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South Putnam school board holds special work session on Reelsville

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

REELSVILLE--It was time to face the public for the South Putnam Community School Board on Monday night. As rumors of the Reelsville Elementary School closing have escalated, the Reelsville PTO brought the board into a two-hour long special work session to clear up any misconceptions.

Superintendent Bruce Bernhardt began the meeting by giving a brief overview of the situation in which the corporation finds itself in danger of going broke.

"We're spending far greater than what we're bringing in each year," said Bernhardt. "We're spending somewhere near a half-million dollars more than we're taking in."

The board listened to concerns from parents and shot down the idea that no other options were looked at besides the school's closing.

"The board and parents have brought up many things to look at," explained Bernhardt. "When you add those up they fall far short in terms of the kinds of savings we need."

The board looked at several options such as having teachers and administrators take salary cuts, reducing supplies and materials, cutting utility usage, as well as even cutting out some special courses like art, music, physical education and computer lessons.

"There's many things like that, that we could do but they don't add up to the amount of savings that closing the building could do," Bernhardt said. "We don't want to affect the students' education by cutting classes."

Bernhardt went on to explain that it is the board's goal to provide a wide variety of educational experiences for the children. Therefore, cutting programs is not an option.

"This is in no way a reflection of the education being taught here," said Bernhardt.

With the hopes of the economy turning around shattered and the state cutting funding, the board is forced to look at major changes that must happen.

"We're looking at long-term student numbers," said Bernhardt. "We anticipated that we were going to level off but we didn't."

Several parents explained their distrust of the school board. They alleged the board has been watching the decline in funding for many years yet failed to do anything or inform the public until recently.

"We've been consistently doing cuts," said board member Nancy Wells. "We're at the point now where we have to do something drastic."

Members of the board also noted that some of those cuts included changing insurance and retirement plans. However, it would take a while until those savings were seen.

"We felt like we could make some minor changes to try to reduce attrition," Bernhardt explained. "The loss of students and the economy has hit us doubly hard."

Randy Kuhlman, the PTO appointed spokesperson, suggested cutting coaching assistants' pay completely along with several other minor cuts.

"If we're going to shut down Reelsville, I expect there to be major cuts elsewhere," said Kuhlman.

Kuhlman, along with other members of the public, also expressed outrage over such short notice of a problem.

"I learned about this from my six-year-old who came up to me and said, 'Grandma what's going to happen to me?'" said Joyce Cline. "She came home after her teacher told her that the school was closing."

The public also began to criticize the board for the perceived lack of a plan or proposal set in place before coming to the public.

"This is not a Reelsville problem," said Bernhardt. "It's come up because of school corporation-wide student loss."

Bernhardt refuted the rumor of a massive loss of jobs.

"The rumor that all teachers would get laid off is absolutely not true," he said.

However, no major changes can be made until contracts are up, which ends with the first pay period in August. It is likely that many of the teachers at Reelsville would be transferred.

"My best estimate is that we can function for 24 months before we spend all the money we have available," said Bernhardt. "If we want to prevent going broke, the end of the school year will be the end of Reelsville."

If the decision is set into motion, the board will sit down and determine the number of staff that can be relocated into other buildings as well as how many can be reduced or go into retirement.

"We will continue to work out if and when we decide," said Bernhardt. "Many of these teachers that are here may end up in (Central Elementary)."

The board has begun looking at the junior high wing of South Putnam. A major concern for parents is having their 12-year-old girls mixed in with 18-year-old boys.

Board members went on to explain that many changes would be made to ensure this did not happen, one of them being segregated rooms. Younger children would be placed in an area where high school students do not go. Lunches would also be segregated.

"It's a matter of scheduling," said Bernhardt. "We have not sat down and worked out all the details because the board needs to make a decision."

Bernhardt assured parents that their children would only be mixed in with the seventh and eighth-grade classes and teachers would continue to provide the best education they can for their children.

"Our teachers are good people," Bernhardt explained. "They will provide the best they can for these children."

Parents also expressed the opinion that the board only cares about the dollar signs, not the children themselves.

"You're asking us to give up our school," said parent Jicasta King. "All you see is that half-million. You need to look at other options."

Several parents explained that they moved to the southwestern Putnam County to go to a small, country, family-oriented school. Many feeling that moving their children to Central Elementary would no longer provide that.

"People live in this community because the school is the environment they want their children in," said parent Patrick Thibodeau. "I would just hope that the school board would look at other courses of action. I think they owe it to the community."

Kuhlman presented the board with a petition signed by 94 parents, 88 of whom have current students. Thirty-one of those said they would pull their students out of the corporation if this plan went into effect.

Kuhlman later said in total there are around 332 parent signatures throughout several petitions that are currently circulating.

"There's a lot of people that could live in other places," said Thibodeau. "The solution is going to end up closing the school and we're going to lose the enrollment and be worse off."

Parents made it clear that the school corporation would lose more children, therefore even more money, if the school were to close.

"I have friends that are realtors, they've already lost three potential buyers due to the rumors of Reelsville closing," said Kuhlman. "If we're going to shut this down we have to find savings everywhere else too."

One of several concerns parents voiced was the issue of transportation.

"We'd try to arrange the routes to make them as short as possible," said Bernhardt. "All of these issues would be addressed after a final decision has been made."

As it stands now many of the students have nearly an hour-long or longer commute to and from school. Shuttling students to Central Elementary would make that commute even longer.

Aside from the longer commute, the school would be at maximum capacity, making parents wonder if the level of students were to see a massive increase what would happen then.

"This is a short-term fix that could have long-term problems," said parent Ronnie Proctor.

In an effort to come up with as many options as possible to save the school, parents suggested fundraising as well as even starting up a preschool within Reelsville Elementary with monthly tuition.

"I understand we're all angry but let's look at options," said Kuhlman.

The reality of the issue is, the school corporation can no longer afford to operate under current conditions. Major cuts need to happen.

"(Central Elementary) is by all means still a small school," said Wells. "We don't like to make these changes. We're not after Reelsville."

Board members and Bernhardt closed out the meeting by saying it would continue to look at other options and reiterating that no decision has been made yet.


Comments
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Sounds to me like the decision has been made, just not officially voted on yet.

-- Posted by JustinH on Wed, Dec 14, 2011, at 7:32 AM

Parents wake up either they close this school now and save the district or the don't and the state takes over and closes it. Also, if you're going to move your kids out of the distric have fun selling your house in this market or driving over them to Greencastle or Cloverdale.

-- Posted by hometownboy on Wed, Dec 14, 2011, at 7:45 AM

Remember when the school board wanted to shut down Fillmore and instead they built a new building? Hmmm...

-- Posted by longtimecitizen on Wed, Dec 14, 2011, at 8:30 AM

What is wrong with you people? Do they need to draw a picture for you? Its simple math. Its called being fiscally responsible and putting money towards education not spending it on a building. If they vote to close Reelsville they are doing the right thing. Not doing the right thing years ago has now lead to this problem. Its not about keeping everyone happy its about doing whats right to provide the best education for our students. The kids will be fine and will adapt. Teachers don't need to be telling their young students the school is closing that is creating unnessary worry for these kids. Why don't you try a positive approach instead!

-- Posted by letmegetbacktoya on Wed, Dec 14, 2011, at 8:36 AM

I know where they can save money! Combine the county School Administrators. Have one board for all schools. That would cut out alot of money!....maybe we need to think about the children for the first time instead of the money going into peoples pockets.

-- Posted by cato on Wed, Dec 14, 2011, at 8:41 AM

We could make the people that do not pay school tax start. Think about all of those dollars if everyone would pay school tax! It could be taken out of their pay checks or government checks just like any other tax. My hubsand and I pay school tax and our son has already graduated from the county schools, but we still have to pay school but people that does not own their homes DO NOT HAVE TO PAY SCHOOL TAX....think about it.

-- Posted by cato on Wed, Dec 14, 2011, at 8:45 AM

Had you been at the board meetings you would have heard the conversation about Administrators. Not much if any savings there because you have to have more support staff for more students.

Research this and find out how many asst. administrators are employed for surrounding counties such as Clay and Vigo.

Even if people do not own a home their landlord pays the tax. School funding has changed and is not based on property taxes as much it is based on State Tax Revenues. Where are state revenues right now?

-- Posted by letmegetbacktoya on Wed, Dec 14, 2011, at 9:10 AM

@cato, renters do pay school tax. The landlord pays the tax and passes the cost on to the renter through higher rent charges.

-- Posted by Clovertucky on Wed, Dec 14, 2011, at 10:47 AM

North Putnam went through this same situation several years ago with the former Russellville School. Building improvements and/or additions to other buildings, middle school is 6th through 8th and adjoins the high school. Seems to have worked well for that part of the county. Some of the students live more than 25 miles if they travel directly from home to school, so think of the time they spend on the bus each day.

Being a life-long resident of Putnam County and graduating from one of the eight high schools prior to the current four high school system, I encourage parents to realize that giving up a 'building' isn't a catastrophe, even though it can be a very emotional experience if you make/let it be. Instead, please make education the top priority! Your children will benefit through the years!

-- Posted by howsthishappen on Wed, Dec 14, 2011, at 11:07 AM

I am worried about our children. Nothing can be more damaging to them then negative messages from...their parents!

Stop putting the kids in situations where they hear your negativity. I want my child to be happy, and motivated to go to school and learn, even if it is in another school.

I will be devastated if they close Reelsville Elementary, our community will fall apart.

I am 1 of a COUPLE of parents to go to the monthly PTO meetings, where have the parents been all this time? I understand some parents have jobs, but 1 night a month is pretty easy to manage. Now you want to come in and raise a hissy fit because the possibility is there? We don't need parents like that, we need parents who care all the time.

-- Posted by sammee09 on Wed, Dec 14, 2011, at 11:24 AM

I have 2 kids at Fillmore Elementary...1 of those children will be affected next year if this all takes place. My outlook...While it scares me to death to think that my daughter is going to be going to classes at the high school before she is actually ready for that atmosphere, I do like the idea of having the 6th-7th-8th graders together. That wave of transition to high school is a great idea and works for so many other school districts. I have always wondered why SPHS Corp didn't follow that same way of organization. I'd much rather my child transition to a segregated 'middle school' then onto high school instead of elementary school to 7-12 high school. The key word here being 'segregated'.

-- Posted by smltwngrl on Wed, Dec 14, 2011, at 11:43 AM

I understand many of your voiced opinions. The Banner misspelled my name, I am the "Coleman" referred to above. First, let me address timetothink.

There is nothing "wrong" with us and please do not insult our intelligence by asking if "...they need to draw a picture" for us. You hit the nail on the head with your comment of fiscal responsibility, whereas there has been over ten years of the opposite. One parent said it best; the board and Superintendent are asking Reelsville to pay the price for the corporation. That is what has so many Reelsville parents and staff so upset. Now, looking at it objectively, I can see where the board and Superintendent are coming from. I still do not like it and, overall, do not support it. But that will not change what I fully believe is an inevitable closing of Reelsville. What we, the parents and staff of Reelsville, now need is the welcoming and support of Central's staff and parents, as well as collaboration with moving forward to ensure a smooth transition. We as a Corporation must hold the board and Superintendent responsible for ensuring this does not become a problem again in the future by continued cuts elsewhere. Our children are what all of us are concerned about. The Superintendent laid out a very rough estimate of cuts to be made (and savings gained) if Reelsville closes:

-(1) principal, salary, benefits

-(1) 3rd, 4th, and 6th grade teacher, salaries, benefits (Please note that he also said this does not necessarily come from Reelsville, as all three elementaries have 2 of each of these classes and will be evaluated before a cut is made.)

-(1) secretary, all janitors, support staff (i.e. cafeteria)

-(1) Title I teacher (Again, will be looked at from all three elementaries.)

Overall, the largest savings comes from the staff and salaries. Our biggest question now is how much will we really see saved? I ask this because there will be an increase in costs for Central to accommodate the influx of Reelsville students. You also have to realize that what we are really saving is $95,000 in utilities from Reelsville in addition to the above staff cuts. That leaves $400,000 in administration general fund costs for Reelsville. In the end, you are only cutting utilities and maybe half of the $400,000 ($300,000 total). I hope that addresses your concerns for the Reelsville parents timetothink.

As for the ideas of combining all the Corporations into one as Clay and Vigo have done, this was considered by the Board, but showed that an additional support staff of roughly 27 would be necessary. Obviously, this is a much higher cost than maintaining four corporations. A great point made by Board member Nancy Wells was that if we were combined into one corporation and then say South Putnam, Cloverdale, and North Putnam all had major repairs/rebuilds necessary at the same time, the cost would be astronomical and devastate the funds of the Putnam County education system. Having four corporations, as she explained to me, was better for building maintainence efficiency.

As many of you have noted, losing our "building" is not a catastrophe, and education of our students is the number one priority. One thing we mentioned to the board Monday night was the proposal of creating a Pre-K, as many other corporations have, regardless of whether Reelsville closes or not. The board stated that it would be cost-effective if Reelsville closed and we, the PTO, are going to research this further to make a better proposal of costs related to a potential Pre-K program. Another parent mentioned trying to get a Head Start started. Again, we are looking into this and several other options and ideas that were brought up Monday night.

In closing, I would like to thank all of you for your opinions, comments, and concerns. If any of you would like to contact me directly, please do at randydkuhlman@yahoo.com. Thank you and have a Merry Christmas!

Sincerest Regards,

Randy D. Kuhlman

-- Posted by RandyDKuhlman on Wed, Dec 14, 2011, at 12:42 PM

So I have kids that go to Central. Let me just say Central is a great school with a great Principal.

My concern is that I don't want my kids classes to have alot of kids in them if Reelsville closings and comes to Central. I don't think anyone has thought about how Central students or parents will feel if all of this happens.

I feel like their should be cuts made somewhere else before shutting down Reelsville!!!

-- Posted by coltsfan25 on Wed, Dec 14, 2011, at 2:49 PM

Why has Cloverdale never been a part of the South Putnam School Corporation? Is it because, they, too, wanted to preserve their high school and their basketball team and town? Having those tax dollars in South Putnam Corporation would help now. Or if South PUtnam had not been formed, those students could have gone paritally into Cloverdale Schools or into Greencastle schools and Reelesville, and perhaps each of the school corporations would be on stronger financial footing. I hope there is a solution that will be for the highest good of all concerned.

-- Posted by nordicheart on Wed, Dec 14, 2011, at 3:40 PM

@coltsfan25 This was discussed at the last board meeting. There would be 3 classes of each grade possibly 4 maximum class size of 22. Not much different than what is at Central now.

@nordicheart this was also discussed at the last meeting. If you combine corporations you also take on the money they owe. We don't need more debt.

@randy. If people feel like I am insulting their intelligence then they should probably research things before they post.

A good resource to use would be the IDOE website. in.gov Department of Education.

There you can find out class sizes, average teacher salary, and so on.

It might be a good idea to come to board meetings.

-- Posted by letmegetbacktoya on Wed, Dec 14, 2011, at 5:22 PM

Maybe the school system should take it upon itself to raise needed funds. The govenor capped property taxes to 1% but no quit spending! Now we are loosing money and closing Reelsville is the only alternative? I think this will just be a short fix. Cutting teachers wages is not a fix, the state is pushing for the right to work laws so they can reduce teachers wages and right to bargain.(Wisconsin Syndrome) I have lived in Washington township for 50 years and went to Reelsville.I have paid thousand in property taxes to this school system and still do. Regulate class sizes and rate teachers, charge for bus service and stop all these extra trips, add school tax, and freeze spending. If we can't take steps now,closing Reelsville will just cause more spending somewhere else and loss of students will escalte. I hope I have not offended anyone,I just hate see all my investments in our school system leave Washington Township or maybe see a state reorganization of Putnam County school districts.

-- Posted by farmer on Wed, Dec 14, 2011, at 5:39 PM

@timetothink: I had done research prior to the meeting and am continuing my research. I would have attended board meetings, had I not been in Afghanistan and been on active duty the past three years. Finally, I have visited IDOE's website and pulled information, however, averages are not necessarily what I am looking for. Thus, I have also visited sources of local information. Thanks for the reply!

@coltsfan25: Would you please email me? I have a few questions concerning Central and would like them answered by a Central parent. Thanks much!

-- Posted by RandyDKuhlman on Wed, Dec 14, 2011, at 9:30 PM

One more thing, I would like to thank everyone who has emailed me with further questions. It is great seeing such community involvement!

-- Posted by RandyDKuhlman on Wed, Dec 14, 2011, at 9:36 PM

I remember when Belle Union elementary was closed and the students (mine included) were sent to Central. Transportation to and from school of over an hour was too long for small children. I'm sure the Reelsville kids will do fine (again, my grandchildren included), but again transportation to and from school is what worries me. I don't care what the school board says there is no way they can reroute the buses to shorten an hour plus bus ride.

This school board says the final decision hasn't been made...really? It's been made, maybe not officially but it's been made. The "talk" is the same as when Belle Union was sent to Central. Guess Fillmore will dodge the bullet again.

-- Posted by Mom2U4Now on Thu, Dec 15, 2011, at 12:30 AM

Can everyone stop complaining about long bus rides. You live in the middle of the country it isn't the responsibility of the school corporation to make your kids commute to school short it is there responsibility to educate them and to make their budget. If you don't like the commute move closer to their school or home school them.

-- Posted by hometownboy on Thu, Dec 15, 2011, at 7:49 AM

To hometownboy: Thanks for your concern.

-- Posted by Mom2U4Now on Thu, Dec 15, 2011, at 8:10 AM

@randy I was not referring to you. I am referring to the people that keep asking the same questions that have been answered over and over. Thank you for taking the time to get some facts.

Its unfortunate to see parents get all upset and things get blown out context.

There are Central students that have an hour bus ride. I personally live 11 miles from South and Central one way.

My kid leaves school at 2:50 and gets home at 3:40 and there are still a couple kids left on the bus.

-- Posted by letmegetbacktoya on Thu, Dec 15, 2011, at 8:13 AM

After hearing Mr. Bernhardt's explanation of this process and items that are being taken into consideration (ie. safety, class size, daily process of class switches, lunch time)...I am on board with this change. Granted, I am a parent with a child at Fillmore and therefore and not struggling with the emotions of Reelsville being closed, BUT...I see a lot of advantages for my child in the future. A superb solution would be to have a solely dedicated 'middle school', but that isn't the case. But who is to say that is cannot be a reality as some point? It has to start somewhere and right now without the ability of building a new building, an alternative is being approached. The school board clearly expressed that they will be keeping the 6th graders in their own hallway with limited contact to older students. I would much rather my child have the transition of middle school then to high school vs. elementary school then to the high school. I'm a mother like everyone else--always gonna worry about my child and her safety and ability to handle this change. But we all tend to 'not want to let go'. My daughter is excited about this and can't wait! I will continue to be positive as to encourage her as she goes into this. I love the fact that with the 6th graders being at the high school, it will provide additional opportunities for her to become involved in (ie. choir, band, drama, possibly athletics). Even the ability to possibly take an advanced class if her academics prove that she is ready for it. That will definately help her when its time to start applying at colleges. Fillmore kids already ride the bus with high school students...no change for my child there. And to add...both my kids (2nd & 5th grade) have had nothing but good things to say about the high schoolers and how helpful they have been to them. And lunch time...if they take lunch with the 7th graders...that's fine. Cause those 7th graders will be the same students that they are taking lunch with now as 6th graders. No change there for my child either. One thing that my child hates to see possibly happen (and the only thing) is that there are a LOT of students at Fillmore who are excited and anxious about having Mr. Laney as their teacher. This year is his first year teaching at Fillmore and he has so quickly captured the hearts of many 5th graders. What a great impact he has already made on my child...I can only imagine the continued impact if he was her teacher. (Kudos Mr. Laney! You've hit the school doors running and with such enthusiasm and heart for the kids.)

As it was mentioned last night...I think we have some high character kids in our high school and we are quickly selling them short.

Thank you school board for taking into consideration all things that we as parents are concerned about. In the grand scheme of things, this move will pave a way for better things for my children. That excites me to see such a door open for those future possibilities.

-- Posted by smltwngrl on Thu, Dec 15, 2011, at 9:28 AM

long bus rides to school for young children will be a terror for their teachers when they arrive. We have to take everything into account if, and when they close Reelsville. The children's attention spans are short, and with them being cooped up on a hour or so bus ride will bring them down.

@ hometownboy we live in the country by choice...we don't have long bus rides by choice. Some of us live 10 minutes from school but have an hour ride. If our children were old enough to drive, fine but they are not. We aren't complaining just about that, it's everything we have to go through. I'm sure your one of the parents that never come to meetings.

@ randy, thanks for supporting the community

We know this will be hard for all schools affecting the Reelsville schools potential closing, however we do hope everyone remembers IT IS OUR CHILDREN that we should be thinking about.

-- Posted by sammee09 on Thu, Dec 15, 2011, at 10:45 AM

@sammee09, you just made my point for me. If you choose to live in the middle of nowhere then there are certain things you have to deal with and driving long distances to get places is one of them. It isn't the schools responsibility to make things convienent for you. They cannot loose 500K a year just so your precious child won't have to spend an hour on the bus. What's next are you going to demand that Walmart open a store in nearby your house so you don't have to drive so long to get there? This is the exact same situation, while schools are non-profit that does NOT mean that they can operate at a loss.

-- Posted by hometownboy on Thu, Dec 15, 2011, at 10:55 AM

kudos to you smltwngrl for seeing the positive side.

Thank you for having respect for our SPHS kids. Our South Putnam Community should be VERY proud of them. They are great kids with great minds.

-- Posted by letmegetbacktoya on Thu, Dec 15, 2011, at 4:21 PM

I'm a parent of a child at Reelsville and I do see the pros and cons. I wish that we had more of a notice than a few weeks. I'm wondering if the preschool or head start would be a good idea? Idk if they give grants but would that help? Or the cost of tuition would help. Pre school starts as early as 2-3 years of age they can go up to two days a week. We have nothing in this area for little kids. It's a idea that might help.

-- Posted by peace4all on Thu, Dec 15, 2011, at 5:29 PM

Thank you for your kind words timetothink. For smltwngrl, I agree that this is probably the best option for the corporation to stay afloat. The more I have researched the other options presented to me by the board as well as a few I came up with, none can give us the "immediate" savings needed. We are going to start August 2012 with $32,000 in the red. I am glad to hear that there are so many SP kids helping the grade schoolers. I wouldn't have knowledge of this, as my daughter is only in 1st grade and doesn't talk to many on the bus. So that is a relief for parents with concerns.

Right now I am working on plans of helping with the transition from Reelsville to Central next year. I believe we all hate to see any school close, but Reelsville will not have as hard a hit as Belle Union did. We do not have thriving small businesses; which I must admit is shocking given our location, but other demographics are involved I'm sure.

Finally, peace4all, we have done a preliminary research into getting a headstart, not taking into account a building to house it and just taking the funds and probability of success into consideration. Currently, we would not be able to get a head start program (at least federally funded or even state funded) because of our proximity to the one in Brazil. As for the Pre-k idea, I am working with Mr. Bernhardt on the idea. As he has told me, right now we simply do not have room for one, but hope to in the next few years. Once we have at least a room, then the other pieces will fall into place.

-- Posted by RandyDKuhlman on Thu, Dec 15, 2011, at 8:08 PM

Randy, thanks for everything that you have done for the us. I wasn't there at our pto meeting when they chose you, but they picked a great person. You have listened to us and are out there finding answers. Thanks again

-- Posted by peace4all on Thu, Dec 15, 2011, at 8:23 PM

@randy just posted some figures on todays article concerning the 5th grade students. Figures compare SP population and # of schools to the other 3 county corporations.

-- Posted by letmegetbacktoya on Fri, Dec 16, 2011, at 9:29 AM


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