Several changes are ahead for those of us with children in the Lawrence Township school system. Some — like losing up to 41 teachers — are a direct result of the economy, while other changes seek to strengthen our children’s education.
Fewer Teachers, Larger Classes
Just as the depressed economy has crimped personal and business budgets, it’s also squeezing funds for education.
It doesn’t help that the school district has been operating without an approved budget for 2008, making its 2009 budget uncertain as well. Because of the property tax debacle in Marion County, the Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF) has not certified any school budgets in the county as it waits for reassessment results, which are expected any day.
When it’s all said and done, the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township (MSDLT) is expecting to be about $4.2 million over budget, according to Dr. Nikki Woodson, director of staff development and communications.
The district has already sent out Reduction in Force notices to 41 first-year teachers, informing them that they may be out of a job next year. The district also will not replace 27 teachers who are retiring.
“All average class sizes will go up,” Superintendent Michael Copper told Lawrence Township constituents during a public meeting April 13.
The federal economic stimulus package may provide a glimmer of hope. The state has received $820 million earmarked for education, and it’s up to Governor Mitch Daniels to decide how it is to be spent. Local K-12 schools are hoping the bulk will be used to inject more cash into their General Funds.
However, since this is a one-time benefit, it likely will be used for nonrecurring expenses — such as educational supplies, teacher training and technology updates — rather than ongoing expenses like teacher salaries.
Summer Pay in Jeopardy for Teachers
Teachers may lose their summer pay, and the district could lose up to $56 million if a lawsuit filed by the teacher’s union goes forward, according to information posted on the MSDLT website.
A little known lawsuit was quietly filed back in October after contract negotiations stalled between the Lawrence Education Association (LEA) and the MSDLT School Board. Four teachers — Rebecca Crum, Veronica Embry, Ronald Klene and Kent Jackson — filed the lawsuit on behalf of district teachers.
The suit alleges that the board failed to abide by the Indiana Wage Payment Act, which requires employers to pay wages no more than 10 business days after the date those wages were earned. Crum, who is the LEA president, says first-year teachers often do not receive their first paycheck for up to a month from the beginning of the school year.
Crum and her cronies did not expect the school board’s response, which was to threaten elimination of year-round pay for teachers. The current teacher contract (which was approved by the LEA) states that teachers could be paid every two weeks with a total of 26 payments annually, thus allowing them to be paid throughout the summer.
“We clearly paid them as we were asked to pay them,” Board Secretary Adam Goldstein said. He and the rest of the board were unwilling to settle the claim for the $5 million in damages the LEA sought.
The good news here is that current legislation at the state level may make this lawsuit moot and spare the district from spending an estimated $56 million to defend it. Interestingly, the MSDLT and the LEA both support the Indiana State Teachers Association legislation, which would more clearly define the Wage Payment Act and keep summer pay for teachers.
No More Half-Days
The new Superintendent of Public Instruction wants to see Indiana rise to the top of the class when it comes to test scores, graduation rates and overall quality of education. With that in mind, he abruptly ended half days slated for teacher development. Students will be required to attend 180 full instructional days.
To address the teacher development issue, Lawrence Township administrators proposed “Modified Mondays” which called for every Monday to begin an hour later for students so that staff could participate in training. The outcries from parents citing childcare issues quickly caused the board to dismiss this idea.
Now it’s uncertain how and when teachers will gather for training. The most likely scenario is that substitutes will be employed to cover for teachers during the day while they attend staff meetings.
New Elementary Districts & Shuttles
The School Board has approved new boundaries for elementary schools as part of its efforts to balance enrollments and leverage educational opportunities.
All elementary students will be assigned to a school near their residence. However, starting with the 20010-11 school year, families will be given free reign to choose any of the five elementary schools on their side (East or West) of the school district. Forest Glen Elementary, at 6333 Lee Road, will remain the only true magnet school, offering a Dual Immersion program which features classroom instruction in English 50 percent of the day, with Spanish instruction for the other half.
Students not attending their assigned school will be shuttled to their school of choice. Shuttling begins for the 2009-10 school year for all students in special programs, which is projected to save the district an estimated $800,000 in transportation costs.
Many details of the elementary redesign are still uncertain, including whether all schools will have a unique area of focus (like science/technology or international studies) and what those school-wide focuses might be.
While the district is in the midst of a complete overhaul of the elementary school design, Dr. Copper is preparing for retirement. Copper has been at the helm of the demographically changing district for the last seven years.
The School Board is currently searching for a new superintendent, with plans to hire our next leader by June 30. However, finding a qualified candidate may prove difficult with 12 other school districts in the Indianapolis metropolitan area also searching for a superintendent.
Board Member Goldstein told community members during the April 13 meeting that the school board will hire an interim if necessary until the right candidate is found.
“We will not put someone in this job that is not great,” he said.