Greencastle school issues dominate City Council session

Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Adam Cohen

Concern over ongoing issues within the Greencastle Community School Corporation dominated discussion at the Greencastle City Council meeting Tuesday night.

Worry over employee and teacher turnover, overall morale of teachers and students and how the school situation reflects on the community as a whole were raised three separate times during the December Council meeting at City Hall.

At the conclusion of the 80-minute meeting, City Council President Adam Cohen made a recommendation that the school board not extend GCSC Superintendent Lori Richmond's contract as is being proposed under the so-called "evergreen clause."

"The Greencastle Common Council, while expressing no views on job performance, wishes to recommend to the school board that the current superintendent contract not be extended by what is commonly called an evergreen clause at this time," Cohen's motion read.

Cohen said he was "simply saying at this moment in time, at this juncture," it shouldn't be done.

The administrator's contract is not about to expire, so extending it would be "an illogical move," Cohen reasoned, and his fellow Council members agreed in a unanimous vote.

City Attorney Laurie Hardwick reminded the audience that the motion was "just a recommendation."

"We understand we don't have jurisdiction," she said, although the City Council actually appoints two of the five members of the school board (currently Denise Sigworth and Bill Tobin).

Nonetheless, Council member Phyllis Rokicki stressed, "this is not something the five of us just decided." She said the recommendation was "based on the frustrations" Council members have been hearing from parents, teachers and community members at large.

"People in our city are hurting," Rokicki, a retired schoolteacher herself, said.

One of those apparently hurting is Greencastle High School junior Carly Rhine, who came to Tuesday's meeting to urge the City Council to do something about the school issue before it is too late.

"It goes beyond school," she said during the public comments portion of the agenda.

Greencastle Schools have "literally become the laughing stock of Putnam County," Rhine said, pointing out that Facebook and social media remarks from students in the other county schools have basically said, "it's too bad" about the demise of Greencastle Schools.

Rhine ended her remarks by noting that students "are still waiting for one of those decisions to be made in the best interests of students" as promised.

"This just shows how deep our problems are," Councilman Cohen commented, noting how unusual it was for a student to feel compelled to "come forward with a plea for help" to the City Council.

Cohen was the most outspoken of the Council members on the evening, using time during the Council reports section to read a prepared statement relative to the school issue.

"Over the summer, members of this Council and I expressed frustration with the status of the Greencastle school district," he began. "We said we were concerned about the morale of the employees, the high turnover rate, and the lack of what we saw as transparency.

"We offered some recommendations to the board," Cohen continued. "I wish I could sit here tonight and say that I feel as if our comments were considered."

Since the Council's letter to the school board, Cohen noted, the board has had "one short meeting with the public where the superintendent asked for public input. At that meeting, all questions had to be in writing with names signed to it. How can a parent or an employee feel free to speak or to express their concerns in that situation?"

"They have failed to meet basic laws on public access, and suppressed constructive criticism," he charged. "This situation has led to our city being ridiculed on television (news). We watched the school board president run from a reporter and the superintendent drive away in her car.

"A more appropriate response," he said, "would be to tell the reporter that mistakes have been made, but that the school is working hard to improve its procedures. Let's be clear, the Greencastle School Board was in violation. But their response was to publicly criticize the citizen who filed the complaints. Intimidation and bullying of citizens who hold us accountable is not acceptable by any public official."

Cohen also pointed to the recent resignation of GHS Principal Jennifer Shepherd as perpetuating "the revolving door for the high school position."

"I am concerned," the Council president said in his statement, "of the deleterious effect it will have on the current high school seniors," who have now experienced four principals during their GHS careers (Shepherd, Randy Corn, Russ Hesler and now Tamra Walker).

Cohen also took issue with how the appointed board is apportioned.

"Another fact people may not realize is that despite the fact that the overwhelming numbers -- approximately 70 percent -- of students are from Greencastle, Greencastle appointments comprise only 40 percent of the board.

"Even more troubling," he said, is that "when a person appointed by the city leaves the board (as Monica Fennell did when Tobin replaced her), they are replaced by the school board, not the Council. In effect, the three non-Greencastle appointments get to tell the people elected by the citizens of Greencastle who our representative is."

Cohen did point to recent successes in the schools, including improvement to the middle school state grade and overall scores of GCSC schools. He also commended the school board for visiting each of the schools last week to listen to teachers and staff concerns.

However, Cohen stressed, "there have to be changes."

"These are my opinions," he said, "but they are based on my observations and the many, many people who have contacted me and other members of the Council, hoping that we somehow had jurisdiction over the schools."

Cohen concluded by saying, "It is time we came together as a community to arrive at solutions to rectify these problems ... We need to look at current structures and personnel. We can affect change. It is in the best interest of the staff, the teachers, the community as a whole, and most importantly, our students."

Cohen advised the Council that he was sending a copy of his resolution and his overall statement to city appointees on the school board, which meets at 7 p.m. Wednesday (tonight) in the Ridpath Primary School cafeteria.

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  • Adam Cohen is my new hero!!!!! We have got to have some changes made immediately before we lose everyone

    -- Posted by mother of 3 on Wed, Dec 12, 2012, at 7:33 AM
  • What is going on here? Looks like there needs to be a serious look at how the school board is selected. We do not need multiple groups making recommendations. I understand why you feel you should and can, but that just makes things more confusing. One board, elected by the people, is the only way to go. Then "the people" can have there say.

    Good Luck!

    -- Posted by cvilleguy on Wed, Dec 12, 2012, at 8:30 AM
  • Yes. Clean slate, start over, and allow the people to vote in who they want on their school board. We need competent people on the school board who will make the best decisions for our children.

    Bravo Adam Cohen, for saying what has needed to be said for years.

    -- Posted by annoyed_citizen on Wed, Dec 12, 2012, at 8:58 AM
  • What a great proposal by Adam Cohen! I can remember a time when the Greencastle schools were the best ones in the county and when advanced GHS students could take classes at Depauw, like calculus and language study. I look forward to the academic restoration of these once great schools. I know the citizens of Greencastle can work together for a positive solution.

    -- Posted by nordicheart56 on Wed, Dec 12, 2012, at 9:14 AM
  • Thank you, Adam Cohen, for saying what needs to be said. Thank you, Carly Rhine, for speaking up! Very brave! The school board should be elected.

    -- Posted by Sour Grapes on Wed, Dec 12, 2012, at 10:34 AM
  • Thank you Mr. Cohen and City Council for supporting this community and it's citizens. Our children deserve better than what they have been given this past year and I know our schools can be again capable of delivering. To our teachers and staff that have stayed and endured, God bless you for the work you do. You are much needed and appreciated.

    -- Posted by lkcrawle on Wed, Dec 12, 2012, at 11:45 AM
  • Thank you Mr. Cohen and Mrs. Hanson. What a difference a month makes. WE ARE A STRONG COMMUNITY!!!

    Let us hope that we have all learned lessons about the importance of transparency. Communities and institutions do not work well (or better) when the people are intimidated to remain silent.

    -- Posted by LetsThinkAboutIt on Wed, Dec 12, 2012, at 12:02 PM
  • Thank you Carly Rhine for having the courage to stand up. Makes me wonder who will stand behind you as a young lady to have the strength to stand for what she believed in!!!

    -- Posted by wasabi on Wed, Dec 12, 2012, at 12:10 PM
  • Thank youvCarly Rhine- you will go places in this crazy world!!! you are a young woman to admire! Thank you to City Council, Mr.Cohen and Ms. Hanson also

    -- Posted by talkymom3 on Wed, Dec 12, 2012, at 12:44 PM
  • Let's not take our eye off of the ball. There was a game of musical chairs that was initiated by the board and the superintendent, when the music stopped; the only empty chair was the assistant superintendent's chair. Is it possible the board will move forward with hiring an assistant superintendent tonight? Two executive meetings and a board meeting tonight, what is the boards plan?

    Do they have the "chutzpah" to move forward with the plan, given the current climate?

    Or is the current climate part of the plan, surely not.....

    -- Posted by Gelt on Wed, Dec 12, 2012, at 12:46 PM
  • hang on, good news is coming!!

    -- Posted by Falcon9 on Wed, Dec 12, 2012, at 12:56 PM
  • Hang on?

    Good news?

    All of the issues in the school system didn't happen overnight, as Mr. Cohen mentioned. The council had already tried to reach out to the School Board with very little results. This is going to take more than one person stepping down for things to change. In the meantime, do we have enough time to correct the wrongs that have been done to the current student body at the high school?

    -- Posted by TooLate? on Wed, Dec 12, 2012, at 1:35 PM
  • Were they in violation when they appointed a school board member as Athletic Director before he resigned as a school board member? Greencastle, and North Putnam schools should consolidate and then those two boards can merge. Now, those meetings would provide some comedy.

    -- Posted by nobody important on Wed, Dec 12, 2012, at 2:47 PM
  • Thank you for supporting our school district, Mr. Cohen.

    As a former student and now as a parent, this school cooperation is a complete mess. When I was in high school, Mr. Harbison was there and he stayed there (for many years). Same goes for my middle and elementary principals at the time. Let's find good people to lead and educated our students.

    When the time is right to hire a new management, please take a close look at why they need a job as a principal or as a superintendent. Dig deep in to their backgrounds so we don't end up where we are now-in total education chaos.

    -- Posted by bcqmom on Wed, Dec 12, 2012, at 3:16 PM
  • Thank you for making the public aware of what's going on most

    people who don't have children in school dont realize what's. Happening thank you. Carly for standing up for your school students and teachers hopefully it will make a difference

    -- Posted by poorkids on Wed, Dec 12, 2012, at 3:16 PM
  • Our high school kids arent stupid they realize whats going on maybe asst superintendent. Should. Take over instead of being dropped down in her position i would be curious to see how many transfer to a new school i know mine want to.

    -- Posted by poorkids on Wed, Dec 12, 2012, at 3:22 PM
  • I really hope our measurement of success is not being the best school in the county. Our aspirations should be much higher. That is not an impressive list to compare to and setting the bar very low.

    -- Posted by greencastle1 on Wed, Dec 12, 2012, at 8:42 PM
  • When Dr. Green told the school board to give every "retiring?" teacher or long-time staff worker $10,000 per year for two years, (odd how this was the third year in a row that the retirement benefit was increased), he was asked, "Won't that give you and your wife $40,000?" And he of course answered that he hadn't realized that. Baloney. Have we forgotten that day so soon? That was what started the exodus that has disrupted the status quo in our school's personnel. And can anyone tell us how much that has cost us taxpayers? And quickly replacing some of the principals or teachers with completely different, often confrontational people with poor people skills, has shown us that the morale could be ruined by bad decisions. Sweep the board and have elections for the school board, and only from Greencastle residents.

    -- Posted by alfr1 on Wed, Dec 12, 2012, at 10:14 PM
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