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 Kennard’s Show of Support May Have Made a Difference

April 29, 2009 - A strong showing at last week’s school board meeting by a vocal group supporters of Kennard Elementary may have been enough, at least in the short term, to keep the school open another year.

“It certainly mattered that those people showed up and expressed their concerns,” Charles A. Beard Memorial School Corporation Superintendent Gary Storie said of the large crowd that attended the April 21 school board meeting. “I think it had an effect. … It had an effect on me, (and) it had an effect on the board.”

While he said he couldn’t speak for the school board, Storie said he believed the outpouring of support for Kennard Elementary “may slow down the process.” He said he thought it would prompt CAB to take “a more comprehensive look at things” in how it deals with finances and facility needs.

In March, Storie had told the school board that closing Kennard or Carthage Elementary, or possibly both, were options the board had for addressing “substantial” facility needs at its five schools. Other potential options included closing Knightstown Intermediate School or closing no schools.

Kennard Elementary supporters filled the Knightstown High School’s media center at last week’s meeting to protest any plans to close Kennard. This was likely the largest crowd at a school board meeting this school year, requiring extra chairs to be brought in to accommodate the standing-room-only crowd.

In materials provided to board members prior to the meeting, Storie recommended that the board consider closing Kennard. As he began a presentation on this subject at last week’s meeting, he said he wanted to assure the public that the school board was still “far away from a decision, if a decision is going to be made.”

Storie said state funding for school corporations is on a downward trend. With a funding formula based on the number of students, he said small, rural school corporations with declining enrollment could be negatively impacted.

“That’s what’s got me worried,” Storie said. “If we have a decrease (in state funding), we need to be ready to respond.”

If Kennard Elementary is closed, those students would be sent to Knightstown Elementary. Storie also said there were no plans to eliminate any teaching positions, with Kennard teachers also being sent to Knightstown.

Initially, Storie told the board that closing Kennard could result in almost $270,000 in annual savings, as follows: General Fund ($88,437); Capital Projects Fund ($35,351); Food Services ($28,863); and Transportation Fund ($15,000).

Later, after some questioning from Board President Kevin Knott, Storie conceded that total savings would likely be less due to some of the savings ending up as expenses at another building. However, with the exception of the $35,351 CPF figure, he said the other amounts he listed would be “pure savings.”

Besides the savings CAB would realize from closing Kennard, Storie also said the decision would have a positive impact on the corporation’s Title I program. If Kennard students are transferred to Knightstown, he said that would allow Title I programs to be provided there, more than doubling the number of children benefitting from these services.

Storie also said the savings from closing Kennard could provide the funding to improve or add other programs. For example, he said CAB might be able to improve its special education services, or possibly add a choir and drama program at KHS.

The board received more public comment at last week’s meeting on this issue than it has on any other since relaxing its rules at the beginning of the school year on allowing patrons to address the board. During two rounds of public comment, one that preceded Storie’s presentation and one that occurred at the end of the meeting, 29 people spoke in favor of keeping Kennard open.

Many of those who spoke praised the benefits of the increased attention they said teachers and staff are able to provide students at Kennard, which has the lowest enrollment of CAB’s three elementary schools. There were also several who said that the fact that the small town had a school located there had been a big factor in deciding to move there.

Martin Meltzer told the board that his son and daughter, both now in college, had attended Kennard and excelled there. He also said it had been nice being able to look out his back door and watch his children walk to school.

“I’m just really disappointed that this topic is even being considered,” Meltzer said. “... The school is one of things that holds that community together.”

Keith Farrell told the board that he thought part of the problem is the high salaries paid to school superintendents, some of who, he said, make more than the governor. Saying the public can’t afford to pay $100,000 or more to five or six superintendents, he said he would not be opposed to having a single superintendent who would oversee the school corporations in the county.

Richard Riggle presented the board with a petition signed by people opposed to the closing of Kennard. He told the board that the goal of those who signed the petition is not only to prevent the school’s closure, but to get the school board to not even consider it as an option.

Shirley Heck, principal for both Kennard and Carthage, told the board that she thought there were immense benefits of smaller communities and smaller schools. She said Kennard and Carthage were “jewels” that provided students with “unique learning environments.”

Like Meltzer, Kennard Town Council member Beth Coy’s children, now grown, had also attended Kennard. If the school closes, she said the town would be left with another empty building, a “gaping hole” in the community.

Kevin Vickery, who owns Good’s Candies in Kennard, was one of the few people who addressed the board that doesn’t have children who attend, or did attend, Kennard Elementary. Noting that some of his employees have children or grandchildren who go there, he said the school has been one constant in the community since 1974.

“We need that school,” Vickery said. Acknowledging the financial concerns facing CAB, he told the board that if he can maintain a viable business in Kennard, he thought they could make it work, too.

After the first round of public comments, which saw 18 patrons address the board about Kennard, not everyone was content to wait for the second session scheduled for later in the meeting. Although asked by Knott to hold her remarks until the board was ready for more public comment, Virginia Peters refused. “Kennard should not be punished for this money pit,” she said, referring to KHS, and then walked out of the meeting.

Throughout the meeting, Knott and other board members assured the public that no decision has been made regarding closing Kennard or any other CAB schools. Instead, the said things were still in the discussion phase, and that all options would be looked at.

“This is not an easy issue at all to contemplate or even discuss,” Knott said.

Board member Mark Fort said he wanted the public to know that he believes there should be more public meetings to get the community’s feedback. Board Vice President Steve Dalton echoed Fort’s sentiment, saying, “We’re going to have a lot of community input before a decision is made.”

Storie also suggested the board consider hiring a private consultant -- at $200 an hour, for an estimated $10,000-$12,000 total cost -- to work with them if they decide to move forward with closing the school. Not all board members, however, thought this was a good idea.

Dalton said he would have a hard time telling patrons that the board not only wants to close Kennard, but wants to spend $10,000-$12,000 on a consultant to help them do it. He said he thought the board and the community could handle this decision without hiring a consultant.

Fort agreed with Dalton. “The people of this community elected us to make decisions,” he said. “... I think we can make a decision without spending $10,000. ... I’m willing to take that responsibility.”

Board member Tom Schaetzle took the other view. Noting the board’s lack of expertise in this area, Schaetzle said he thought hiring a consultant would be a smart move, saying he though the investment was worth if it would help the board make “the right decision.”

Knott said he also thought a consultant’s assistance would be helpful to the board, but that he did not favor an open-ended contract. Instead of paying a consultant an hourly rate, he said he would prefer a flat fee arrangement.

Board member Tim Wehr said he was “on the fence” with respect to hiring a consultant, but said he was leaning toward hiring a consultant. Board member Leah Kopp also said she supported hiring a consultant, and board member Wade Beatty said he didn’t think CAB could afford to make any mistakes.

Before the board agreed to hire a consultant, Schaetzle and Knott both they would like to see a sample of the kind of report the consultant would provide CAB. A representative from Educational Services Corporation who attended last week’s meeting said he would provide sample reports for the board to review.

Pending receipt of the materials from ESC, the board voted to table further consideration of hiring a consultant to work with them on this issue.

 

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