HSEngage: The Cost of Education: The School Board

(Live Notes*) The HSEngage program is an educational program the school district is doing to inform a group from the community about Hamilton Southeastern Schools. Each meeting presents new information and insights into some of the innerworkings of the district while also highlighting some of the various facilities around the district.

The October 28th HSEngage meeting was at Sand Creek Intermediate (SCI), which is located off of 131st Street next to Sand Creek Elementary and across from Fishers High School. SCI, like many of our schools takes a student-centered approach. SCI indicated that they have a unique building that offers many different programs.

“We are a family with our own culture. Teachers are always willing to help each other, and we all want what is best for the students.”

The meeting this month was composed of several presentations centering around the topic of the cost of education. In this post, I’ll include my notes from the first of the presentations, which focused on The HSE Board of Trustees – The HSE School Board. I’ll make additional Live Note posts to cover the presentations on School Budget & Finance as on the HSE Facilities Department.

The HSE School Board

Janet Pritchett

School Board President Janet Pritchett presented to the HSEngage group on the school board and its role.

The HSE School Board has seven members elected from the community. Four board member are in districts, the other three are at-large. Board members serve for four years. Four district members are up for reelection next year. It was noted that our district lines are likely to change due to the growth on the East side of the City.

The four key responsibilities of board members were presented:

  1. Hiring the superintendent
    1. The school board hired a new superintendent, Dr. Stokes, this year.
  2. Creating and adopting policies
    1. In doing policies, the board generally follows state policies and aligns the school policies to those. As such, many policies are driven at the state-level.
  3. Overseeing the district’s budget and paying the bills
    1. If you watched the last few board meetings, you would have seen how they handle the budget. The School Board doesn’t do a line-item review of the budget. That’s the administration’s job; however, they do look at the overall budget and the big picture. Much of the spending in a district budget is restricted to specific areas.
  4. Making decisions about construction and buildings.
    1. With buildings, there is a ten year plan that the district updates regularly.

The School Board and Transparency

Janet stated that the school board holds meetings in the public per state law. Meetings have to be posted 48 hours in advance. They cannot meet independently, although board members can ask for additional details in advance. Most topics that come to school board meetings have been vetted. Many of the board members send questions to staff members in advance of meetings to understand the topics.

Jante noted that it is important to understand that the board meetings are for the board to conduct school business. As such, if you want to raise concerns or communicate with the board, the best way is to contact the board via email.  She indicated that board members get a lot of emails and while they might not respond to all of them, they do read them.

Addressing the School Board

A comment that board members see is: “I don’t feel the school board is listening to me….”

Janet addressed this comment with an analogy on broccoli.

A board member might get 100 emails saying don’t like broccoli being served at lunch. Because of limited options and regulations, there might be no other option, but to serve broccoli at some of the lunches. Additionally, there might be thousands of others that like broccoli. When a board member gets 100 emails on broccoli, they might not be able to respond to all of them, but they do read them.

Question and Answer with the School Board President, Janet Pritchett

A number of questions were asked of Janet regarding the School Board. Some of the captured information is here:

  • Who should parents write to? Which board member?

When a school board member is elected, they are then responsible for all kids. While a board member is elected based on a district or township within the district, once elected, the district and township is really no longer relevant. The board members represent the best interest of all kids in the district, not just the kids in their elected area. If emailing, the best thing to do is to email the entire board.

School board members are not like congress or other elected officials because they represent all the kids, not just an area. (My comment: It is worth noting that once elected school board members are also different in that they don’t represent the parents that elected them – they represent the best interest of the kids. Often, however, the parent interest is relevant to the best interest of the kids.)

  • You’ve been in the spotlight. What kind of training do you get as board members?

Board members get elected in November and get sworn-in in January. The Indiana State School Board Association puts on a six week training course. Typically, training is just amongst the board. There is also an Indiana State School Board Conference. This year, the focus was on how boards are dealing with the environment today. Board members like Janet have also made connections with school board members in other districts around us.

School Board members generally ran because they want to do what is best for kids. They have to keep that in focus as dealing with feedback from the community. It is a lot of “learning as you go”.

It helps if potential school board members get themselves up to speed prior starting.

Janet commented that when she started in her role as a board member, she wanted to help everyone. She wanted to help address each parent’s concerns. She learned that at times, what helps one parent doesn’t always help another.

My comment: When I ran for school board many years ago, the Indiana State Board Association did a training session Within that session, the role of board members within a school district was detailed as were many of the issues and concerns that come up within the role of a board member. This training was done with candidates from districts across the state of Indiana, so it was enlightening to see comments on how different district boards functioned and what some of the big issues were in other cities. It really made HSE sound like a fantastic district. I don’t believe any other candidates that were running the same year as me attended any of the training sessions.

  • What is the time commitment for a school board member?

All seven board members have a full time job. There are the two school board meetings a month plus work sessions. Janet stated that email in a typical year is only an hour or two a month, but this year has not been typical. Janet’s answer was that the time commitment was under 10 hours a month. (My comment: I’d be interested in hearing other board member’s comment on the time commitment. I know some in the past have spent a substantial amount of time more than that on board issues.)

  • Safety protocols – What are you (the board) doing considering how people have been behaving in some of the board meetings?

Janet indicated that the Board has met with Brian Taylor director of student services, They met with him to discuss “what if” scenarios. They have gone through a number of scenarios. Janet stated that it was scary when Carmel had a gun incident. They made plans around what they, HSE Board, would do.

HSE has increased officer presence at meetings. The Board also recessed a meeting when it got rowdy for safety. They also have a good plan with Fishers police.

In Conclusion, For Now…

Janet’s presentation ended at this point and the discussion switched to the School Budget and Finances. I’ll post my Live Notes form that part of the meeting when time allows (soon). I’ll also post my notes on the Facilities presentation.

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* This post is based off of my Live Notes from the meeting.

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