The Brown County Schools Board of Trustees met in the first of three special sessions Thursday night, Feb. 28, to narrow options and make a decision on how to move forward in addressing the General Fund deficit issue.
President Carol Bowden called the meeting to order at 6:05 p.m. in the high school cafeteria after Superintendent David Shaffer led prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. All members were in attendance. They include Steve Miller Jr., John Mills, Stephanie Kritzer, Judy Hardwick and Bowden.
Before starting the evening’s discussion, Mills pointed out and apologized for an error in his letter to the editor of the Brown County Democrat. An arbitrary reduction of funding should have read 10 percent of the annual general fund budget. He said the figure had “somehow” been changed to 1 percent, which is a “significant difference.”
Shaffer explained the format of the meeting, the purpose of which was to reduce choices presented to the board to three options. They would discuss the positives and negatives of each, and then welcome public input. He added that he had been asked to present the options in reverse from the list that has been distributed to the public.
(Option positives and negatives are taken from written information given to the board and read by Shaffer. The figure next to the option is the number and percentage of online survey responses choosing that option as of the meeting on Thursday. At that time, 346 responses to the school’s survey had been initiated.)
OPTION I (parent suggestion): (65 responses, 18.9 percent)
Close Nashville Elementary completely and redistrict all Nashville students to the other three elementary schools. Repurpose NES into a District Administration Office. This option allows preschool and self-contained special education classrooms to remain at NES.
Positives: Preschool could stay at the Nashville Elementary building. This option resolves the question of the status of our current District Office Building. This option would reduce the staff and allow us to address our General Fund issues.
Negatives: We close a building to our current students and redistribute them to the other elementary schools.
Shaffer: I do not recommend that we further consider this option.
Discussion: Hardwick voiced her concern that all Nashville’s students would be moved to the other elementaries, including Helmsburg, which she said is “completely packed,” and has music classes in a modular structure outside the regular building.
“I have no idea where we would move all the kids who would be redistricted, where they would stay… in Helmsburg,” Hardwick said, with Bowden voicing similar concerns.
Shaffer said the classrooms should accommodate the additional students, despite an imbalance in enrollment numbers across schools caused by the location of student residences.
Mills said he studied the options presented to the board prior to the meeting, and his approach was on the option that provided the lowest class sizes for grades K-3.
“I don’t know how, off the top of my head without study, how to know what this would do to class sizes,” Mills said. “In my mind, not having large class sizes K through 3 anywhere is of critical importance.”
OPTION H (parent suggestion): (13 responses, 3.8 percent)
Returning 7th and 8th to the high school and send 5th and 6th students to the junior high building.
Positives: This option does not require the redistribution of our youngest students. Transportation under this option is relatively easy to accomplish.
Negatives: It requires the building of additional classrooms while leaving elementary classrooms vacant. This option creates a greater enrollment imbalance than we already have. This option will not reduce the necessary positions to solve our General Fund issues.
Shaffer: I do not recommend that we further consider this option.
Discussion: Miller said his graduating class — 1986 — was the last one when grades 7 to 12 were in the same building.
“It was a nightmare,” he said, adding that the hallways were packed and, “It was almost impossible to get to classes on time, because of the traffic in the hallways.”
Shaffer said this was one reason why this was not a good option, especially with the current academic program at the high school.
OPTION G: (43 responses, 12.5 percent)
Return to multi-grade configurations at all elementary schools. This option is projected to eventually reduce 9 to 11 teaching positions.
Positives: This option would provide us with the necessary reductions in staff positions for our General Fund issues. It would not require the redistribution of students to other schools.
Negatives: It would not allow us to continue our current curricular emphasis on departmentalization of intermediate grade levels. This option has been used in the past and was discarded on the recommendation of teachers and principals. This option does not allow us the flexibility to transfer teachers as needed throughout the district.
Shaffer: I recommend that we consider this option in our final three.
Discussion: While Shaffer said this option reduced the flexibility to move teachers around, Kritzer said she hasn’t found a teacher that likes this option.
“I’ve been talking with teachers and parents, and I haven’t found a teacher… that favors this option,” she said. “This is really not that great for the kids.”
Miller added that the teachers he talked to had the same negative response, while Mills said he had similar universal dislike for this option in his conversations with teachers and parents.
OPTION F: (11 responses, 3.2 percent)
Convert the junior high to a middle school by adding all district 6th-graders and convert Nashville Elementary to an intermediate school with all district 4th- and 5th-graders. Nashville’s current K-3 students would be distributed to either all three other elementary schools or distributed between Helmsburg and Van Buren only. This option is projected to eventually reduce between eight and 14 teaching positions.
Positives: This option will reduce the number of positions needed to address our General Fund issues. This option provides for the easiest transition on transportation routes. It allows us to expand our departmentalized curriculum structure and provides for additional extracurricular and special area subjects.
Negatives: It requires the building of additional classrooms at the junior high at a time when we are creating more space in our elementary schools. It moves a larger number of students than other options. It requires the redistribution of our current Nashville K-3 students.
Shaffer: I recommend that we consider this option as one of our final three.
Discussion: Due to sixth-graders being moved to the junior high, principal Shane Killinger said five to six classrooms would have to be added to his building.
“It could be done, but you’re going to have to add on,” Killinger said.
OPTION E: (86 responses, 25 percent)
Convert the junior high to a middle school by adding all district 6th-graders. This option is projected to reduce two teaching positions and would require the addition of rooms at the junior high.
Positives: This is a common grouping of students in public schools. It provides no necessary changes in transportation routes.
Negatives: Taken alone it does not reduce enough positions to allow us to address our General Fund issues. This option requires the building of additional classrooms at the junior high.
Shaffer: I do not recommend we further consider this option.
Discussion: This option was not popular among board members because it didn’t adequately address the General Fund issue.
“I’m not really a big fan of that one,” Miller said. “If it doesn’t address the General Fund deficit issue, then to me, it’s a [inaudible].”
Mills added, “I see it the way Steve does.”
OPTION D: (8 responses, 2.3 percent)
Convert Nashville to an intermediate school with all district 4th- to 6th-graders and realign the northern schools with one serving K-2 northern students and the other serving 3rd- and 4th-grade northern students. Nashville’s current K-3 students would be assigned to Van Buren. This option is projected to reduce 14 to 15 teaching positions.
Positives: The same as Option C. (Fewer students will be moved from Nashville to other schools and it does provide for necessary staff reductions.)
Negatives: The same as Option C, and some of Option A. (Enrollment at Nashville would be more than 400 students.)
Shaffer: I do not recommend we further consider this option.
Discussion: Miller brought up the science labs that have been completed at the three outlying elementary schools and said they would be unused with this option. However, assistant superintendent Dennis Goldberg said the original plan for the science labs was to have all grades using them with age-appropriate equipment, starting with grades 4-6. With the upper grades moving out, the labs would be re-equipped to make them age appropriate.
Miller likened this option, as far as population, to having 7th and 8th grades at the high school.
OPTION C: (18 responses, 5.2 percent)
Convert Nashville Elementary to an intermediate school with all district 4th-, 5th- and 6th-graders attending and redistribute Nashville’s K-3 students to the other three elementary schools. This option is projected to eventually reduce up to 14 teaching positions.
Positives: This option requires fewer students from Nashville to move to another school. It provides for the reduction of staff positions necessary to resolve our General Fund issues.
Negatives: This option will make the enrollment of Nashville at over 400 students and will create a large enrollment imbalance within our elementary schools.
Shaffer: I do not recommend we further consider this option.
Discussion: Based on the enrollment at Nashville, which would be more than 400, Miller said he would not be in favor of this option. Bowden added that she has been told it is better to have 4th-graders with K-3, rather than with 5-6, due to social development at that age.
OPTION B: (93 responses, 27 percent)
Convert Nashville Elementary to an intermediate school with all district 5th- and 6th-graders attending and redistribute Nashville’s K-4 grades to the other three elementary schools. This option is projected to eventually reduce up to 14 teaching positions.
Positives: Most transportation can be handled within our current routing structure. Intermediate schools allow for departmentalized teaching and would continue this trend currently in place. Teachers become subject specialists and should be able to bring about higher achievement levels in our students. Location on the Nashville campus would provide for increased extracurricular opportunities for our intermediate students. There is potential to expand our special courses in music, art and physical education. Approximately 60 percent of our students will remain at their present school under this option.
Negatives: Nashville’s current K-4 students will need to be redistributed to the other three elementary buildings. There are some complications regarding transportation of students, which will need to be resolved.
Shaffer: I recommend we consider this option in our final three.
Discussion: Miller said he likes the idea of teachers becoming subject specialists, “which is key in my mind for the kids, bringing about higher achievement levels in students.”
Miller added, “The most important things I see in this option the transportation could be handled with the current routing structure — we think — on paper it looks like we could… with this being a fifth- and sixth-grade school, it would allow for departmentalized teaching and we could continue this trend.”
Shaffer stressed that there will be some rerouting of buses, but the current structure is usable. He noted that he didn’t want to mislead anyone.
Hardwick said she likes Option B because it levels the playing floor for fifth- and sixth-graders, giving them more opportunities and allowing them to start extracurricular activities sooner, like other schools.
“I look at it as a real positive for our students,” she said.
Bowden said, “I see an opportunity here,” explaining that students could finish their core courses early, have assessment done earlier and then take dual credit courses while in high school, which “will decrease the cost of education after they get out of high school.”
Killinger spoke about a 5th- and 6th-grade intermediate school in Franklin. This school converted in 2007 and was allowed to expand its music, art and math programs.
He said the principal liked the age grouping of fifth- and sixth-graders, because “Fifth-graders are ready to leave the elementary and the little kids, but sixth-graders are still not ready to go to the junior high.” He added that the preschool to sixth-grade ages “is a huge gap.”
Although some see one more transition being added to a child’s life, Killinger said he saw this as a positive, because “the more kids transition, and the better they get at it, the more successful they’ll be in life, because life is about transitions.”
Her parting comment to Killinger was that it is a lot of work to set up, but it was worth it.
With this option, fifth- and sixth-graders would be together, but would likely not be on the same buses as junior and senior high students, according to Roger Cline, director of transportation.
OPTION A: (7 responses, 2 percent)
Create grade centers at the northern elementary schools, Helmsburg and Sprunica, and at the southern elementary schools, Nashville and Van Buren, by assigning all northern K-3 students to either Helmsburg or Sprunica and all northern 4-6 students to the other school and do the same with Nashville and Van Buren in the south. This option is projected to eventually reduce 11-14 teaching positions.
Positives: This option will provide enough reductions in staff to address our General Fund issues. Although it moves students, it keeps them closer to their current residences than other options.
Negatives: This option involves moving younger students to another school and then moving them back when they reach the 4th-grade level. It also involves some major redistributing of bus routes and is likely to bring about many route changes as younger students reach 4th grade.
Shaffer: I do not recommend we further consider this option.
Discussion: Miller, Kritzer and Hardwick all said this option was not one of their favorites. Mills said it was excellent for class sizes, but low in popular opinion.
“I think it’s moving too many students too far,” said Kritzer.
After all of the options were presented, several parents spoke on the overall decision that was being planned.
Keith Buddrige said he appreciated the administration having meetings with parents, but also wished the public had been presented with a written list of pros and cons, as it was difficult to remember all of them throughout the evening for comparison.
He also again asked the board if it would wait a year to make a decision, noting that he had hoped to see that option on the table.
Miller asked administrators, “What would happen if we waited 12 months for this decision?”
“Nothing good,” Goldberg said. “It’s imperative that we get past this deficit issue.”
Mills brought out the fact that the school corporation cannot operate for even one year in a deficit status, and Goldberg explained that if the school goes into deficit financing, the schools could not collectively bargain teachers contracts. Shaffer added that the corporation has good teachers it wants to keep, but without the ability to negotiate contracts, that is jeopardized.
Bowden said the state would take control out of the corporation’s hands if it enters deficit financing.
Clark Griner, parent of four Nashville students, said the issue facing the community is economic development.
“This is a community issue… Where do the students go?” Mr. Griner said. “If we don’t solve that now and understand that now, we’re going to be back in this room in two to three years or sooner… Let’s find out why.”
Sabra Burnett concurred that the town and county needed to make changes in how they look at economic development to prevent another problem in the future.
Burnett added that her concern is how kids with Individual Education Plans would be affected by the changes without impacting the current integration they are able to experience now.
“Your students with IEPs and Section 504 plans are the most protected students in the district. They have individualized plans,” said Al Kosinski, who is in charge of the district’s special education programs. “Those individualized plans need to continue to be carried out just as they’re written and we can do that… regardless of where the children are located.”
Kosinski said he has a team of people who are already addressing this issue and making plans for whatever option is chosen.
Kristin Cole, teacher of the students with moderate to severe disabilities, said she hopes her classroom stays in Nashville to allow easy access to medical care and opportunities provided to her students because they are near shops and can be taught basic life skills, like buying an item from a store.
Bob Weddle, who has two kids at Helmsburg, said whatever decision the board made, it needed to be thought about and researched. He reiterated Buddrige’s comments.
“It’s not something that can just be rushed into,” Weddle said.
Referring to the possibility that his fifth-grader would be in Nashville next year, he added that he didn’t think it was too bad of an idea, “Honestly, I don’t think it’s that bad of a problem, I think it could be a really good thing, but you need to think about it a little more… It just can’t happen this fast.”
Matt Roberts, a parent of two Van Buren students who has taught 7th grade for about 12 years in Bartholomew County, said he has watched 6th-graders come in and have difficult transitions, but reactions are different. He likes the idea of Option B.
“I like the thought of kids making somewhat of an easier transition, maybe going from 4th to 5th grade, they’re a little bit younger, they’re not at this hormonal stage of 12- and 13-year-olds, that’s a tough enough stage the way it is, believe me,” he said. “But being a couple of years younger, I don’t think they’re having to quite deal with that part of their life yet, so if they’re able to make that transition, then they’re with a core group of students that they’re going to be with through graduation.”
He urged the board to consider the opportunities that Option B offered, but also encouraged them to try to get the community behind whatever choice they made.
“We’ve got to find a way to create a new identity,” Roberts said. “A pride that people in the community, they want to come to this community, want to be part of this school system, instead of living here and saying what else is out there, what else out there is better for my kid. I think if you put the time and effort into this decision, that we can create something that actually is going to develop an identity for our community.”
While the board has heard copious comments from parents and community members, another point of view arose when Dr. Laurie Godfrey, drama teacher and director who led theater students to two consecutive state championships, spoke her concern for the newer teachers in the school system.
“One way that we do bring other students into the area is by having a very fine school system with items that are enhanced enough to get them interested into coming here,” she said, explaining that some Columbus North students have transferred into the high school. “Our scores are going up; our programs are going into place where we’re really building, and we have to keep going that direction… If we’re coming in first and second in the state in math and aiming at so many other subjects in every school level, they will look here, they will come here. If we have more to offer in the arts — and we do — they will come here.”
Godfrey added, with voice cracking, “It’s up to us to keep it at that level and keep working. That’s one of the problems that’s scary to me.” She paused and then continued, “We have a lot of young teachers. They need to make a living. What we’re trying to do here also, that we haven’t touched on all that much, is they’re trying to make sure all our teachers don’t leave. We’ve got so many beautiful things in place and we’ve worked really hard, and we have a chance to really pull things up year by year by year, and we’re going to lose a portion of our group, if we cannot offer them the same type of incentive to work. If we lose that, the mid-level teachers and the younger teachers, the new in, will find other places to work, and in many cases, they will leave teaching because they can make money elsewhere, this is our mission, we work here because we love your kids and we want to do this, but we also have to survive, and I’m old, I’m staying, the younger ones don’t have that option necessarily. They need to be able to know that they can buy a house, they need to know that they can do things and plan things and have the same things that a normal family has. If there is no option, more than $1,000 a year to a teacher who is in this upper echelon, we lose them.”
In the six years Godfrey has been at the school, she said the building has had huge changes.
“You cannot imagine how exciting that is to the students, how exciting that is to the teachers,” she said. “We just have radically altered the way we look at Brown County, and we can’t let it stop. It’s too important.”
She finished and left the podium. The audience applauded her comments.
Bowden called for an initial vote on the nine options on the table. The vote was:
Option A: Miller, no; Mills, yes; Kritzer, no; Hardwick, no; Bowden, no.
Option B: Miller, yes; Mills, yes; Kritzer, yes; Hardwick, yes; Bowden, yes.
Option C: Miller, no; Mills, abstain; Kritzer, no; Hardwick, no; Bowden, no.
Option D: Miller, no; Mills, no; Kritzer, no; Hardwick, no; Bowden, no.
Option E: Miller, no; Mills, no; Kritzer, no; Hardwick, no; Bowden, no.
Option F: Miller, yes; Mills, undecided; Kritzer, no; Hardwick, no (was undecided, but changed); Bowden, undecided.
Option G: Miller, yes; Mills, no; Kritzer, no; Hardwick, no; Bowden, no.
Option H: Miller, no; Mills, no; Kritzer, no; Hardwick, no; Bowden, no.
Option I: Miller, no; Mills, no; Kritzer, no; Hardwick, no; Bowden, no.
Kritzer, who joins Miller as the newest board members, took a moment to voice her observations after Mills mistakenly said no one on the board was a professional educator. Kritzer worked in the school corporation for 17 years and Hardwick retired after 20 years.
Kritzer asked Miller when he graduated. He said, “1986,” and she said that 125 were in his graduating class. She asked Roberts how many were in his class and he said about 200. When Kritzer graduated in 1974, she had 125 in her class, and her daughter, in 2008, had 125.
“We may be losing them at the elementary level, but we’re keeping them at the high school,” Kritzer said. “And I don’t think we’re going to go much lower than that.”
She added that she knows transition of students is tough, but parents can put positive spin on it.
“Parents, you are the biggest influence on your kids,” she said. “Do it. Start doing it now, explaining their 5th- and 6th-grade teachers are probably going to be in that building.”
She said Jeff Lepore, 4th-6th science teacher at Sprunica, would be there teaching science with all his equipment. “It doesn’t matter what room he’s in, he’s going to teach good science to those kids,” she said.
She noted that transportation would not be easy, but she was sure Cline had it under control, and she said teachers have asked that the board not extend the school day.
Every school Kritzer has visited, she said she has seen tears.
“We’re breaking up families. We’re breaking up teachers, families of teachers,” she said. “It’s sad to do, but this corporation has had to do things like this before, as I was reminded by my mother, in ’59, when we had to consolidate. My grandparents were hoppin’ mad that my uncle was not going to graduate from Helmsburg High School, and he had to come down to this high school and graduate from Brown County High School, and now we don’t even think about it. Four years. The kids that are now kindergartners, first-, second-, and third-graders, are the only ones that are going to remember that they were once at Nashville and now they’re at another school. Four years.”
She said points for the board to consider are that the teachers would like a choice on where they go and they just want to know they have jobs.
“That’s what we had assured them, and that’s what we had assure you,” Kritzer told the audience, noting the exception being those teachers who want to retire. She said the board should give teachers time to pack up and move their rooms, as well as unpack and organize their new spaces.
Other thoughts were expanding preschool and getting the science labs updated, as well as administrative salaries, about which she said, “I have freezes, I have no raises, I have possible cuts on my list, that will take time.”
Although the board overwhelmingly leaned toward Option B, Shaffer reminded members they said they would narrow the list to three. He recommended Options F, G and B.
When it was brought to the board’s attention that the meeting agenda said the board would choose “three or less” options, members voted unanimously to narrow the options to B and F, for further consideration. Hardwick made the motion and Kritzer seconded it.
The meeting adjourned at 8:44 p.m.