Perk grown into financial headache for school corp. to be discontinued

A perk offered to teachers that has grown into a financial headache for the Huntington County Community School Corporation will no longer be available after the end of this year.

Members of the board of school trustees heard about the dilemma, known as “classroom credit,” at its regular meeting Monday, Feb. 25.

Scott Bumgardner, assistant superintendent for business and classified staff, explained that the credit program, which has been in existence for more than 10 years, gives teachers at Huntington North High School one period of credit if they cover an absent teacher’s class that is not covered by a substitute.

“At the end of eight (periods) they would have a full day; at eight credits they would have an extra day off,” he said. “You can imagine the issues, after 10 or 12 years that we have, in that we now have people that can take a week off. I think while it has been well-intentioned, maybe over time has turned into something that, from my standpoint, is not cost-effective.”

Bumgardner added that teachers have stockpiled enough classroom credits to cost the corporation around $9,000, plus more absences as teachers redeem their credits in taking time off from work. He said the problem has led administration to do away with the classroom credit program at the end of the 2019 calendar year and restrict teachers to only using one day of credit at a time. At the end of the year, the corporation will pay teachers $15 per credit hour for their unused credits.

In addition, Bumgardner said, the corporation will hire a permanent, full-time substitute teacher at the high school who would cover as many as three classes at a time per period in one of the large-group classrooms, beginning April 1, on a trial basis through the end of the 2018-19 school year. He said he would come back before the board in the summer with a longer-term plan.

“It will allow us to maybe not totally do away with the classroom coverages, but greatly limit it,” he added.

HNHS Principal Russ Degitz told the board that administrators first discussed and negotiated the changes with teachers through the policy committee during fall break.

“This is something that the teachers have been engaged in and involved in. ” Degitz said. “I do think the pilot makes sense because, as with any new program or proposal, there is probably going to be some unforeseen circumstances. … We feel good that it will be workable.”

Board members voted 5-0 to approve the recommended change in policy and hire the full-time substitute teacher, with board members Gary McClellan and Brian Warpup absent. Degitz will send an email to teachers notifying them of the decision.

“I’m a big fan of hiring a full-time substitute, whether it’s a substitute or class time as a teacher,” said board member Matt Melcher. “Once you get somebody trained, then they’re going to take the first available. …  If you have them on the hook full time, it could keep them busy throughout the corporation.”

In other items of action before the board, the 2019 summer school plan was unanimously approved. Andrews Elementary School Principal Amy Rudolf said it was much the same as last year’s program, comprised of two sessions to be held June 5 through June 28 and July 9 through July 31.

“Huntington North is adding a few more courses for kids to see how much interest we get,” she said. “It will depend on how many kids sign up for those courses, but it’s nice that we’re able to offer more, should the kids need them to get their credits.”

Rudolf added that the corporation will be reimbursed by the state for most of the summer school costs.

Marching band will also be offered to middle school and high school students, Rudolf said, with reading available to elementary school students in a half-day program to be held at Flint Springs Elementary this year, from June 5 to June 25.

The board also gave the nod to the summer band program, with James Court named as director at Riverview Middle School, Doug McElhaney the director at Crestview Middle School and Michael Petek director at Huntington North with John Gardner as assistant director. Four staff assistants were also approved for two percussion instructors, a color guard instructor and a field tech.

Summer food service was also unanimously approved. Superintendent Randy Harris said the food service department will operate the program at 15 locations this summer, much the same as last year. The program provides free breakfast and/or lunch.

The proposal, outlined by Food Service Director Ken Akins, would pay summer staff for July 4 if they work for the summer feeding program, with salaries and wages covered by the state summer reimbursement rates. Service staff would be paid at regular hourly rates, with the director paid at three-fourths the daily rate for six hours of work per day.

On additional agenda items:

• The board approved the purchase of two vehicles, a food service van, purchased from City Ford for $28,312.25 and a Ford F250 truck for the high school, also purchased from City Ford for $28,121.25.

• Four vehicles were approved to be declared surplus. They are a 1997 Jeep Cherokee used by the technology department; a 2001 E-150 van used by the food service department; a 2000 Ford F550 dump truck used by maintenance; and a 2006 Ford 500 used by the high school.

• A bid by Rex Collins was approved to renovate the high school auditorium’s lighting, at a cost of $525,000. Bumgardner said two bids came in, amounting to about $200,000 more than was originally estimated. The work to replace all the stage and house lights will begin as early as spring break, to replace older lighting with more cost-efficient LED lights.

• Harris reported that the deal to sell the vacated Lancaster Elementary School building and property has fallen through. At the next board meeting, which is set for Monday, March 11, at 7 p.m. at Salamonie Elementary School, Harris said he would likely bring a proposal to look at obtaining bids to demolish the Lancaster building. Among its options, the board may also discuss selling the property at auction.