Lifelong Learning, alternative school ‘turf war’ continues
The phrase ‘turf war’ was used on more than one occasion last Wednesday night to describe the feud between Harrison County Lifelong Learning center representatives and Harrison County Alternative School board members. At least for now, it seems the two sides have settled on a cease fire until the Harrison County Board of Commissioners meet Tuesday morning.
The commissioners/council room at the courthouse in Corydon was filled to capacity with approximately 50 people present for the special meeting called by Commissioner Terry Miller to ‘clear the air’ about Lifelong Learning and its services, specifically the 21st Century Scholar grant obtained by South Harrison Community School Corp. and implemented mainly by Lifelong Learning.
Both sides were given the opportunity to speak to the three-member commissioner board, which holds the fate of Lifelong Learning as a county entity or private organization.
The board’s legal counsel, John E. Colin, recently determined the county has no ordinance in place establishing Lifelong Learning as a county entity.
The meeting began with South Harrison Superintendent Dr. Neyland Clark explaining the ins and outs of the grant acquired by South Harrison. Clark said South Harrison probably would not have been able to afford summer school without the 21st Century Scholars grant, which was obtained through a partnership with Lifelong Learning.
The key focus of the grant is credit recovery, Clark said. Students who have failed a class or lost ground on their graduation schedule can make up credits with this summer and after-school program taught at the Lifelong Learning center. The program is not only for high school students, but also students in grades K-6 at South and North Harrison.
The summer program served nearly 100 students for a total of about 2,500 credit hours.
‘The success is beyond what we ever expected,’ Clark said of the program, particularly the elementary division.
The grant, which will pay $400,000 a year for four years at South Harrison and $125,000 at North, needed a community partner to enhance the grant application, Clark said.
Miller asked Clark what would happen with the grant if Lifelong Learning was no longer a county entity and could not support the program.
‘We’d have to find another mechanism (to administer the grant),’ he said. ‘I guess it could be done.’
After Clark’s presentation was complete, alternative school board member and county councilwoman Leslie Robertson spoke to the board.
Robertson said she wanted to make it clear that the alternative school is not Lifelong Learning’s enemy.
‘Nor am I,’ she said. ‘I have been a strong supporter of adult education, including the Lifelong Learning concept and program until recently. In fact, I was a member of the original task force back in the late ’90s that recommended to county government that there was a need in our county for adult and vocational education.’
She said it has always been the alternative school’s mission to provide a place where at-risk students who are suspended or expelled can continue to pursue their education. She said the alternative school continues to only serve students who are younger than 18.
‘There is real concern that Lifelong Learning has now decided to include students in grades 9-12 in their programming,’ Robertson continued. ‘In the past, there was an understanding between the alternative school and Lifelong Learning that commingling students under the age of 18 was not desirable … However, it seems this no longer matters.’
Robertson said it seemed two of her fellow council members suggested not funding the alternative school just to ‘get back’ at her for raising concerns about Lifelong Learning. During budget meetings, Councilman Ralph Sherman said he thought the board should pass over the alternative school’s budget just like Lifelong Learning’s, until the issue was settled. But, the council ended up funding the alternative school and, at a later meeting, put the funding in place for Lifelong Learning as a single line item.
‘I want to say that my comments regarding Lifelong Learning are not spurred by jealousy, envy or any political agenda,’ Robertson said. ‘I do not see this issue as a Democrat or Republican one, but one of meeting my obligation as a county council representative. I have real concern regarding the effectiveness of some of Lifelong Learning’s programs and oversight of its director (Doug Robson) and his actions.’
Robertson said Lifelong Learning has moved outside its mission by offering services already provided by the alternative school. She also said it has violated its bylaws by allowing some board members to serve longer than their two three-year terms. She also said Lifelong Learning, since it acted like a county entity, should have asked the commissioners for permission to sign the 21st Century grant.
‘We’re not here to have a turf war,’ Gordon Ingle, alternative school board legal counsel, said. ‘We’re not here to lay blame; we’re here to serve the children.’
Lifelong Learning board president Gary Geswein then had the opportunity to clear up a few ‘misconceptions.’ He said Lifelong Learning did incorporate at about 1999-2000, but the board was asked by the commissioners to dissolve that status in 2003 because of insurance reasons. Geswein requested the board to provide an ordinance so the center can become a county entity, as it has always been considered and functioned as. If not, Geswein said, they’d like to get the process under-way to become a 501(c)(3) organization.
‘We’d like to continue in the county,’ Geswein said.
Commissioner chair James Goldman said he didn’t think the board could answer that question at that time. Geswein asked the board to make that decision fairly soon. He said it takes approximately three to four months to obtain 501(c)(3) status.
‘We’ll work as quickly as we can on this,’ Goldman said.
Robson did not pass up the opportunity to defend his program when Goldman asked if anyone else wanted to speak before the meeting was adjourned.
Robson said there are some rumors about him and Lifelong Learning that he’s ‘not going to dignify’ with a response. He said most of the comments made by others were done so without knowing all of the facts. He said the community chooses most of Lifelong Learning’s programs by need.
‘If there’s any way we can do it, and not duplicate any other services, we try to do it,’ he said.
He said two questions are asked before choosing a program: What’s the need and who will the program serve?
He said Lifelong Learning has served residents in times of need such as employee training after Keller Manufacturing and Tower Automotive left the area. He also said the center offered an alcohol server training course, which anyone serving alcohol had to pass, so workers would not be fined or, worse, lose their job.
‘There was no place in the community offering those (training classes),’ he said.
As for the 21st Century grant, Robson said former South Harrison Assistant Superintendent Jeff Hauswald came to him asking for help by partnering for the grant. Robson said he asked Hauswald about the alternative school and was told it declined to help. Robson said he knew and trusted Hauswald, and also that he had the backing of his board, so he signed off on the grant.
Robson said that even if the funding from the grant was not sufficient, knowing what the board knows now about how much of a need there is for the program, he couldn’t see how the commissioners couldn’t step up to the plate and fund the credit recovery program.
‘What value do we put on that kid’s life?’ Robson asked. ‘What value do we put on his future?’
He said the center in no way intended to initiate hard feelings or a ‘turf war’ with the 21st century program.
‘We did it because of the need and a community partner needed help,’ he said. ‘I felt like I had an obligation to do what you hired me to do.’