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North Harrison board changes way public concerns are handled

At Dr. Phil Partenheimer’s first school board meeting as superintendent of the North Harrison Community School Corp., the five school trustees allowed a change in the agenda order that some believe stifles public comment.
Partenheimer, who implemented a similar change while he was superintendent of Lanesville Community School Corp., said at the July 12 meeting that he was moving concerns from the public from near the end of the agenda to almost the beginning; they will follow approval of claims and payroll. He also said concerns now must address agenda items only.
The change was made, Partenheimer said, to help expedite the meetings.
Indiana law doesn’t even require school boards to allow public comments, he said, adding that persons with concerns should follow proper chain of command, such as starting with the appropriate teacher and moving up the administration ladder until satisfied.
‘Then if someone still wants to be on the agenda, that can happen,’ he said.
Partenheimer said he has an ‘open door’ to anyone who wishes to talk with him.
School trustee Ron Coleman said the board also has eliminated administrator concerns from the agenda.
One person from the audience was given the opportunity to address the board July 12 during public concerns.
Greg Rupp, a fourth-grade teacher and president of the North Harrison Classroom Teachers Association, spoke about the changes.
‘This board meeting used to have the most openly discussed agenda in Harrison County,’ he said. ‘Lanesville and South Harrison decided to limit input to those who have elected them to that position. Now we have followed their very poor lead and have limited our discussion. This is a sad day indeed for the taxpayers of Harrison County.
‘I don’t believe that everybody should agree with everybody,’ Rupp continued, ‘but I’m sure that Mr. (Ken) Oppel, as a past government teacher, would agree that in a Democracy, everyone should be allowed to speak and express their opinions.’
Rupp said that while the board may ‘squash debate and input by the public,’ the teachers still have concerns about how they are being treated. He said they also are concerned about class sizes, in light of teachers retiring or resigning and not being replaced.
‘If we do not rehire positions, will our existing teachers have excessive class sizes?’ he asked. ‘Our students do very well in their classes, but our scores are suspect by state standards already … Will high class sizes lower them even more by state standards?’
He reminded the board that North Harrison teachers are about to begin their fourth year without a new contract.
‘The kids deserve the best atmosphere and conditions that are available,’ he said. ‘This cannot possibly happen when this board and their main office administrators are so focused on tearing this system apart …
‘Teachers must have a contract,’ Rupp continued. ‘Once again, we are so close. The ball is in your court. Two pieces of the puzzle are left to be put into place. Put them there, and let’s begin to heal wounds and mend fences and tend to the job at hand of teaching our kids.’
Partenheimer responded to Rupp’s comments, saying no one was ‘being squashed’ by changing the format for public comments; rather, he was ‘just trying to streamline issues and the way they’re handled.’
In other matters July 12, the trustees:
‘ Approved contract bus route specifications as board policy. The decision was a split vote with school trustees Gary Byrne, Fred Naegele and Ron Coleman voting to approve it; Bobby Chinn voted against it; and Buddy Bosler, whose wife drives a school bus, abstained.
Chinn said after the meeting that it was the stipulation regarding allowing Carpenter Manufacturing buses that caused him to vote against the policy. He said he believes all Carpenter buses should be taken off the road instead of allowing those that have been rewelded as a safety precaution to be acceptable. Carpenter buses that have experienced broken or cracked welds were built at the Mitchell factory between 1986 and the plant’s closing in 1995.
Assistant Supt. Ken Oppel said all of North Harrison’s buses have passed inspection this summer. Bus bids were scheduled to be open July 24.
‘ Approved the textbook fee schedule for the 2007-08 school year as follows: Morgan Elementary ‘ $70, kindergarten; $94, Grade 1; $78, Grade 2; $77.50, Grade 3; $93, Grade 4; $85.50, Grade 5; North Harrison Elementary ‘ $65.05, kindergarten; $100,85, Grade 1; $84.35, Grade 2; $84.85, Grade 3; $81.82, Grade 4; $96.31, Grade 5. Fees for Grades 6 through 8 were also approved but vary depending on which classes students take.
‘ Accepted resignations from Rhonda Rhoads, who decided to retire as a teacher from Morgan Elementary School (her career includes 32 years with the last 29 at North Harrison Community schools); Kenneth Johanning as a teacher at North Harrison High School; and Brenda Cochran as a middle school cafeteria employee.
‘ Approved several appointments: Angela R. Martin as a first-grade teacher at NHES; Lynn Benson as a fourth-grade teacher at NHES; Jeremy Shireman as a math/physics teacher at NHHS; John Lambert and Tony Waynescott as lay co-coaches for summer softball at NHHS; and Kari Smith and Emily Pease as lay assistant guard directors for the high school band.
‘ Elected Coleman to serve as board president, Chinn as vice president and Byrne as secretary.
‘ Appointed Sharon Hanen as school corporation treasurer; Judy Jeffries, assistant treasurer; Kathy Chinn, ECA treasurer; and David Layson, corporation attorney.
‘ Approved changing the August board meeting from the second Thursday to Tuesday, Aug. 14. It will start, as usual, at 7:30 p.m. in the North Harrison Middle School library.