Parents leery of redistricting, transfer prohibition

Redistricting and a prohibition on student transfers might solve problems in the Huntington County Community schools, but those actions would create problems in many families, parents told members of the Huntington County Community School Corporation Board of School Trustees on Monday, Sept. 26.

Their concerns were discussed at length, with a promise that no action will be taken soon.

Resident Adam Skiles told the board he wanted the board to reconsider redistricting as a means of evening out class sizes across HCCSC elementary schools and how the current transfer policy is affecting schools.

“I ask you to consider, with respect to those classes, if you don’t look at making them all exactly the same, just so you make them at maximum level and can’t go above a certain level,” he said.

“You had Northwest (Elementary) the last two years — the fifth grade class, we had two sections of fifth grade that were 29 students each. You could easily have made that three sections.

“The question is, if class size is really that important, why hasn’t some of it been addressed in some of the schools up to this point?”

Parent Justin Barker said redistricting and transportation changes will affect his family in several adverse ways.

“We have a lot of struggles finding affordable, reliable, quality childcare in this county,” Barker said. “Should we have to reconfigure child care arrangements, that’s not only going to significantly impact just our boys overall, their psychology at that young age, but also consider in our budget …

“I would venture to say we’re not the only ones in this type of situation.”

Christine Roth, who has four children in HCCSC schools, told board members she disapproves of the “no transfer” policy. Roth, whose children have attended schools outside her residential district since the 2011-12 school year, wants the policy to remain as is.

“We, and many others like us, do not have the luxury of selling our home to move to our preferred school zone, or for paying for a new child care provider instead of the free child care with family who love them,” she said.

“I understand that change in population necessitates redistricting, and tough choices need to be made. However, removing the option to transfer will affect and displace even more children, leaving more families with no good options.”

Another parent, Chris Ranc, said her son transferred to another school because of bullying. She also told the board her husband oversees operations at a company, and removing the transfer policy would put businesses and families in an awkward position.

“It isn’t conducive to the county; it doesn’t draw people into the county and doesn’t raise our enrollment because they’re going to choose to go somewhere else,” Ranc said.

“I just want you to think about that before you make that decision. If the goal is to get the enrollment up, this is not going to help.”

Board President Mathew Roth promised a more robust discussion. Trustees and administrators talked about the issues at length, crunching numbers and mulling over various ideas regarding redistricting as well as transfers.

Superintendent Randy Harris said he had received more input from the community regarding transferring students to schools outside their residential districts, mostly due to child care needs, than he had input on redistricting.

He added that the 250-some students currently being transferred between schools represent about 11 percent of the elementary enrollment.

“It’s almost an even trade,” he said of the number of students transferring out to other schools, compared to those transferring in. “These are not transfers from surrounding counties … these are all internal transfers … There are additional students that live outside Huntington County that transfer in to multiple schools.”

Harris said the proposed redistricting changes have broken down the grades into 112 sections of up to 20 students per section, which is the same number currently.

He also said maps of the proposed redistricting boundaries can be found on the school corporation’s website, under the Sept. 11 board agenda. The direct link is:$file/Draft_StudentCounts_and_Draft_Maps20170911.pdf.
Harris said it will take six to nine months after the final district maps are created to create the detailed bus maps.

He also mentioned that one policy would allow students to apply to transfer to other schools, but those transfers could be denied if class sizes were at capacity in their desired school.

If more applications are received than are spaces available, he said, a lottery could be held.

“The tough part is in the details,” he said.
Board member Brian Warpup acknowledged that whatever decisions are made will not please everyone, but he hopes they will work out for most school children and their families.

“There’s got to be a happy medium,” he added.

As promised, no action was taken on the issue. Discussion will continue, possibly in an upcoming work session to be announced.
In items brought before the board:

• The 2017-19 budget was unanimously approved to be advertised. Assistant Superintendent for Business and Classified Staff Jon Bennett explained the budget is always advertised over what the district needs, because the Department of Local Government Finance will lower rates, levies and appropriations during the certification process. After it is advertised, a hearing will be conducted on Oct. 9 and the proposed budget will be up for adoption at the Oct. 23 board meeting.

Bennett added that taxpayers should not see much difference with the new budget, which is based on an assessed valuation at $1.5 billion.

However, Bennett said the district plans to move some of its debt payments into 2018 because property tax collected in 2017 will cover those payments.

“We’re not raising property taxes significantly to raise that money and pay those debts in 2018,” Bennett said. “I’m going to get our payments in sync here with the property taxes that are collected.”

• The board unanimously approved an additional appropriation resolution to fund the current facility needs project, which is being financed with $5 million in general obligation bonds.

• The board also unanimously adopted a resolution to advertise the sale of bonds.

• The board approved 7-0 the purchase of new buses, not to exceed $550,000. The approval includes four 72-passenger buses, one 66-passenger bus for special needs students and a 90-passenger bus for sports transportation.

• The board also approved work to repair Salamonie School’s roof, which was damaged earlier this year. The cost of $96,255 will be covered by insurance, with the corporation paying a $25,000 deductible.

• The first preliminary determination hearing was held, subject to a referendum on the proposed building, on repairs and technology improvements throughout the district. No one from the public spoke during the hearing.