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Concerns raised at school board meeting

August 07, 2019
Concerns about how an administrative position was created not only were raised at last Monday night's special meeting of the Crawford County Community School Corp. Board of Trustees in the Crawford County High School media center, but also affected the vote on the filling of an elementary school principal position.

Cheryl Burden, joined by fellow co-president of the Crawford County Classroom Teachers Association Nikki Bigham, addressed the board about how the administrative position, which will oversee the Title I program, was created, not the need for the position itself.

"We think it's a very positive thing," she said, noting the reasoning for the position, along with how it is to be paid for, was explained to them earlier that day, "but the fact that it wasn't discussed with the association, it wasn't put on the public agenda, there was no public discussion about it. Once that posting came out, we got phone calls and texts …

"So, we would just like to have a little more transparency between the board, the teachers and the public and have more things put on the public agenda and discussed publicly to maybe not have those kinds of situations."

Superintendent Mike Key explained that the administrative position was not a created position and is to be funded with Title I dollars.

Those duties previously were the responsibility of South Crawford Elementary School Principal Amy Etienne, but Key explained they needed to be transferred because the corporation's elementary special education classes are being moved to SCES this school year.

"So, it actually was an internal transfer of administration," he said.

Burden said the CTA was under the impression that it was a new position because it didn't believe Etienne's role overseeing the Title I program was an administrative position.

"When it came out posted as an administrative position, people perceived it, we perceived it as being a new administrative position," she said.

Burden added that there also had been concerns that paying for the position with Title I monies would divert funds from elsewhere in the program.

"You explained to us today that that wasn't going to affect the Title money. So, I just think if we would have had some public discussion about that, it would have alleviated a lot of concerns within the community," she told Key.

"And probably a better choice of words," Key added.

Later in the meeting, when asked to approve Etienne's resignation as Title I director and High Ability E.C.A., Dennis Talley, the board's president, following a motion and second by trustees Troy Wheeler and Lance Stroud, respectively, objected.

"I disagree with it because I don't agree with the process that we had gone through to get here," he said.

Etienne's resignation, which had been part of the proposed consent agenda voted on earlier in the meeting but was pulled so it could be voted on separately, was approved 4-3, with trustees Wayne Carothers and Myrna Sanders joining Wheeler and Stroud in support and Larry Bye and Doug McLain agreeing with Talley.

That wasn't the only 4-3 vote along those lines. A few minutes earlier, after Sanders made a motion, which was seconded by Wheeler, to hire Tarra Carothers, a teacher within the corporation, as principal at East Crawford Elementary School, Bye objected.

"Like everybody else, we only learned about this two weeks ago," he said, explaining his objection has nothing to do with Carothers but instead the circumstances that led to the principal position needing to be filled.

The position came open when Brandy Stroud was transferred from principal at ECES to the same position at Crawford County Middle School, as Amy Belcher, who had been principal there, was tapped for the Title I administrative position.

"So, we didn't have the information prior to this," Bye said. "I think it's the wrong time. We're being rushed into it. No matter who the recommendation would be I would be opposed to it … Nothing personal against anybody."

"My sentiments exactly," Talley added. "I disagree. I don't disagree with the person. I disagree with the process. I disagree with the procedure. I disagree with the position that this board was put in, and I don't like it. It doesn't pass the sniff test, and I don't think it looks good. I don't think it's good policy to set, good practice to set."

McLain questioned Key's earlier statement about the Title I administrative position not being a new position.

"Right now, we have three elementary principals and one junior high, and, if this is passed, we're going to have three elementary principals and a junior high and another one. So, there is five, and we only have four now. I consider that a new position," McLain said.

After a call for a vote by Talley, the board initially was deadlocked at 3-3 (Sanders, Wheeler and Stroud for, with Bye, McLain and Talley opposed), with trustee Wayne Carothers, who is Tarra Carothers' husband, having not voted.

Following a brief silence, Wayne Carothers pointed to the fact that Tarra Carothers was the recommendation of a committee, adding he believes the board should accept the recommendation, especially with the school year about to begin. (The first day of school was Thursday.)

"I have made public disclosures. It doesn't look good, but I'm going to take the committee's recommendation because I am not going to leave an elementary school without a principal," he said.

Talley then asked for another vote, with Carothers this time voting in favor.

The consent agenda earlier in the meeting, although it passed 7-0, wasn't without comment.

Following a motion by Sanders to pass it, minus Etienne's resignation as Title I director and High Ability E.C.A., which was pulled, and second from Stroud, Talley voiced concern about a recommendation from CCHS Principal Brandon Johnson to approve Jerry Hanger as athletic director, effective July 31, as a support staff contract.

At its regular meeting on July 16, the board unanimously approved Hanger's retirement as athletic director, retroactive to June 30, and to post the position as a support staff contract instead of as a certified staff contract as it had been.

"I've expressed my concern on the way that was posted," Talley said. "I don't feel that … was a proper posting. I believe that those requirements, the certifications that were put on there should have been discussed with the board prior to those being listed in the job posting."

Other items approved as part of the consent agenda included the following:

Employment of the following instructional assistants: Jessica Dixon, emotional disability assistant at CCMS; Megan Crawford, in-school suspension assistant at CCMS; Janette Toney, library assistant at CCMS; Kristy Grider, Title I assistant at CCMS; Amanda King, Title I student support assistant at CCMS; Brittany Vincent, moderate assistant at CCMS; Destiny Sneed, mild assistant at CCMS; Angela Wilcox, Title I assistant at SCES; Katie Stroud, moderate assistant at SCES; and Shiann Oxley, Title I assistant at West Crawford Elementary School.

The retirement of Peggy Schenck, effective Sept. 1;

The resignations of Eric Belcher as CCMS cross-country coach, Annette Knight as Title I instructional assistant and Brooke Howerton, seventh-grade science teacher.

The following recommendations for CCHS from Johnson: Lucinda Purcell as full-time cook and Whitney Schwartz as part-time special education aide (moderate).

WCES Principal Amanda Wright's recommendation of Jacie Blevins as part-time cook.

Etienne's recommendations of Connie LaHue as art assistant and music assistant (both positions paid by the P.T.O.) and Canessa Young as physical education assistant for one day per week.

CCMS Principal Brandy Stroud's recommendations of Laura Pellman to transfer from full-time moderate aide to part-time Title I aide, as well as to serve as cross country coach at ECES, and Terri Mitchell to be the Science Club sponsor at CCMS.

In another matter, the board did not act on an agreement with Viasat, a high-speed internet company wanting to lease ground at ECES.

Viasat officials made a presentation to the board at its June meeting, and Key, at the regular July meeting, presented the lease agreement, which called for Viasat to pay the school corporation $800 per month, along with a 3-percent increase each year. At the meeting, he asked the board to approve the agreement pending review from the corporation's legal counsel. The board, however, tabled the agreement after McLain said he could not vote on it until he had a chance to review it.

When the lease agreement was brought up again at last week's special meeting, no trustee made a motion to approve it.

In other business, the board:

Tabled a telemedicine agreement with Harrison County Hospital until it had the opportunity to review it. Key had asked for permission to sign the contract pending review from the corporation's legal counsel.

Were informed by Key that he had been notified by the Indiana Department of Education that the school corporation had met all of the requirements regarding the former English Elementary School as an unused building and that the corporation is free to sell it.

Approved, 7-0, an agreement with Harshaw Trane regarding the replacement of controls at WCES at a cost of approximately $26,000.

Prior to adjournment, Talley told staff that, as president of the board, he has an open-door policy.

"Anybody from the staff that wants to come and talk with me, they're welcome to do that at any time," he said. "I do believe in chain of commands, but I also know that there are times when those chain of commands maybe are not the most appropriate routes."

Other board members, including Bye and Sanders, echoed Talley's sentiments.

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