Letters to the Editor week of 6-17-10

6

The next step

To the Editor:

Last week I wrote about the results of the latest county commissioners meeting. Family needs took me out of town, so I was unable to attend that meeting in person. My husband took the day off from work, and represented us (and very well!) at that meeting.

Having listened to our recording of that meeting a couple of times now, here is what I get out of it:

After the final vote, there was active discussion about the formation and function of the Citizen’s Advisory Committee. The commissioners seemed to be under the impression that the CAC members would be selected through an applicant process by the planning commission. The attending public were very vocal in expressing their objections to having the people who barely voted down the 2008 plan “cherry pick” the CAC. A suggestion was made that if fifty people apply, they should have a caucus and select among themselves the twelve people to represent the county in the CAC.

Also there was active brainstorming about the function of the CAC. My understanding is that the CAC is to firstly, listen to residents’ comments, ideas, and concerns from county residents that will be helpful in the formation of the new comprehensive plan, and future ordinances. This input would be filtered by the group, and then brought by the CAC to planning meeting discussions. This is an opportunity for anyone who has anything to offer that will help build a sensible plan for our county to contribute. The CAC will also comb the former two plans for anything of value to add into the new plan. Whatever plan is ultimately brought to the county commissioners would be decided on by them. 

The public at the last meetings has stressed that it is important that diverse people and interests need to be represented. For example, those in farming, construction, real estate, merchant, and our Amish friends, as well as the towns and hamlets could give a fair amount of input to our community’s needs.

The position will be unpaid, and there will be a lot of work and time invested into this project. My hope is that we are able to assemble a group of people dedicated to the future of our county, and who care about looking out for our interests.

Look for an advertisement by the planning board when it arrives in the newspaper.

When the selection process has been decided, of course I will apply.

Traci Weber

Switzerland County resident

 

Answers still sought

To the Editor:

The detrimental effects of the poorly planned transfer of all of our county’s sixth grade students to an already overcrowded Jefferson Craig Elementary were recently outlined in my June 3rd, 2010, letter to the editor. Since the publication of that information, many parents, school corporation staff members, and patrons have discussed with me numerous concerns related to this educationally unsound transfer plan.

These very concerned citizens are upset over the arbitrary transfers of a middle school language arts teacher to a first grade position at Jefferson Craig, of a high school English teacher to a position which requires that she mainly teach seventh graders at Switzerland County Middle School, of a Switzerland County Elementary second grade teacher to one of the newly created sixth grade positions at Jefferson Craig, and of the termination of the teaching contract of a very loving, competent, and effective Jefferson Craig kindergarten teacher. These reassignments have been made by the superintendent based on what she considers is “in the best interest of the school corporation.” Unfortunately, her reassignments seem to have nothing to do with what is in the best interest of the elementary, middle school and high school students involved. Those affected by these transfers are unable to understand how their reassignments benefit the corporation or the students of Switzerland County.

The school patrons who have contacted me are also very concerned about two classes of kindergarten children sharing the same classroom when they have had two classrooms in the past. They are also worried about the preschool special education class at Jefferson Craig being relocated to Switzerland County Elementary School where the special needs children will not have the benefit of Vevay YMCA services. They wonder how the treatment the two classes of sixth graders continuing to be housed at Switzerland County Middle School will compare with that of the students enrolled in the four sixth grade classes that will be housed at Jefferson Craig.

Division of the county’s sixth graders into two buildings, Jefferson Craig and the Switzerland County Middle School, has occurred even though all parents were assured by the superintendent during community meetings and in newspaper articles that all sixth grade students would be housed together at Jefferson Craig once the reconfiguration plan was in place. Parents are also concerned about the very small Title I space at Jefferson Craig which was formerly a book storage area. Additional Title I services for sixth graders once they were back at Jefferson Craig was one of the main arguments Elizabeth Jones, Rhonda Pennington, and John Druba used to justify the transfer of 120 students to Jefferson Craig, but now there is very little classroom space for the delivery of such remedial Title I services.

The movement of Switzerland county Middle School’s special education students out of a room specially equipped to help these special needs children learn life skills, and the relocation of Jefferson Craig’s computer room to Switzerland County Middle School have been mentioned numerous times as additional concerns of the parents of elementary and middle school students.

The expense of yet another feasibility study for Switzerland County Elementary School, which is part of this “reconfiguration” plan, as well as the cost of the new administration building and the “million dollar driveway” are also major issues which these concerned citizens want to discuss with someone who will listen to them. Whether these major projects are funded with taxpayer monies or with “foundation” or “endowment” monies is also a question of those with whom I have spoken.

At a time when other school corporations across the country are eliminating numerous teacher positions as well as curricular and extra-curricular programs, are consolidating small school corporations like ours with others, and are closing school buildings altogether due to grave financial issues, our school board approved close to $1 million for a connecting “driveway” and another undetermined amount for a new school administration building. These decisions just don’t make much sense to many taxpayers.

As I wrote in my last letter to the editor, on June 3rd, 2010, when I attempted to discuss some of these concerns about teacher reassignments, relocation and gutting of classrooms, and inaccurate information reported by school administrators with six school board members and Superintendent Jones present at a pre-arranged executive session on May 17th, 2010, I received no response from any of the six board members present (Jim Phipps, Andy Truitt, Vern Waltz, Virgil McKay, Tonya Moore, and Wayne Daugherty – Bill Roberts was not present at this May 17th meeting). An executive session is supposedly the forum that county residents can utilize to privately discuss issues of public concern with the superintendent and school board members. But these public servants would not talk with me during this meeting, and to date I have still received no answers from any administrator or representative of the school board to any of the questions I posed.

When parents and patrons recently contacted me, my first question to them involved whether or not they had contacted any of the school board members, superintendent or principals. Several with whom I spoke indicated that they had not because they feared repercussions for their children if they did so. One parent told me that her child was only in the first grade, and she could not bear the thought of him being a “target” in school for the next 12 years because his mother expressed opinions contrary to those held by the administrators. Several of the teachers and staff members who disagree with the reconfiguration plan have seemingly not spoken up either because they too seem to fear negative consequences in their employment status, poor performance evaluations, or undesirable reassignments in the future. Reassignments of teachers to schools where they have never taught or to buildings farther from their homes or to grade levels or to subject areas vastly different from their areas of expertise, training, and interest are ways that teachers can be “disciplined” or retaliated against when they disagree with administrator proposals during community or public school board meetings.

Switzerland County taxpayers are paying dearly for the services of a seven-member school board and for the salaries and benefits of school administrators this board has hired to serve our children. Open and honest communication in a professional and non-threatening environment must begin occurring immediately among Superintendent Elizabeth Jones, Jefferson Craig Principal Rhonda Pennington, Switzerland County Middle School Principal John Druba, the seven school board members, teachers at the four county schools, and parents and patrons of children of all grade levels. The drastic and harmful modifications which have been made in school programs, in teaching assignments, and in school facilities as a result of the “reconfiguration” plan must be immediately corrected by those who are responsible for these hasty and unfounded changes. Meaningful communication in the future will hopefully reveal the real reasons the changes were proposed in the first place and help to put the school board back on track for making well-researched and educationally sound decisions that will benefit all those whom the school board and the school administrators have vowed to serve.

William T. Cord

Vevay