Monday, August 30, 2010

When is $667,884 not really $667,884?

An article in Saturday's Indianapolis Star indicates that the Lebanon Schools should be receiving $667,884 in federal stimulus money, which is processed through the state government. Sounds like great news, right? I started wondering right away what Dr. Taylor and his team might recommend to the board to make use of these funds!

Not so fast. If you read closely, you'll see that Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Bennett sent a letter with notification of the windfall, urging school corporations not to spend the money until the General Assembly makes budget decisions for the 2011-12 school year (that happens around December of this year). Red Flag alert! This means, in all likelihood, that Indiana will do with this federal money what they did with the first stimulus package: give the federal money with one hand, while reducing the amount schools get from the state by the same amount. This keeps education spending flat, makes Indiana's budget numbers look better (in case anyone down there plans to run for office), and lets Gov. Daniels take credit for distributing federal dollars.

I don't know what Lebanon will do, but I'm betting we won't go cashing that check just yet.

And We're Off!

We're now three weeks into the 2010-11 school year in Lebanon, and things seem to be settling down, both at my house and across the corporation. The year began with a bit of chaos, as the corporation saw increased enrollment, resulting in some elementary classes being quite large. Dr. Taylor and his team were keeping a close eye on numbers (among other things) in the first couple weeks, and he was able to recommend that the board approve four elementary teaching positions, one at each school, to ease class sizes. We enthusiastically agreed, and most elementary classrooms now have fewer than 30 students.

In July my colleagues elected me board president. This is really just a procedural position--in this role I work with Dr. Taylor to prepare meeting agendas and I run the meetings. I don't have any greater authority than any other member of the board, and as always we only have any authority at all when we act together in a public meeting.
We approved our 2010-11 meeting dates, so if you're in the neighborhood, stop by and see what we do!

At a board retreat in early August we spent some time with a board member from the Noblesville Schools, where they passed two referenda in May. She helped us understand some strategies for promoting our own referendum, which I have written about previously. The Support Lebanon Students PAC, which is running the referendum campaign, has been very active and has received good
coverage in The Reporter.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Feeding the children

Last night I had the privilege of attending a dinner for "Feeding our Future", an effort spearheaded by The Caring Center. As most local readers will know, The Caring Center is a local organization that helps stabilize families in need, and all their work is in Boone County. Part of the evening's program was an update on a pilot program that ran in the spring called Kids at Table, or KAT.

KAT provided a hot dinner, homework help, and general mentoring to 44 Hattie B. Stokes students five days a week for 10 weeks in the spring. The kids were transported to the
Lebanon Area Boys and Girls Club after school, and they spent two hours there eating, getting homework and reading help, playing organized games, and interacting with adult volunteers. The results were wonderful, and included measurable academic progress for these students.

KAT is a joint effort of The Caring Center, the Lebanon Area Boys and Girls Club, and Stokes Elementary. Stokes principal Kelly Sollman and Caring Center director Teresa Hanners put together grant funds and a corporate partnership with Aramark (which provides food service management for LCSC) to finance the pilot program.

The challenge from here is to take this pilot and make it a program. Forty-four students benefited for 10 weeks, but Ms. Sollman pointed out that 440 students in her building qualify for free and reduced lunch under federal guidelines. Many of these students would benefit not only from the hot meals, but from the focused interaction with adults that comes with the program.
Of course there are many more needy children who attend other schools as well.

If you've ever wondered what you can do to help with a critical local need, here's a great opportunity. The Caring Center and Feeding our Future need funds and volunteers You can donate here, or contact them at 1230 Ransdell Court, Lebanon, IN 46052; phone 765-482-2020.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Support Lebanon Students -- vote YES!

As I have written previously here and here, the board approved a package of renovation projects, and the community will vote on the projects in the Nov. 2 election. Because of changes in Indiana law, school corporations are not allowed to use any taxpayer funds to promote passage of a capital projects referendum. Employees of the school corporation can provide information about the referendum at any time, and they can be in favor of the referendum as private citizens (they can put a sign in their yards, donate to the campaign, wear a button, etc.), but they can't promote the referendum during school hours, on school property, or using school computers or other resources.

The role of the board is a bit different. The law is very clear that board members may advocate for or against a referendum in our role as elected officials.

But the restrictions on the school (which were made to level the playing field and not give schools an overwhelming advantage in a process like this) mean that someone else has to step up and advocate for passage of the referendum.

Fortunately, a group of Lebanon community members has stepped up to form a Political Action Committee and carry the campaign forward. The group is called
Support Lebanon Students, their web site is here, and I've linked to their Facebook page at the right. Their job between now and November 2 is to educate the public about the facts of the renovation plans and referendum, and to persuade as many voters as possible to vote in favor of it. They started by having a group of 42 adults and students walk in the Fourth of July parade. They'll be putting out literature, answering questions in public, planting yard signs, reminding voters about registration deadlines and early voting, and working outside polling places. If you'd like to help them, they want as many community members to be involved as possible, or they could use your donations!

This is a group of projects that is conservative, and that focuses on student safety, education needs, and energy efficiency. I hope you'll vote YES, and if you have any questions, I hope you'll contact the Support Lebanon Students group or a board member.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Early Childhood education

There's a great story on page one of today's Indy Star (it's a print-only story or I would link to it) about preschool education in Indiana. Indiana is one of only 8 states not to fund preschool, and kindergarten is not even required. As a result, only 20 percent of Indiana preschool-aged children are enrolled in preschool, while in Oklahoma it's 87% and in West Virginia 73%. Early childhood debates in recent years have been focused on whether to fund full-day kindergarten (which the state has not done). But oddly enough, kindergarten is not even required in Indiana--students aren't required to enroll in school until they're 7--that's first grade.

Not every child needs organized preschool. Some children have parents at home who are fully engaged in their early education, or day-care providers who do a great job of providing early learning opportunities. But many children--especially children in poverty--don't have these opportunities, and without preschool and full-day kindergarten programs they begin first grade well behind their more fortunate peers.

Here in the Lebanon schools, the superintendent and board made the decision several years ago to provide full-day kindergarten for all students at no cost to families. The state reimburses some of this cost, but about $150,000 a year comes from the local General Fund. We choose to spend it on kindergarten because we believe this is where those funds will have the greatest impact. When I visit schools it's one of the few things every single staff member seems to agree on: full-day kindergarten is a huge asset to our students.

If Governor Daniels, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, and the Indiana General Assembly are serious about student achievement, they'll make kindergarten and preschool a higher priority.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Alan Cragun, goodbye and thank you

My board colleague Alan Cragun officially finished his term yesterday, after 20 years on the LCSC board. As anyone knows who has worked with a very experienced co-worker, there's no substitute for institutional memory, and Alan has plenty. He and I did not always agree, but he was a very professional board member who focused on the good of Lebanon students, and working with him was a pleasure and an education.

Like so many community-minded people, he did his work well, without attracting attention to himself. In the course of 20 years he saw some strife (balanced calendar discussions, redistricting, building projects) and plenty of challenges. As board president the last two years he ran meetings well and fairly, conducting the school's business with competence and sensitivity. He introduced regular recognition for classified staff members who aren't often recognized, and he kept the board focused on student achievement.

If you see Alan out and about, you might take a moment to thank him. He wouldn't ask for it, but he most certainly deserves it. I wish him only the best as he moves on to other service opportunities. My God go with you, Alan.

Renovation and Referendum, part deux

It's all very exciting! At last month's regular meeting the board held a "1028 hearing," in which we authorized putting a question on the Nov. 2 ballot in which the community will vote on a building renovation project.

These renovations have been in the research and planning stage for some time, but until the 1028 hearing, nothing was official. But it's official now, and the next few months will be spent continuing to educate voters and the community about the importance of these projects for the future of the Lebanon schools.

I'll post more details shortly (and I've written about it previously here), but these are the basics: The board approved bonds not to exceed $40 million, to complete a major renovation of Lebanon High School, a new HVAC (that's heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system at Central Elementary, a secure entry at LMS, a new roof at Hattie B. Stokes Elementary, and updated security measures at all LCSC buildings (mainly surveillance cameras).

Here are some key facts to remember:
  • Because of debt coming off the books over the next few years, we will be able to do these projects without raising the school tax rate.
  • Updates to the buildings (including new windows at LHS and new HVAC at LHS and Central) will result in utility savings of $330,000 every year. These are general fund dollars that will be much better spent in our classrooms!
  • The renovation to LHS will give us 20-30 years more of useful life for that building.
  • LCSC taxes have dropped dramatically in recent years, from $1.76 (per $100 of assessed value) in 2006 to $1.12 in 2010. This is a drop of 36%, and the proposed renovation will not raise the tax rate.
  • LCSC has a history of building responsibly. This project continues that tradition, and is designed to address safety, security, educational needs, and energy savings. It is not a plan for a huge new stadium, or an architect's dream project.
A group of community members is coming together to promote this project, and I'll provide a link to their web site very soon. Because of new laws, we cannot go forward with these projects unless the community votes YES! on November 2. I hope you will, and I hope you'll encourage your neighbors to learn about the project and support it!