Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Summary of TPAN Quarterly Meeting (3/20/08)
On Thursday, March 20, 2008, TPAN conducted its quarterly meeting at the Traders Point Creamery. The meeting began at 6:45 PM. The purpose of this meeting was to hold a forum for the candidates on the May Primary election ballot for the Pike School Board.
School Board Candidates
Steve Jones, TPAN President, gave each candidate opportunity to give an introduction:
Larry Grau is currently on the Pike School Board in the capacity of filling board member Anne Booth’s remaining term. He has lived in Pike Township for 15 years. His daughter is a Pike High School graduate.
Ricky Hence has been involved for more than ten years in Pike Township and has run for various offices. He has worked for 19 years with Marriott Hotels. He has a child in the Pike School System.
Larry Metzler is a life-long Pike Township resident and is running for his fourth term on the Pike School Board. All his daughters graduated from Pike High School. He works in his family’s plumbing business.
Brownell Payne is a North Central High School graduate and a custom optical business owner. His wife is a school teacher in the Pike Township School District.
Nancy Poore has been a Pike Township resident for 14 years and is running for her second term on the school board. She has children in various Pike elementary and middle schools.
Forum moderator, Steve Jones, asked the candidates two questions, each of which had been provided in advance to the candidates. After the candidates responded to the prepared questions, the forum was opened to audience questions.
Question #1: What in your opinion is the most important challenge facing the metropolitan Pike Township School District?
Every candidate acknowledged the budget difficulties and the just-passed state legislation to cap property taxes as the most important challenge. The following candidate responses are in addition to recognition of the budget issue:
Larry Grau stated he believes the General Assembly intended school boards to coordinate with other groups, place greater value on education, but be the guardian of tax dollars.
Nancy Poore acknowledged the budget is everyone’s concern, but, that aside, she emphasized that her understanding of the school board’s role is to advocate for schools. She stated the school board members aren’t the ones who establish the budget but they have to try to provide for the needs of education under the established budget. She reminded the audience that Indiana historically placed importance on education by requiring that every surveyed section had to have land set aside for providing for a school.
Larry Metzler reminded the audience that 2007 school budget has yet to be approved by the state; yet, the school district is now working on the 2009 budget under a new set of rules. Larry said he is committed to learning about the impact of the new legislation. He stated his appreciation for the wonderful tax injection Park 100 provides to the Pike School District.
Ricky Hence acknowledged the limited resources for providing quality education and recommended that nontraditional sources of money need to be pursued, such as the Fortune 500 companies located in Park 100.
Brownell Payne supports a “Keep It Simple” approach. He has a large concern about morale within the schools and the need to build it up. He believes school uniforms were a good requirement. He also suggests pursuing nontraditional money sources rather than looking to property taxes.
Question #2: What, if anything, can be done to control or reduce financial burden on tax payers?
Brownell Payne proposed pursuing grants and alternative sources of funding, such as the Lilly Foundation.
Ricky Hence supports looking for nontraditional sources of funding and to spend available dollars wisely, for example, by buying supplies in bulk.
Larry Metzler, in response to the new candidates’ to the school board suggestions, wanted to assure the audience that nontraditional sources of money and grants have been vigorously pursued by the existing board members and school staff. He stated there are not going to be a lot of new money sources and the best solution is to control expenses. He stated that 90% of the budget is personnel expense.
Nancy Poore spoke about the need to build and buy quality so that what is purchased and built lasts and is operated properly. She discussed her effort to have a geothermal heating-cooling system installed at the Eastbrook Elementary School when it is rebuilt. The initial cost to install a geothermal system is greater than installing furnaces and air conditioning systems, but a geothermal system has a dramatically longer life expectancy and fuel operating costs are nonexistent because the system uses the naturally consistent temperature of the earth rather than needing any fossil fuel (natural gas or electricity). As well, a geothermal system does not produce any polluting air emissions. The state agency for Local Government Finance must approve the installation of a geothermal system, and Nancy isn’t optimistic of approval since the agency’s usual conduct is to look only at the initial expense. Nancy also spoke about the large effort to pursue federal grants for Striving Readers, a program for middle schools. She impressed upon the audience that one out of 100 Americans is in prison; and the annual cost per prisoner is $23,000 while the annual educational cost per student is $5,600. Nancy presented the statistics to show it is fiscally conservative to educate the population well and produce productive citizens.
Larry Grau believes the State is going to take over much of the school budget. His goal in looking for new solutions includes considering:
(1) performance based budget; and
(2) asking for a return on investment.
He thinks the questions to ask are why we are doing whatever it is that is not performing well and what is an expenditure producing in terms of furthering education.
Questions & Answers
1. The first question from the audience was about the poor ISTEP scores in Pike Schools. The questioner connected the phrase “return on investment” to the statistic that the Pike School District ISTEP passing rate is only 50% which doesn’t show a good return on the investment of tax dollars into education. The questioner acknowledged that Pike Schools have difficult issues to address; nevertheless, the ISTEP performance is getting worse.
Larry Metzler spoke about “English as a Second Language” programs instituted by the school district and said the district has much to be proud of in its Baccalaureate Program, which prompted an audience member to ask if other students are being left out while the Baccalaureate Program caters to its students. In response to Nancy Poore’s discussion on disaggregated test scores, Larry Metzler added that the Pike School District won an award two years ago for both the top and lowest test scores increasing above previously measured test scores.
Nancy Poore explained that, after one year in the school district, a student’s test scores are required to be included in the district’s total assessment of test scores. She said Pike Schools have a mobility index higher than the state average. Nancy also spoke about disaggregated test scores, which led the audience to ask if those break out numbers are available. Nancy praised the school district’s curriculum director who has been doing research on the ways by which a child’s brain learns to process knowledge especially with regard to the best ways to teach reading. Nancy’s message is that having reading skills leads to being able to self learn all the rest of one’s life.
Ricky Hence spoke about the need to offer programs for students with special needs in response to the audience member’s comment about other students being left out if not part of the Baccalaureate Program.
Brownell Payne said his issue is that teachers have no contract and that affects staff morale thereby affecting overall school performance. He said he is an advocate of sports (coaches gymnastics), but he thinks too much money is spent on sports to the detriment of education.
Larry Grau commented that money available for sports cannot be used for class room programs which led him to state he “wants more forums”, presumably to discuss ways to fund needed class room programs.
1a. An audience member asked a school-specific question regarding the College Park Elementary. The questioner had investigated that school’s ISTEP scores from September 2007 and found them to be the lowest of all Pike Schools. The questioner lives in the neighborhood of the College Park Elementary and is concerned that the school’s bad image is reflected in the area’s lessening property values. The questioner has noticed fewer students from the area walking to the elementary school.
Nancy Poore responded by saying she also lives within the College Park Elementary School boundaries. She thinks the drop in numbers of students going to that school is due to the well-promoted year round schools where those former College Park students may have transferred.
1b. The same questioner who raised the poor ISTEP scores also commented on his concerns about the inability to communicate to the school board. He did not elaborate on the specific issue; but, when he brought an issue before the school board, he believes he got little relief from the board’s action. He believes the school board made its decision in advance of the public hearing, which seemed to be just a formality rather than an opportunity for open communication.
Larry Grau alluded to the questioner’s comment by saying he agrees that, by the time of a school board meeting, the board members have already received as much information as they can digest on the issue, and it may seem to others that the school board members aren’t open on the issue.
2. Accompanying the question about poor ISTEP scores was the request to justify why $19 million spent on the football stadium was a necessary expense especially in light of the poor test scores.
Larry Metzler responded that the cost was not $19 million; it was only $12 million. The questioner said he was still bothered by the $12 million expenditure. Larry explained that the $12 million was not just for the football stadium but also included work on school laboratories. He said the total project cost included $9 million for a multi purpose facility that is handicap accessible, year-round turf for the football field that has made the facility usable by the arts and band departments, and locker room facilities at the stadium for female students thereby bringing the facility into compliance with federal Title IX requirements (equality in sports offerings for male and female participants).
3. A question was directed specifically to Nancy Poore regarding the amount of time required to recover the larger initial installation cost of a geothermal system and what trade offs might there be for spending that greater initial expense.
Nancy Poore explained that the initial installation cost can be recovered, depending on the extensiveness of the geothermal system, in about 5 to 10 years. The trade off comes in the form of greatly reduced operating costs compared to a traditional heating-cooling system, and the money saved from reduced operating expenses can be used for paying teachers’ salaries. (Under the Indiana school funding system, capital funds cannot be used for other purposes, but operating funds can.) Nancy also explained that Indiana is far behind its surrounding states where geothermal systems have been used in school construction for many years.
4. A question about allowing school bus drivers to unionize was directed specifically to the two candidates running for their first school board terms, Ricky Hence and Brownell Payne, because the two candidates were quoted in the Indianapolis Star as proponents of unionization.
Brownell Payne said teachers are always first with him but he thinks it is not fair that bus drivers can’t have a union.
Ricky Hence said he is not a single-issue candidate but he thinks contributing to bus drivers’ union dues would be fair treatment.
Larry Metzler defended the school board’s position regarding bus drivers by saying that, when the cafeteria was privatized, the school board fought for the existing cafeteria workers. His grievance is that the school bus drivers did not first come to the school board to discuss their interest in unionizing.
Larry Grau added to the discussion that pay increases to help bus drivers with union dues could result in cut backs in programs and services to students. He stated that programs or services purchased for one school, for example an elementary, must be provided equally at all elementary schools.
The following were in attendance at the March 20, 2008, TPAN meeting:
Blair, Susan, PTRA President
Evans, Jose, District 1 City-County Councilor
Hinkle, Phil, State Representative
Lamberjack, Cindy and Joe
Patton, Lula, Township Trustee
Ritchie, Katherine, Pike School Board Member