Proposed cuts at middle schools have several upset at school board meeting

The gallery was once again full as anxious middle school teachers attended the Huntington County Community School Corporation Board of Trustees meeting Monday, Dec. 18.

They wanted to know what was being planned, in light of news – and rumors – surrounding proposed cuts to the middle school teaching staff and adding more class periods.

Shortly after the meeting began, three people, including Riverview Middle School Eighth Grade Language Arts Teacher Denise King, spoke out against the structure and staffing proposals, stressing that changing the team teaching structure would bring adverse consequences.

“Teaming is not a program; it is the foundation, the very structure of how our middle schools are organized and how they function,” she explained. “One analogy that comes to mind is an Amish barn raising, where an entire community comes together, and in a single day it accomplishes a goal that is greater than any one individual could attain. Like a barn raising, middle school teaming is efficient and effective. Teaming is the ideal school structure for children ages 10 to 13.”

King warned that eliminating team teaching would result in no more field trips for middle-schoolers, loss of flexibility to meet the individual needs of students, loss of teachers’ connections with students and increased discipline issues.

She also said that adding two more classes per day would increase teachers’ caseloads by 50 percent, result in shortened instruction time and increase responsibilities in planning by 100 percent.

“Teaming has a proven record of success,” she added. “What other options are there? Where else can we reduce money without losing these teachers and these critically important disciplines?”

Riverview Seventh Grade Language Arts Teacher Connie Duling echoed King’s sentiments, adding that by eliminating teachers, teaching schedules would have to change, and children won’t be as well prepared to enter high school.

“It seems like we’re taking a big step back,” she added.

During discussion among board members, Superintendent Randy Harris said that the year before he came to HCCSC there were considerable cuts made to the elementary schools’ staffing. Those cuts resulted in larger elementary class sizes.

Harris also said he had met for about two hours with officers of the Huntington County Teachers Association on budgets and scheduling for the 2018-19 school year, reporting they had a “very productive meeting.”

Another meeting between Harris and HCTA leadership will be held after the first of the year to work on middle school scheduling, Harris said.

He also wanted to dispel rumors that have been circulating about the issue.

“A lot of people have said, ‘Harris doesn’t like teaming; he just wants to get rid of teaming.’ I believe that teaming is a very important part of our program. But I also believe that it’s a Cadillac. It’s expensive,” he said.

“I think we’ve got to look at every program we have. We’ve got to look at every position, and that’s what we’re looking at. Is there a way to cut staffing at the middle school and maintain teaming? … Can we eliminate some staffing positions at the middle schools? I believe we can.”

Another rumor Harris said he wanted to dispel is that the schedule has already been determined, calling it “incorrect” and to his knowledge no schedules have been made at the middle school level for next year.

Harris did not have any recommendations to make at this time and no action was taken on the item. A formal recommendation may come in late January or early February.

In other business:

• Harris reported plans are under way to move the corporation’s central office into Salamonie School until a permanent location can be found. With the exception of the business office, staff members will move into their temporary space during Christmas break.

• Board members unanimously approved hiring marketing firm Winston/Terrell Group, of Indianapolis, at a fee of $2,500 per month. The company will provide several services, including reviewing marketing materials, demographics, social media, communication, marketing outside the school district and monitoring what is said about HCCSC through media and social media platforms.

Harris said anything the firm creates for the corporation would require prior approval and the contract with Winston/Terrell can be canceled with 30 days’ notice.

• The board heard a list of priorities for expenditures from the general obligation bond funds, with new additions including the roof and stucco on the Crestview Middle School building, LED lighting upgrades for the high school fieldhouse and gym and a sound system for the HNHS auditorium.

• The board also approved Central Indiana Hardware’s bid to replace windows at Horace Mann at a cost if $113,846.54 before the building reopens as a school next year.

The board’s next meeting will be Monday, Jan. 8, at 7 p.m. at the Horace Mann Education Center.