News and Tribune

February 23, 2013

School boards continue purchasing exploration

Questions posed to state Rep. Ed Clere

By JEROD CLAPP
jerod.clapp@newsandtribune.com

SELLERSBURG — The formation of a new committee, further exploration of increasing purchasing power and a series of questions for a local representative were all discussed at a joint school board meeting for districts in Clark and Floyd counties.

Joe Basham, vice president of West Clark Community Schools’ board, said he and Nancy Kraft, board member at Greater Clark County Schools, are exploring alternative fuels for buses. He said while it’s difficult to find suppliers locally, someone might help if there’s an interest from all four districts.

“A lot of buses are starting to go to [liquefied petroleum] gas and natural gas,” Basham said. “There are things out there where the corporations can save money on that. The biggest hold back on some of that is the supply in Southern Indiana. It’s really not a big used item here, but I think with the corporations as a whole can get our heads together and show there’s a demand, maybe someone locally would step up and say, ‘hey, I can supply this for you.’”

He also said he’s glad to see the state moving toward two average daily membership counts per year instead of one, especially since West Clark is growing pretty consistently.

Bill Wilson, board president for Clarksville Community Schools, said he hopes to see money from tax increment finance districts become available to school corporations as a source of revenue.  He said it’s especially challenging in his district because a TIF district doesn’t have an end date. With property tax rates in that district capped, the school district is missing out on additional funds through those property taxes.

“There is a lot of money that we have been losing because of the TIFs and one of our TIFs does not have a sunset date on it,” Wilson said. “Most of them have a 25-year date, but a big part of that TIF we have has no sunset date. That’s a lot of money.”

The districts also briefly discussed bringing more technology into the classrooms.

Tony Hall, a freshman member with Greater Clark, said he wondered if there was any way to lower the prices on iPads or other devices to use in a 1:1 initiative if all the districts banded together to purchase them.

Hall then agreed to sit on a committee to explore that option with Richard Graf from West Clark and Wilson.

But the boards also spent a lot of time asking questions of state Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany. Clere said there’s a lot of news in regards to education coming down the legislative pipeline.

“There’s a bevy of education bills ... dealing with everything from voucher expansion to charter school issues to cursive writing,” Clere said.

Kraft said she opposed voucher expansion because of the affect it could have on school districts, but Clere said the impact in districts in Clark and Floyd counties have been “minimal” because of the quality of schools in Southern Indiana. He said he thought about 82 students in Floyd County took advantage of the program, which cost the district about $450,000.

Andrew Melin, superintendent of Greater Clark, said he’s not afraid of competition between school districts, charter and parochial schools, but he thinks there’s a deeper problem with vouchers.

“The big issue is that there’s an inequity in this that’s inherent in that if the state wants to allow a student go from this school system to that school system ...,” Melin said, “the only people capable of making that happen are the people who have the resources to transport their student to that other district.”

D.J. Hines, president of the New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp.’s board of trustees, said he was concerned about proposed legislation which would prevent school corporations from allowing students to transfer based on specific skill sets — such as athletic prowess or high test scores.

He gave of an example of letting a student enroll because they were specifically interested in a program NA-FC offered. He said preventing that is a bad idea.

He said in that scenario, the buzzword “school choice” loses its meaning.

“If it were school choice and people got to choose because they want to be in a particular building or a particular corporation, now we start setting parameters for when you’re allowed to choose, that’s really not choice,” Hines said. “We’re really migrating back in the other direction.”

Clere said he hadn’t considered that before, but will bring it up with others on the House Education Committee.

But Clere also said another change is coming. Rather than determining a district’s complexity index — which helps determine per capita student funding for districts — based on free and reduced lunch students, the legislature wants to move to an index based on who’s taking advantage of the state’s free textbook rental program.

Clere said other districts across the state seem to inflate their numbers on free and reduced lunch students, but it’s harder to do that with students in the textbook program. He said he didn’t think any districts in the area were abusing the system, and may in fact see a slight increase in funding because of students who don’t take free and reduced lunch to avoid the stigma associated with it. He said those students often take advantage of the textbook program though.