On November 17th, I attended Dr. Bourff’s superintendent advisory council (SAC) meeting. These are meetings that the Hamilton Southeastern Schools superintendent has with leaders of the school district’s PTOs and a few other parents a few times a year. The meetings allow for two-way dialog between the superintendent and those in attendance. Dr. Bourff has tended to use the meeting to present information on some of the things happening in the district and allows for direct feedback from those in attendance.
This post is my rough notes from the November 17th meeting. These are notes taken while also participating, so I didn’t catch all the details. Additionally, because they are simply notes, they might not be presented in the cleanest format and are subject to having heard imprecisely.
Budget Task Force
Cecile Nunn talked about the budget and the budget task force meeting. The stark reality is that the pandemic has had an impact on this year’s school budget and is expected to impact next year as well. Student enrollment across the state of Indiana is down 15,000 and within HSE student enrolment is down by 400 students. As a result, the administration is looking to try to shave $5 million off the 2020-21 school year spending. To do this, they are creating a task force to determine where cuts could be possible. Note that this topic has since come up in a school board meeting, so many of the details have been covered.
It is worth noting that the state funding that is provided by based on the number of students is used primarily (97%) for salaries and staffing. The demographic survey that had been done showed a slight increase in students for the year, so the loss of growth plus the decrease resulted in the projected deficit. The expected growth was roughly 200 students, which would be a loss of expected funding for close to 600 students.
One question that tends to come up when looking at cutting the educational funds is, “How can we afford to build a new elementary when we have a deficit in the elementary fund and are looking to cut?“ The answer to this is that a debt services fund is used for buildings and other things. This debt service fund cannot be used to pay teachers. This can be used to build a school, but not pay staff. Additionally, the separation of funds is not something school districts control.
The task force will have administration representatives, teachers, school board members, and others. They will be meeting and making recommendations to try to make cuts by March. They will also be watching the state legislation to see if cuts could be happening to funding. There have been cuts at the state for state departments. Additional cuts are happening there, so they are watching in case cuts come to schools. The list of participants for this committee was posted on BoardDocs in association with a school board meeting that happened after the SAC meeting. It has been noted that there are no parents on this committee. This is due to the need for the committee to potentially review confidential information. The committee does have enough time that if they need information from parents or the community, they would be able to reach out and obtain it.
Replacement of Equity and Inclusion Officer
Dr. Kegley and others are co-leading a group of 14 people with students, staff, parents, community members that were to start the screening of applicants the same day as the SAC meeting with the hope of wrapping up that week and start next steps of interviews. Interviews will be Zoomed were expected to happen after Thanksgiving. Dr. Bourff was hoping to have a recommendation for the December board meeting, but it might slip to January board meeting.
Wayne Township Elementary –
At the time of the SAC meeting, they had closed on the property for the new school the day before. The project was continuing forward. The district was currently looking for recommendation for a new school name from the community and the students of Durbin. “Dear Creek Elementary” was the one name at the time that had been suggested, but it was set aside to get community input. The School Board will ultimately determine the name of the new school.
Dr. Bourff mentioned that students wouldn’t know what Deer Creek Music Center was, so it might not be the best name. There is a place on the school site for submitting ideas.
Kim Lippe presented on Covid and covered what had been said in School Board meeting that had occurred earlier in the day. This included mentioning that the district has an internal dashboard that shows staffing absence. Pre-pandemic fill rates for subs would be around 80%. Fill rates are now around 50%. For example, the night before the SAC meeting, 90 staff requested time off for November 17th. This was for 75 teachers and 15 Instructional Assistants. Fill rate was 39% the previous night. There were still 48 teaching positions to cover. Number of requests the morning of the SAC meeting was 94 – 79 teachers and 15 IAs. They had 46 absences that morning unfilled by sub overage. Principals, admin, and others step in to fill these. Fill rate was 49% in the morning. When filling the open slots, elementary schools are prioritized for class coverage.
The idea of being able to shift permanent subs and resources from junior highs and high schools to the lower grades was the plan, but that didn’t happen as well as expected. They had 24 permanent subs available the night before the SAC meeting. The district would like to have 72.
A few questions and comments came up around this topic:
Question: Are you tracking the numbers of close contact quarantined individuals who ultimately get sick? Dr. Bourff indicated that yes, they are. Staffing is driving the decisions. He also commented that the schools had gone from a positivity from under 1% to 4% recently.
Question: Is the 14-day quarantine after close contact a FHD requirement or a HSE district one? Dr. Bourff and the administration indicated that this requirement seemed to be from CDC and state. Dr. Combs indicated something is being built on the site to track contacts as well. It was also stated that people need to inform the school when kids test positive. Dr. Bourff commented that if someone is tested through a FHD site, the school is notified quickly. If people go to a different site and if it is outside of the district, then the school might not be notified and thus not aware. When made aware, the school does the contact tracing. Simply put, it is important that people communicate.
It was also stated that two teachers had been quarantined the day of the SAC meeting because a student was tested the prior week on Tuesday, but came back to school, participated in extra curriculars, but then received positive test results. Students need to stay at home if they are being tested.
Dr. Combs stated that they were building a form that parents will be able to click on to report the positives so the school can do contact tracing.
Comment: Mayor Fadness had made a comment about the schools closing… Dr. Bourff commented that the Mayor is one of the school’s biggest supporters. Dr. Bourff indicated that he took the Mayor’s comment as simply frustration. He stated that they all want kids in school.
Question: Does the administration have info on why there are so many teacher absences; Is it Covid related? Do you know why subs won’t commit? Is it COVID-19 exposure, pay, or something else?
The answer to this question is that some subs are only comfortable at certain grade levels. Some subs have said they won’t be back until after the pandemic. Pay could be part of it and they continue to look at that.
Question: Do you (Dr. Bourff) feel most parents are opting to test children that are considered close contacts or instead opting to wait out the quarantine period? Dr. Bourff commented that they continue to push people to be tested.
Question/Comment: Why wasn’t a Skylert sent out forewarning that school could be closed last week? Why do some Skylerts take so long to get out? Facebook should not be official communication channel.
Dr. Bourff commented that decisions and messages could be better coordinated. Decisions are happening as data occurs. Last week, they didn’t want kids to end up at home without devices if they did go virtual, thus the reason for the Skylert that had been sent.
Question: Will teachers be in the buildings if/when schools go virtual? Dr. Bourff – Many will be.
Question: With K-6 now virtual until Dec 4th, do you think this 2-week window will address the staffing issue? Dr. Bourff commented that the hope is that it will help.
Question: Will we still have Extracurriculars? Dr. Kegley commented that FHD recommended suspending activities on Tuesday of that week. The city came back on that Friday and chose to follow state and city guidance. As a side note, it was commented that there have been no issues raised about concession stands.
Question: Will Girl Scout troops and such still be able to meet at HSE schools? Dr. Kegley commented on this question stating that you have to submit a plan to the Fishers Health Department to have such meetings. If approved by the FHD, then it should still be able to happen.
Question: Any update on the feeder system? It was commented that they will be looking at this and looking to build a committee. Such a committee would include parents from every level within the district.
Question: Has the HSE21 Playground matching grant expiration date been extended? Dr. Bourff commented that a formal recommendation to the school board is likely needs to be made to extend the time by which PTOs need to access these funds; however, there is no indication that a halt should be done on this. They want to leave the money there for schools / PTOs to spend it. The original deadline was arbitrary.
Question: The number of virtual students in high school is high. Does the board really understand the actual numbers rather than just the percentages? (( I didn’t track an answer for this question. ))
Question: Does the school tracking contain all the tracking? Reports are there are cases not being tracked. Dr. Bourff indicated that they are tracking all the cases that they are aware of. Dr. Combs added that if people don’t let them know about a case, then they can’t track it.
Comment: Grades are a concern of parents. Dr. Bourff commented that this is a concern across the board. They are focused on engagement.
Question: Are you (Dr. Bourff) meeting with other schools and are staffing or other issues happening there? Dr. Bourff indicated that yes, districts are meeting. Different districts have gone about what they are doing differently. One big difference is that many other districts have chosen to use online learning systems instead of keeping their teachers involved. We kept teachers involved.
Some of the superintendents in other districts have started indicating that they are going to have to pivot. With the numbers all going wrong, they are realizing they might have to go virtual or close buildings.
Noblesville, Carmel, and Westfield aren’t dealing with the same issues as us, but overall issues are the same. These schools are also working with different metrics via Hamilton County Health department versus what we are doing with the FHD.
Question: To help the engaged students, would small group in person help sessions be a possibility for high level and AP courses that are rigorous? Dr. Bourff commented that yes, they can consider this.
# # #