JEFFERSONVILLE — It’s been a week of early mornings at the office and late nights talking to the community for Greater Clark County Schools Superintendent Mark Laughner.
Equipped with notes from the hundreds who attended the four community forums and others who filled out online surveys, Laughner is now making changes to his proposed 5-year strategic plan before asking the school board to approve it Tuesday night.
The original plan included replacing special area teachers, such as art and physical education, at the elementary level with classified specialists, who would be paid $17/hour and be provided lesson plans created by a certified teacher. That plan is estimated to save the district up to $1,015,553 per year, Laughner said. Other cost savings measures include charging $150/week for preschool students who don’t qualify for the state On My Way Pre-K program, free/reduced lunch or special needs services. That is an increase from the $5/week charged now. He also suggests seeking a referendum in the future to pay for two new elementary schools, each being a combination of two existing elementary schools, as well as a new middle school.
Laughner told the crowd Wednesday night of more than 100 at Charlestown High School that this all started because he was told by teachers and staff that they wanted more pay and smaller class sizes. He said the budget doesn’t have any room for that, so he is coming up with ways to save.
Ronda Hostetler, who works at GCCS, said she questioned whether the related arts plan was good for the district. She said she felt it was lowering Greater Clark’s standards and that the district would lose students as a result.
Laughner pointed out that neighboring New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp. did just that nearly a decade ago.
“I’m just saying what we thought was going to happen 10 years ago, that we would get all these students from New Albany-Floyd because we have certified related arts teachers and they don’t, that didn’t happen,” Laughner explained.
Hostetler said the district should think of the benefits of having those certified teachers in the schools.
“People who have gone to school, people who love their jobs, we’re taking them out of what they love to save money,” Hostetler said to the crowd. “Schools are not all about saving money.”
“I’m going to be a little facetious with you,” Laughner answered. “So when we sit down at the table October 3rd and start bargaining, is it going to be alright to say, 'Sorry there’s no money to give for any raises, there’s no money to improve your salary, benefits, because we don’t have any money?' … I’m trying to fix it. I’m trying to get us into a better place so that when we sit down at the bargaining table and I see teachers that want more money we can say we have the money we can give you. We will give you that salary increase.”
Laughner said the community feedback received has already sparked some changes in the plan, such as increased renovations at the New Washington campus as well as holding off on Parkwood Elementary’s media center renovation to instead expand the cafeteria.
As for the classified specialists teaching related arts, Laughner said he received three emails within 24 hours from people who are not certified teachers, but are professionals in those fields, interested in those positions, including someone with a degree in kinesiology (the study of body movement) and a musician, who is looking for something he can balance with his evening and weekend performance schedule.
The superintendent said he will continue to go through information received from the public and change the plan as needed, with the goal of having it finalized and ready to give to the board on Monday. He said he hopes to have board approval on the year one renovations Tuesday, so that work can begin. If approved, he said he thinks the first stage of renovations will be complete by late spring or early summer.