On September 21st, Dr. Stokes, superintendent of Hamilton Southeastern Schools met with an advisory group. While this was Dr. Stokes’ first Superintendent Advisory Council (SAC) meeting, the meetings had happened in previous years with HSE’s previous superintendent, Dr. Bourff.
The advisory council is made up primarily of representatives for each school. Each school board member is also allowed to designate a representative to attend the meetings. The school representatives are generally the leaders from the parent teacher organizations (PTOs). The meetings generally include a number of the leaders from the HSE administration as well.
The focus on the SAC meetings has been for the superintendent to not only share information, but also to get feedback and answer questions. In the past, the meetings have had an agenda, and Dr. Stokes has continued with that structure.
In today’s meeting, everyone started by introducing themselves. While not all schools were represented, those missing were likely just unable to attend. I attended as a representative of a school board member.
At this time, those attending should have been familiar with Dr. Stokes. After the introductions, she announced that Thorpe Creek had received the national blue ribbon. There are two categories for this award – high achievement and high growth – and Thorpe Creek was recognized in both. You can find more information about this recognition from HSE online.
Since this was the first meeting, it began with a brief discussion of the protocols that the group will follow. The meetings were expected to be conducted in a manner that would be respectful. Attendees were asked to not focus on electronic devices. It was also stated the meetings would be conducted to start and end on time. As adults, I would hope that this would be a standard expectation.
Social Media Challenges
The first main topic of the meeting that Dr. Stokes brought to the group was on social media challenges. This was not the challenge of dealing with misinformation, but rather the challenges happening currently on TikTok.
The current trend for “Devious Licks” that is happening on TikTok has made its way to HSE schools as well. This has lead to destruction in many of our High School, Junior High, and even lower grade level bathrooms. This includes broken sinks, flooded bathrooms, broken stall walls, and more. It also involves steeling things from school bathrooms.
For those not familiar, the challenge involves filming destruction or theft from school bathrooms. It can also involve filming body parts being placed on walls and other places. Many of the videos have gone viral, so it has spawned copycats. The issue has made national news and TikTok has even stated they are working to remove the videos.
The district needs parents to talk to their kids about this to indicate that it is not acceptable behavior. In fact, the videos can lead to detention and even suspension depending on the level of the issue. For destruction and theft there could even be arrests and, or course, restitution.
What many kids don’t realize is that it is silly to attempt this. There are cameras in our schools. These cameras are not in the bathrooms, but they are in other areas making it easy to catch many of the kids. The schools can determine who went into the bathrooms and when. They can also see the body language of people when they leave. As such, kids are likely to be caught
In discussing the consequences of kids that get caught, it was indicated that the punishment should be consistent across schools. The punishment should also, however, be age appropriate. Overall, the principals are handling the issues within each of their schools. Overall, the student handbooks address topic of destruction and such.
Kids should not be pulling sinks out of the wall or making the bathrooms unusable within our schools. Simply put, the district needs the parents to help make sure kids know what behavior is appropriate.
Dr. Stokes and the administration also brought up the topic of the redistricting being done to address the opening of Deer Creek Elementary next year. Deer Creek should be roughly double the size of Durbin Elementary, so it will allow for the shifting of some of the kids from some of the other elementary schools (such as Southeastern Elementary). The target is to be at 80% of capacity for Deer Creek when it opens so as to leave some room for the growth happening in Wayne Township. They would also like to try to get SEE have some capacity as well so upcoming growth can be absorbed.
The important thing is — This is not a full-blown redistricting.
There were challenges regarding capacity when opening Southeastern Elementary. The goal of the current redistricting is to disrupt as few families as possible, but to also reduce overcrowding at some of the buildings. Again, Deer Creek Elementary will be open in the fall of next year.
Pandemic has impacted construction across Fishers and the area. Homes are not turning over as much as they were pre-pandemic. Last year and this year have not seen growth like what was expected. The district is still working to do a demographic review, but it hasn’t been easy. Things such as the recent Census update have not been done as cleanly as desired. As such, the district is working to look at all date including permits that have been requested and more. The goal, again, is to try to impact as few families as possible. A full redistricting is being avoided. They want to avoid the need for a full redistricting would have to be done again in two years.
There were a number of questions on redistricting. This included a question the capacity of the intermediate schools, especially HIJH. It seems that looking into a Feeder System alignment is a project the administration is not ready to take on at this time.
Budget (if time allows)
The topic of the new HSE School budget was also mentioned. The district has an annual budgeting process. This includes presenting the budget to the public. The administration will be asking the board for permission to post the proposed budget at the September 22nd school board meeting. The budget will be open to the public to comment at the first meeting in October. This is a chance for anyone to comment on any of the budget details.
Within the SAC meeting, the mentioned that the school budget is made up of several funds:
- Education fund: This covers teacher funds (salaries, benefits, etc.), staffing, much of the educational areas of the school. This fund runs around $147 to $148 million for HSE. The fund is driven from state funds and is comprised of two components multiplied by the average daily membership of the school. The two components are a base and a complexity formula piece. (As a note – something not mentioned in the meeting – right after the last referendum, the state changed the complexity formula to give HSE a notable increase per student. While this could have reduced the need for the referendum, the district made no adjustments).
- Operations funds: This is roughly $40 million in the district budget. This fund pays for buildings and overall operation items. These funds come from a tax levy. This fund is the one impacted by city TIFs. It is also worth noting that up to 15% of education fund can be put into operations. HSE doesn’t do this. Rather, our district shifts a couple of million from operations into education. The district is able to do this as a result of the referendum funds.
- Maintenance funds: I don’t have a lot on what this includes.
- Referendum Fund: The referendum fund comes from the added referendum that was approved several years ago. Referendums allow schools to collect funds above the state property tax limit. Referendum funds are also exempt from TIF districts (the school still gets these funds from City TIF properties). HSE is using referendum funds to cover things including custodial, staffing, and more. I believe these funds were around $16 million a year when first approved. It was stated I the SAC meetings that these are now around $23 million. This would be a result of new properties and increased assessed values of homes and properties.
It was stated that the referendum dollars are used to maintain classroom sizes. It was stated that they continue to hold to an average kindergarten classroom of 21 kids and an average of 22.5 for first grade. Fifth and sixth grades are targeted to average 25/26 kids. When you get to junior high and high school, class size management gets a harder because of the different programs. It was stated that without the referendum Kindergarten would likely start at 24-25 and other classes would go up from there.
A number of other comments were made regarding the budget. For example, the district work with the City of Fishers to do snow removal, lawns, and other services. The savings from the City doing this work is over a million dollars a year. The city also works with Community Health, which provides nurses and athletic trainers so there is no direct tax cost to the district.
Some of the higher costs I the budget include insurance. Teaching is also a big part of the budget. While the budget is being presented now, the collective bargaining with the teachers association is also happening right now. As such, the costs in the budget are a projection of what the district estimates the costs will be.
A question was asked about the government relief funds that are available as a result of Covid. It was asked how they are being used. It was stated that many of the funds are for staffing elements to help kids. If the district can’t fill the positions for this added aid, then they can’t get the funds. They are looking for ‘out of the box’ solutions to try to tap this such as using teachers that have extra bandwidth, etc. Funds are grants, so they are temporary. The funds do, however, have some flexibility.
Breakfast and Lunch at Schools
It was a reminded that that breakfast and lunch are free for the year through the federal government. This is for all kids, so if your child is interested in the standard school lunch, there is no cost.
Related to food services, it was stated that if you know of “great collaborative leaders” the district is in need of help in the form of food service workers, substitute teachers, bus driver, and more. I asked after the meeting, and it appears that substitute teachers continue to be a big need as a majority of those on the sub call list are not responding to calls to come in at this time.
The first SAC meeting ended exactly on time. The attendees raised a number of questions on the above topics. A few items were noted for future topics. The SAC meetings happen about every two months. As long as I’m included in the meetings, I’ll try to provide an overview of what was covered.
As a reminder – We’ve been asked to talk to kids regarding the TikTok devious licks – the theft and destruction – needs to stop within HSE. It’s silly and the kids will get caught.
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