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NP searches for budget answers

Thursday, January 21, 2010

ROACHDALE -- Concerned parents, teachers, staff and administrators packed the auditorium at North Putnam High School Wednesday night to hear what school board members had to say about reduction in force issues.

After first swearing in new board member Mark Hoke who is replacing Mark Fordice on the school board, Superintendent Dr. Mary Lovejoy got down to business, addressing concerns with a reduction in force (RIF), the financial status of the corporation, enrollment projections and teacher/student class ratio with reductions.

"No decisions have been made," announced board president Debbie Sillery.

Lovejoy told the group that if RIF's occurred there would be no mailed letters. They would be hand-delivered in meetings with administrators present. Reductions of certified personnel would also be done according to the contract between the school and the teachers.

"RIF's would not prevent us from providing a strong educational force," Lovejoy assured the group.

The superintendent went on to say that any reductions would be done according to seniority.

"If a teacher is laid off and is certified to teach in another area, they will be transferred to that area and can bump a teacher with less seniority," explained Lovejoy.

Certified staff reduction could affect seven positions in special areas such as music and art. There could be seven in general education and three in special education.

Lovejoy explained that there were some issues with Old National Trail over teachers working for them but under North Putnam contracts.

"We don't know what the outcome of that is, but it could have an impact," she said.

Regarding the financial status of the corporation, Lovejoy explained that a great deal of money was borrowed within the last year.

"In January '09 the board was asked to approve $6.7 million in loans. $4.7 million was paid back, but another $3 million was borrowed in June and $1 million in July. We currently owe $2.5 million," said Lovejoy.

She went on to explain that the corporation's general fund had $900,000, but the transportation fund was $127,000 in debt.

"We lost $500,000 from the enrollment being down. If we do nothing, we will end the year at $2.5 to $3 million in debt," she said.

The enrollment project for the upcoming year is also a consideration. Assistant to the Superintendent Kevin Emsweller explained that over the last five years, the school has been losing enrollment to the tune of 1,703 students.

This is tied into the teacher/student ratio and the effect a reduction will have. Some of the breakouts he showed the group included fewer class sections and slightly larger classes in some grades.

"We don't want any classes with more than 30 students," he said. Roachdale Elementary would keep the number of students the same in most cases, but Bainbridge, which has lost more students, would see some classes grow from 18 to 22 students in second grade, plus the addition of three to six students in higher grades.

Emsweller said the board was also looking at the class size discrepancy between the two elementary schools and talked about transferring some students from Bainbridge to Roachdale.

Lovejoy addressed possible changes to athletics that would include the high school athletic director taking care of the both the high school and middle school, reducing the number of assistant coaches in all sports, closing the swimming pool except for two months out of the year and reducing extra curricular staff.

They are also looking at reducing hours for instructional assistants, custodians and nurses by 30 minutes a day (15 minutes at the beginning and end of the day).

"Total cuts would equal $1.8 million, and that is in line with the $2.2 million debt," said Lovejoy.

Board member Carl Blau brought up some other opportunities for cuts after reviewing teacher contracts. These concerned health benefits and life insurance for retirees.

"We give them $50,000 in life insurance. No company I know provides that anymore," he said.

He also talked about reducing the four personal leave days from four to two. Teachers also get five days for bereavement. Blau thought that was excessive also.

"If I were a teacher I would be very upset, but we can't operate like we use to operate," he said.

Board member Andy Beck suggested putting a freeze on incremental pay and looking at rotations for things like buses and computers.

"We need to get by with what we've got," he said.

Several members of the audience took the podium when the opportunity was presented. Two teachers talked about their programs (tech ed and agriculture) and how these programs were or could bring in funds to the corporation.

"There are a few simple things that we can do to bring money into our school corporation just by changing class titles and descriptions," said tech ed teacher David Basan.

Agriculture teacher Kate Skirin talked about the amounts of money the school was paid per student taking certain ag classes. These varied from $375 to $450. She calculated that ag classes brought in $61,664. Servant also reported that she had just received a Future Farmer's of America (FFA) grant for $8,000 for work in the outdoor lab and renewable for three years.

Several parents expressed concern over reducing teachers, eliminating music, arts or sports programs and changing class sizes.

A major complaint was the lack of communication about what is going on in the school system.

"We're not kept in the loop. If it were not for the rumor mill, most parents wouldn't have known about this meeting," said Rachel Manville. "If we're not informed correctly to begin with, we have to guess what is going on."

Manville got applause following another comment.

"Teachers don't make a lot of money to begin with. Some of those benefits are very important to them," she said. "There is a big difference between teachers working 184 days and being paid for 184 days."

Lovejoy addressed the issue of communication saying there would be another meeting for those parents who were not able to attend or did not know about the meeting Wednesday.

"This meeting was really intended for teachers and staff and to get information to them, but we will have another meeting for those who didn't know or couldn't attend tonight," said Lovejoy.

She also reminded people the board was gathering information not making decisions yet.

Sillery also mentioned that school board meetings are held on the third Thursday of every month at 7 p.m.

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Tough, tough job! Good luck. I question our state leaders' comments that we must do more with less and not cause a disruption in the education of the children. HUH? Most school corporations have cut to the minimum now. Can more be cut?

AS always, local school administrators will get it done and our children will still get a quality education. But .... what is next?

Our school leaders need everyone's support. While it is OK to question actions and offer suggestions, the final call belongs to the local school board and the school administrators. The successful operation of our schools must have the public's support. Remember, many of the decisions that require our local people to make tough calls are created "downtown." Never forget to contact them as well.

Their decisions are really driving the bus.

-- Posted by cvilleguy on Thu, Jan 21, 2010, at 7:56 AM

Tough times call for tough decisions. RIF should be the last resort only to be used after all non-essentials have been cut.

NP spends per their contract $143,642 in wages to athletic coaches alone. Athletics are great, but education has to be the top priority. Many teams have several volunteer coaches who "donate" their time and attend every practice, game, etc along side their paid counterparts - only they are there for reasons other than monetary compensation. Do we really "have" to pay $5,624 to find a basketball coach to mentor our kids?

How much money does NP pay into ONT for their "services"? How much money does NP spend providing free transportation services to ONT every single day? There are better, more affordable solutions than ONT. Follow Greencastle's lead and move on.

Lastly: What does the compensation package of the Superintendent look like? It is rumored that she makes significantly more than her predecessor who had several years with the corporation. Does the NP administration pay for their health benefits as does the rest of NP's employees or are they provided free? There has to be some equality when making decisions on where to start making cuts.

-- Posted by jorge on Thu, Jan 21, 2010, at 10:25 AM

To jorge, in case you haven't read the classified in the banner, Greencastle has to now hire those speciality teachers that ONT used to provide to Greencastle at a cost. Now gc is paying all cost for those teachers that they used to pay a share of into ONT.

-- Posted by specialfriend on Thu, Jan 21, 2010, at 10:35 AM

Cut Special Education Funds? BAD IDEA!!!!

-- Posted by Redsonia on Thu, Jan 21, 2010, at 1:07 PM

First off, Bainbridge is lacking in teachers as it is. Roachdale classes are smaller and I believe the children are getting more of an education. They get more one on one time. They need to not cut back on teachers. They are a necessity for the school system. I think we could do without the amount of people in administration. It doesn't take that many people to run an organization of our size. I love the teachers at Roachdale and Im sure the teachers in Bainbridge are the same. I dont think our kids should have to suffer for the economic downfall. They deserve more.

-- Posted by ptnmctyrsdnt on Thu, Jan 21, 2010, at 1:14 PM

By hiring those teachers outright - you now directly pay for what you need and receive. You no longer share the burden of the needs of other school districts, ONT's administrative overhead, etc that are included in the formula that calculates the cost per student that ONT serves.

I have nothing against ONT and think their employee's do a wonderful job at what they do. I just question the benefit of paying a middleman (while absorbing a ton of extra indirect expenses such as transportation) when you can provide most of the same services in-house at a potentially lower cost.

-- Posted by jorge on Thu, Jan 21, 2010, at 2:10 PM

From what I have read it would appear that South Put and Cloverdale operate school systems in the black while north Put and Greencastle can't seem to stay out of the red. Why the disparity?

-- Posted by exhoosier2 on Thu, Jan 21, 2010, at 4:15 PM

Here is another example of why this county needs to have ONE school corporation instead of FOUR!!!

-- Posted by jakesmom on Thu, Jan 21, 2010, at 4:28 PM

All salaries and benefits are public knowledge. All you have to do is call the central office and request the document.

-- Posted by specialfriend on Thu, Jan 21, 2010, at 5:19 PM

I am a proud NP student and am enrolled in the ag dept. classes. I think that readers should pay better attention to what my teacher Mrs. Kate Skirvin reported as a postive not a negative of the ag dept. Instead of being negative in the banner maybe you could be better educated, visit our wonderful ag dept., and see how our program operates under her leadership.

-- Posted by NPStudent on Thu, Jan 21, 2010, at 5:28 PM

So if these financial problems started before this year and the school board is ultimately in control of the corporation, are there no repercussions for them?

-- Posted by testmet on Thu, Jan 21, 2010, at 8:47 PM

Can school cuts be seen as an opportunity? Are we going to just cut teachers and raise class sizes or can we reinvent the schools we have to better serve students? This can be a time to clarify our core beliefs about what is best for our children.


-- Posted by sneakers on Thu, Jan 21, 2010, at 9:26 PM

I would have liked to attend this meeting but knew nothing about it. Was a notice sent home with students? In the paper? On the school website? Posted at the school corporation office? If so, I must have missed it. Hopefully someone will bother to let us know they have "another meeting".

I completely agree about the lack of communication. It's a good thing that we have (and are paying for) the Honeywell Instant Alert System. I have yet to receive a notification when there has been a school delay or closing. I also didn't receive notification that the school dismissed early one day. Thank goodness I don't have any younger children who would have been dropped off at home by the bus without my knowledge. In fact, the only communication I have received from Honeywell was that there was a confirmed case of a student with H1N1 one day. I've checked my contact information online and it is correct. Have any other parents received regular Honeywell notifications?

The communication that I actually have received was only partially true. The letter that the superintendent sent home to parents a few months ago when school should have been cancelled (or at least delayed) due to the weather claimed (to the best of my memory) that all students arrived safely and that only 4 buses were late arriving. I am personally aware of 6 buses arriving late at the elementary school that morning. Also, my understanding is that there was at least one bus that arrived approx. 2 hours late at one of the other schools. And if arriving safely means that "we were able to get the kids off the bus after it went off the road near Heritage Lake", then I guess that wasn't a complete lie. In another bus incidient, why wasn't there any communication with parents about the Turkey Run bus that backed into the NP bus while on the route home a few weeks ago? Were all of the students and bus drivers OK? What is being done to make sure that this doesn't happen again? Is the driver still allowed to back the bus up in the same area?

As you can tell, I'm frustrated about the lack of communication from the school corporation, especially when we have the resources in place to do so.

One other comment - why in the world would we cut the aides hours by 15 minutes before school and 15 minutes after school? I hope they don't mean while the students are still in the building. These employees are GREAT and they are the ones helping supervise our children and seeing they get off and on the buses safely before and after school. They also help supervise the classrooms before school. When teachers are in meetings before school, who is going to supervise our kids? I really don't see how you could cut their hours by 30 minutes each day without comprising the safety of our children. Instead we should be grateful that they are so dedicated and work for such a low wage. Our reading scores would be so much lower if it wasn't for the aides and the hard work they do to assist the teachers.

-- Posted by NPparent on Thu, Jan 21, 2010, at 10:48 PM

I am a proud graduate of North Putnam High School. I don't think they need to cut the Special Education department. I was a special education student and like many of my friends we struggled just to graduate. The board and others are concerned with drop-out rates, I'm telling you now, that you go and cut special education classes or staff you'll have more people dropping out then you do now. We depend on special education staff.

As for the AG department, I think that people must have misunderstood Kate, the way I read and understood it was that at least the school isn't having to pay for work to be done on the outdoor lab and she also said that the school gets paid when kids take certain classes, I think that should help.

I think other positions could be cut other than teachers and the art department and music department, like for instance...do we really need a athletic secretary...I don't think so, do we really need an attendance secretary..I don't think so either. I think we should get rid of their jobs instead of teachers. I know for a fact the in the art department, the teacher has more seniority than a lot of the teachers working there now and what will happen to her if you go and cut the art department?? She's been there since my mom and dad both were in school and the graduated in '86 and '87.

-- Posted by superman9008 on Fri, Jan 22, 2010, at 1:41 PM

A few years ago I did research on Indiana schools and the statistics indicated that 70 cents of every dollar spent on education in the state went for athletic and administrative costs. I think transportation and maintenance was included in the 'administration" category. That means only 30 cents actually went towards teaching, yet invariably when cuts have to be made the smallest piece of the pie gets trimmed. Interesting, isn't it?

-- Posted by exhoosier2 on Fri, Jan 22, 2010, at 4:47 PM

I don't understand how cutting down people and positions is helping the situation. Times are hard. My main concern is coming together as a community and supporting the decisions the Superintendent and School Board make. I know they must be having a hard time with the decisions that have to be made. When you are cutting down someone, please remember that is someone's daughter, son, mother, father, etc.

-- Posted by positivelyspeaking on Fri, Jan 22, 2010, at 5:35 PM

cmon get real lovejoy needs to get out of putnam county schools she isnt nuthing but another gorge bush except all she can control is the schools.....honestly i think that we need to bring back Mr. pride......lovejoy get lost putnam couty has enogh problems than you wanting to cut the music department tottaly out and what are we going to to about a band for the football games???....lovejoy you ARE THE WORST thing thats happend to the schools!!!!! now if Mr. pride was still there he wouldnt take away the music and band.....he would cut something thats not that major like that....honestly i think GOV. Mich Daniles should hear about this THIS IS REDICULUS!!!!!

-- Posted by big ben on Mon, Jan 25, 2010, at 4:24 PM

Big Ben, I hate to say it but, here goes. . . .


-- Posted by RDEL MOM on Fri, Feb 5, 2010, at 6:44 PM

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