what, is on it.” Schott said, “I have been on the policy committee before and the public would not be interested.” Witt said, “We are really talking about commas an awful lot Mr. Wang.”

Yin shared how she wanted to express gratitude to many people in the community who contributed to where we are now. She said that there have been involved people who have been asking for transparency for years. Many have contributed to this like Mumford and Angie Janes as well as alumni like Ila and Daniel and other parents and community members. She appreciates the current administration who is taking the need to increase transparency very seriously. Austin interrupted Yin by saying: “point of order, we are well past what the meeting minutes and agenda are leading us and we should get back on track for the good of the order.” Yin said she is talking about this issue on the agenda and doesn’t know why Austin thinks it is irrelevant. Austin said that Yin wasn’t talking about the revision to the policies, and so is not following the agenda. Austin concluded by saying: “for the good of our staff who got to work at 7:30 this morning, we can move it along.” Witt thanked Yin for her comments and said that making these changes has been something they have been intending to do. I’m still learning Robert’s Rules but I don’t think they allow for a member to interrupt another member who has the floor to speak. 

7:41 – Witt said that she consulted with Greiner and the corporation attorney about her board chair notes. Her questions were: “if the process that I have asked the school board to undertake in terms of adding comments to weekly notes is legal and is it a reasonable request.” They responded that it is legal to post weekly notes and not unreasonable for members to add comments. She said for this reason she has removed it from the agenda as a voting item. Witt said that she intends to release a redacted version of her board chair notes each week. She will redact portions of questions or comments added by other board members. She said she asked legal counsel to review the quality of her redactions and they suggested that she also redact any legal advice they give her. She said that going forward she will redact all legal advice from her notes. Witt said, “for the benefit of transparency to the community I will receive questions and answer them on the board chair notes. If you email me, I am not going to answer the questions. We need to move our communications as a board out of emails that require public records requests to be viewed into a document that we are voluntarily releasing to the community.” Yin verified that if a question is asked then it would be included in the notes with the answer. Witt said, “An example is that in the notes from this past weekend, Mrs. Austin asked a question related to my notes and I responded to her. In regards to this comment I will have to redact a great amount of it because of the nature of the question.” Yin asked if questions can be asked on the board notes even if they are not in response to a topic on the notes?” Witt said, “The board notes are an informal document communicating with you on what I have done or thought.”

Mumford said she appreciates that Witt shares her notes with the community and agrees we shouldn’t be having conversations via email, but said that we shouldn’t be having them via the board chair notes either. Our discussions should happen at the public school board meetings. I don’t agree with trying to create an alternative meeting in these edited chair notes. State law allows us to share information or ask questions via email, but we should not hold discussions this way. Marley said that he has served on the board for 14 years and that “the school corporation was founded in 1908 and it has been perfectly fine for quite a long time.” He added that we are now offering more transparency than ever before and said that he thinks it is the right thing to do. Marley said, “Addressing Dr. Yin’s comments, I have been a proponent of transparency for quite a few years. We work together as a group and that is the only action we can accomplish. What Mrs. Witt is trying to do is share additional information that she is not required to share. She is preparing notes that are germain to the subject and material that we may be talking about in this public work meeting so we are aware of the measures that have been taken collectively before this meeting. I think it is a good idea and I think it is nice that she is doing that. It is way above and beyond the call of duty.” Wang said that it is the public meeting that is important and that the meeting minutes are an official document shared with everyone. The meeting minutes should be where we focus our efforts to have more detail and more information.

I think everyone agrees that we appreciate that Witt is posting her board chair notes online. The only disagreement is about her wanting it to become a type of online discussion board where school board members hold pre-meeting conversations. She has made it very clear that she edits questions and comments, including comments that are “personal assessment of the performance of the board or the school corporation.” She wants the final say in what is presented to the community. I will continue to email questions prior to meetings so the administrators have time to prepare for the questions that I plan to ask during the public meeting, but I’m not going to participate in a pre-meeting discussion with other board members regardless of how Witt plans to edit it before posting it online. The discussion should happen at the public meeting. I think Wang’s suggestion to put more effort into the meeting minutes is great. They have improved quite a bit over the past two years but could increase in detail. 

8:13 – Roth shared the incredible news that we had 17 National Merit Finalists this year. She also shared that 115 professional development proposals were submitted by teachers for the STEM grant funds. Cronk shared that WLIS has had a lot of successes this past month with Math Counts, Chess regionals, Battle of the Books, and student Sharanya Kara heading to the national spelling bee. Greiner said WLES finished a great week of Read across America. Kindergarten roundup open house is Tuesday, March 28th from 4:30-6:30pm. During board reports, Yin said that she hopes we will look for ways to help students who are coming to kindergarten with no preschool. There is so much to celebrate in our district and I appreciate the administration sharing about many of them!

8:16 – Witt shared that a school board member had asked about policies in regards to the role and responsibilities of the secretary. She sent it to legal counsel for review and there are no conflicts. However, there may be an opportunity to eliminate some superfluous language. This would require just 1 reading and it should be in the April board packet. I noticed that this was the first meeting where the secretary, Austin, was taking notes about motions and votes, so maybe the policy committee determined that the secretary is supposed to be tracking information. 

Witt shared that there will be a board training in an executive session on April 20th, 6-8pm at WVEC with Dr. Judi Hendrix. During board reports Mumford asked why would the school board training need to be done in an executive session? What would need to be confidential about this training? Witt said, “I think it is clear enough to our community and to us as individual board members that we are not highly skilled in our interpersonal relationships and this would be an opportunity to have candid conversations about that with a trained facilitator.” She went on to say about the necessity to be an executive meeting and confidential, “I would suggest to you that it is important that we speak candidly and we might not be inclined to do that on the stage.” Mumford also asked how our school board training is related to the STEM grant and if that is the appropriate funding source? Witt said it is a $1,000 training and is needed to help the board function and that our ability to work productively as a board impacts the STEM grant. Greiner said that Dr. Hendrix is who suggested using the STEM grant funds because $250,000 needs to be spent on professional development. There can be a connection of how each level works to support our teachers. Greiner said the board can make that determination of where funding comes from. Witt said the training is important and that it makes sense to take it from the professional development fund.

Witt said that a question was asked about a concern in regards to policy 2464 on high ability students and Indiana code 20-36-2. She said that they align and “we as a board are charged with the responsibility of ensuring a myriad of Indiana code requirements are met. I estimate thousands. Too many for the board itself to implement. Implementing those requirements would go beyond our policy making role so that is the reason for policy 2464. To meet those statutory requirements the board delegates through that policy these duties to the superintendent and/or his designee.” She went on to say, “we are accountable for making sure that Dr. Greiner does fulfill the goals of the school corporation and we do that through his evaluation process and goal setting. If we as board members receive feedback from our community concerned with high ability or any other academic function, it is our role to correctly refer and escalate that matter to the appropriate people who are charged with the task. We cannot cherry pick the things we care about and try and micromanage our superintendent’s work in those areas. That is not the right or appropriate role of the board, any member, or the board as a whole.” Yin during board reports commented that she didn’t agree with the comment on cherry picking and micromanaging. She appreciates Greiner and Roth’s willingness to listen to thoughts and suggestions. She also appreciates their willingness to listen to community concerns. Roth has scheduled a meeting with some of the parents who have high ability related concerns. Yin said she came from a different country and she cherishes this opportunity for people to work together to share different perspectives through this school board arrangement. With seven people on the school board, it provides diverse perspectives that bring collective wisdom. She said she understands there is a chain of command to follow in sharing concerns but sometimes people don’t feel comfortable sharing their concerns with a particular person but may feel more comfortable to share with a school board member. She also said that just because three school board members voted to add the agenda item on high ability doesn’t mean that is all they care about and hope people are not misled by that comment. Witt responded, “Dr. Yin in no way would I imply that you only care about one issue. My concern is more that we as board members recognize that we do not run the day-to-day operation of our schools.” I wish the board would have allowed this to be added to the agenda so that as a community we could have heard public discussion on the concerns with WLCSC high ability plan. I don’t agree that Witt should be the only one to share information on this topic and not allow other board members to share input or concerns.

8:20 – Board Committee Reports:

  • Legislation – Austin shared that she attended the ISBA state house day in February and her notes were included with the board chair notes. She also has been attending Third House luncheons. 
  • Diversity Roundtable – Mumford shared that she attends the Diversity Roundtable. This past seminar was on how to speak and lobby to our local elected officials from school boards to state legislation. They shared a helpful handout. They also shared about an event this Thursday, March 9th at 5:30pm at the Arts Federation in Lafayette with State Representative Earl P. Harris, Chair of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus discussing work to introduce legislation in the current session to close the minority student achievement gap.
  • West Lafayette Schools Education Foundation – Schott shared that teacher grant applications are due March 10th and they have received 6 applications. Wall of Pride is April 13 and 14. Scarlet and Gray tickets are on sale.
  • Park Board – Yin shared that the ice skating rink is now closed and detrash the Wabash will take place in April
  • GLASS – Yin shared she was amazed by the scope of work they have been doing. GLASS serves more than 4000 students in the Greater Lafayette Area and our school has over 200. She said they discussed the lack of special education educators and how they have to contract some of the work which is more costly. 
  • Redevelopment Commission – Marley shared there was a bid opening for a tree nursery in West Lafayette. They have contracted for the design of Cason Park on Cumberland Avenue. There is discussion on the Northeast corner of State Street and River Road and plans for 1200 beds, 525 units, 25000 square feet of retail, plus parking. 

8:37 – There was no communication from the audience on non-agenda items (those who had signed up before the meeting began). 

8:38 – Meeting is adjourned

Location: Happy Hollow Building, LGI Room

Streaming: WLCSC Regular Board Meeting March 6, 2023

Future Meetings (calendar link)

  • Regular School Board Meeting – Monday, April 10 at 6:30pm at Happy Hollow LGI Room (enter from North side/pool side of building)

This document is my summary of the public school board meeting, not the official meeting minutes (which will be released one month from now). My personal thoughts and opinions are given in italics and represent my own views which do not necessarily reflect those of any other member of the school board. I identify myself as Mumford in the summary but use first person when describing my personal thoughts and opinions. Previous agendas, minutes, and audio recordings can be found at the WLCSC website.

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