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 Kennard School Gets Reprieve

May 6, 2009 - Supporters of Kennard Elementary have won a reprieve of at least 12 months from the Charles A. Beard School Board.

Although no formal vote was taken at a special meeting last Wednesday, school board members made clear that they have no intention of closing Kennard -- or any other CAB school -- at the end of this school y ear. Instead, the board will take another year to gather information about the district, likely with help of a consulting firm, looking at all of CAB’s options.

Board President Kevin Knott read a prepared statement early in the meeting. Noting a recent visit he’d made to Kennard Elementary, he said he thought the board needs to “more intensely look at our options.” He said he wanted more time review information and did not favor closing any CAB school at the end of this school year.

Board member Mark Fort said he wants to see “hard facts and concrete numbers” and that he believed it would take longer than a couple of months to get them. He also said he supported holding several community meetings before any decision is made to close a school.

Board Vice President Steve Dalton said he didn’t have any particular timeframe attached to this issue. The appropriate time to make a decision, he said, will be when the information has been gathered.

Superintendent Gary Storie told board members there would not be time to gather all the information they want in time to make a decision about closing Kennard or any other school for next year. With that in mind, he said he thought the public probably wanted to know if Kennard will be open next year.

“It’s easy for me,” Knott said. “I want other options.”

Dalton said that no one on the board wanted to make a decision before having all the information. If Storie isn’t going to have time to get the numbers in time for the 2009-2010 school year, he said a decision would have to wait.

Storie told the board that a “good month, month-in-a-half” would be needed to make changes that a closure would require. Any decision to close a school after the conclusion of next school year, he said, would need to be made no later than the end of June 2010.

Board member Leah Kopp said she had been bothered by the fact that some people thought there had been a long-term plan to close Kennard. She said she wanted the public to know that was not the case.

Dalton noted that the board had generally not had much public attendance or participation at their meetings. If those who were there that night or at the April 21 meeting had regularly attended school board meetings, he said they would have known that closing Kennard had not been a topic of discussion.

Addressing an issue a citizen raised at the April 21 meeting, Dalton said he would not step down from his seat simply because a redistricting decision resulted in his children being transferred from Kennard to Knightstown this year. Saying that those calling for him to step down have a “lack of knowledge of what the laws are,” Dalton reminded the public that he was elected to school board as a Greensboro Township resident, not because he lived in the Kennard Elementary attendance district.

Dalton also said he thought it was “genuinely unfair” for anyone to assume he was leading an effort to close Kennard. He encouraged his critics to look at his record, and said he’d been a good advocate for those who live in the area.

Responding to public comments made at the April 21 meeting regarding the effect that closing Kennard Elementary may have on the town, Dalton said, “This is the school board, not the town board. ... I don’t think we have a responsibility to save the town.”

Responding later in the meeting to Dalton’s remark, Julie Snyder, Kennard’s clerk-treasurer and a parent of children who attend the school, said, “I think we have to look at the town and the school as a package. ... I know you want us to be separate, but we aren’t and we can’t be.”

While the decision not to move forward with closing Kennard at the end of this school year certainly minimized public animosity over the issue, last Wednesday’s meeting was not without some controversy. A related issue that continues to draw differences of opinion and had two board members at odds with each other is whether CAB should hire a consultant to help gather information on CAB’s facility needs.

At the April 21 meeting, Dalton said he was opposed to hiring a consultant, something Storie recommended and had estimated could cost $10,000-$12,000. Repeating his view at last week’s meeting, Dalton said he thought hiring a consultant was something that would be done to provide political cover, adding that he doesn’t “need to hide behind somebody’s skirt to do it.”

Dalton’s last comment struck a nerve with board member Tom Schaetzle, who responded to it later in the meeting. Saying, “I can tell you right now I’m not here to hide behind any skirt,” Schaetlze told Dalton he took offense at the remark.

Schaetzle said if Dalton thinks the board can get all the information needed to make a decision on its own, he wanted to know how. “We just don’t have the expertise these guys can bring,” he said, referring to Educational Services Company, the consulting firm CAB is considering for the job.

Dalton explained that his comment had not been a personal one directed at Schaetlze or anyone else. Instead, he said it was in response to something an ESC representative had said at a previous strategic planning meeting.

“I’m not saying you’re looking for political cover,” Dalton told Schaetzle. “... I think we’re plenty capable of making this decision.” He said he didn’t think CAB needed “someone driving out here from Indianapolis at $200 an hour” to do that.

One of the 19 patrons who made public comments at last week’s meeting agreed with Dalton on this point. “I disagree with you guys hiring consultants,” Ellis Holder said. “That’s why we elected you.” He said he thought hiring consultants would only be done so that the board would have a scapegoat for their decision.

Schaetzle said he didn’t want to hire ESC to get information to sway people one way or the other. Instead, he said he wanted their expertise so the right decision can be made based on the data.

Knott said that he trusted Storie on this issue. If the superintendent says he needs help gathering the information the board wants, Knott said he supported hiring a consultant, adding that he didn’t view at as hiding or taking cover.

“At the end of the day,” Knott said, “when the rubber meets the road, guess who has to make the decision?” He said it would be the board that would have to decide. He also said, however, that he remained concerned about the cost of hiring a consultant.

Dalton said he would support the will of the board with respect to the issue of hiring a consultant. He said, however, that he believed the board and Storie already have access to the data needed to make an informed decision.

Despite a motion being made and seconded to hire ESC to work with CAB on gathering information needed to make strategic planning decisions about the district’s facilities, the board ultimately ended up tabling the matter. While he was in favor of working with a consultant, Schaetzle had said he wanted to see a copy of the contract before agreeing to hire ESC.

It was Storie who suggested the board table the issue until ESC was able to provide a contract with a set price for the board to consider. The motion to table passed by a 6-1 vote, with Wade Beatty, the board member who had made the motion to hire ESC just minutes earlier, casting the lone dissenting vote.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the CAB School Board will be Tuesday, May 19, at 7 p.m. in the media center at Knightstown High School, 8149, W. U.S. Hwy. 40. The meeting is open to the public.

 

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