SIDNEY — More than 30 people, many of them Shelby Hills staff and parents of children enrolled in Shelby Hills Early Childhood Center, attended the regular meeting the Sidney City Schools Board of Education, Monday, Dec. 17, in the board’s meeting room.
Four of them spoke about the recent announcement by the school system that plans are under discussion to remove Sidney preschool students from the center to be educated in the city schools instead.
School Board President Bob Smith called for public comments, limiting each speaker to 3 minutes.
Kim Hoying, a preschool teacher’s assistant at Shelby Hills, invited the board to spend a day at the center in January.
“Come see the rooms, the kids and the staff,” she said.
Diane Dempsey, a retired board of developmental disabilities superintendent, urged the board to “slow down the process.”
“I’ve sat where you are. It’s tough to make tough decisions,” she said. Dempsey referenced the cut in funding that has caused Shelby Hills to ask for more from the public school system. The funding used to come from tangible personal property taxes collected by the state. The state has pulled that funding from boards of developmental disabilities. It’s the Shelby County Board of Developmental Disabilities who runs Shelby Hills.
“The Shelby Board was No. 1 in the state in terms of loss of personal property tax. It was a huge loss,” Dempsey said. “I would encourage you to have focus groups of stakeholders. Then put together a strategic plan. Get that plan to the public. We all want what’s right for the kids.”
Brandon Ward told about the experience his daughter has as a student at Shelby Hills. Her transportation to and from school is provided. She gets one-on-one sessions with occupational, speech and other therapists weekly. She is in other classes, including gym, with just 12 other students.
“We’re sometimes shocked at how aggressive the IEP goals were (that were set for her by therapists), but she met all but one. Shelby Hills said, ‘Let’s set the goals higher.’ Credit goes to those therapists,” he said. Ward voiced his concern that because such specific support is not state mandated, it might be lost if children are moved to city schools.
Christine Mullennix didn’t mince words.
“Please leave the kids alone at Shelby Hills,” she pleaded. “I do understand and agree with a comment about trying to make preschool available to more kids that wouldn’t be able to attend, but I urge you to find another way.”
She recounted how important IEPs at Shelby Hills had been to her four children and then referenced staff changes in the city schools.
“I’ve seen superintendents, numerous schools psychologists and special ed directors leave the district. I’ve seen the intervention specialists moved around and their job responsibilities changed year to year. Please tell me how you will be able to create an environment equal to or better than Shelby Hills: ratio of 12 students to 1 teacher and 1 aide; one IEP kid to one typical (kid); 33 teachers with 78 years’ experience and paraprofessionals with 141 years’ experience; 12 therapists with 131 years’ experience; one nurse; three administrators; not to mention all the adaptive devices that will need to be purchased,” Mullennix read from a prepared statement, copies of which she provided to the board.
In conclusion, she reminded the board that a decision to take students out of Shelby Hills could have a negative effect on future levy issues.
“Most people know that this community does not support the school district. You, the city, the industries might as well never put up another billboard or sign again. I, myself, will always vote for the school levy for the kids. This might just be another nail in the coffin for Sidney schools. I am certain if you do this, people who always voted for the levies won’t again,” she said.
In response, Smith assured everyone that “nothing has been set in stone. We’re still working on plans. We all care about the kids.”
Board member Jason Schaffner noted that his children had attended Shelby Hills.
Fellow member Mandi Croft addressed the flurry of comments about the proposal that have shown up on social media.
“Those negative comments are taken so personally. If there’s a way to prevent (the hurtful comments), that would be amazing,” she said.
In other business, the board introduced the use of a technology system, Board Docs, which projected a “scoreboard” — the meeting agenda and results of action — onto a wall of the room and permitted board members to record votes on their individual computers.
Treasurer Mike Watkins reported that school revenues are ahead of projections for this point in the fiscal year, property tax allocation is “on target,” he said, and expenditures for salaries and benefits are trending 4.6 percent better than forecast.
“Purchased services are more than what we budgeted, but I’m not too concerned. Revenue and expenses are more than acceptable for this time in the fiscal year,” he said.
The board then:
• Hired Chris Moore as a custodian at a rate of $15.55 per hour, effective Jan. 1, and Pamela Bynum and Scot Cromes as custodians at $14 per hour, effective Dec. 18; and Damara Hicks, Kristen Brunswick and Victoria Smedley as latchkey aides at a rate of $11 per hour, effective Dec. 18.
• Accepted the resignations of Sidney Middle School aide Kristy Kendall, effective Dec. 17, and of Sidney High School custodian Gary Clark, effective Dec. 3.
• Set Jan. 14 at 6 p.m. as the date for the annual organizational meeting and elected Brooke Gessler to serve as president pro tem during that meeting.
• Approved a Sidney High School band trip to Orlando, Florida, scheduled for November 2019.
Croft reported on current legislative action in Columbus that could affect the district:
• House Bill 491 has been sent to the governor. It concerns alternative graduation pathways. It would allow current seniors to obtain diplomas in the same manner as last year’s seniors, but makes changes for current juniors. For them, the attendance rate option is no longer allowed. It sets a minimum 2.5 grade point average figured cumulatively over a student’s junior and senior years instead of just the senior year. It requires that capstone projects and the 120-hour community service or employment option comply with guidance developed by the Department of Education.
• The bill also requires school boards to develop a policy concerning credit awarded for assignments completed by suspended students.
• It exempts treasurers from liability for loss of public funds when their official duties have been performed without negligence or wrongdoing.
• And it requires the issuance of substitute licenses to state-licensed speech pathologists, audiologists, registered nurses, various therapists and therapy assistants and social workers who wish to be employed in a substitute capacity by a school system.
• House Bill 776 was recently introduced. It would require public schools and public universities to provide training for staff and instruction for students on food allergies.
Board member Chip Hix reported on recent action by the board of the Upper Valley Career Center.
• The day after a career-exploring open house, the school received 554 applications.
• The board approved a trip to Colorado for landscape students to participate in a competition.
• The board approved several new textbooks.
The Sidney City Schools board then voted to move into executive session to discuss the sale of property. No action followed the session.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.