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Uniformed officers hired for SH schools

Thanks to windy, wintery weather that knocked out the power, most of the March 5 meeting of the South Harrison Community School Corp. Board of Trustees took place in relative darkness at New Middletown Elementary School.
A clock in the cafeteria, where the meeting was held, was frozen on 6:15, the time when power to the school stopped. Backup lights were used in the meeting, which started at 7:30, until almost precisely 8:15 when electricity was restored.
Near the end of the meeting, the board approved the addition of three school resource officers for the remainder of the 2012-13 school year.
The officers ‘ off-duty, uniformed personnel from the Corydon Police Dept. and Harrison County Sheriff’s Dept. ‘ will be a pilot program that began Monday and will continue through the end of the school year at a cost of about $25,000.
Superintendent Dr. Neyland Clark said he anticipated a full school year to cost the school corporation about $110,000. It’s a move that the corporation is likely considering at least for next year.
One officer will work at the South Central campus in Elizabeth, a second officer will ‘float’ between the New Middletown and Heth-Washington elementary campuses and one officer will work on the Corydon campus.
‘All the reports that came in (Monday) were pretty positive,’ Clark said of the first day with the officers.
Steve Duley, South Harrison’s transportation coordinator and school safety specialist who is a former paid officer with HCSD, helped coordinate the program.
‘The officers are there to provide a presence, smile, greet kids, and, in the event we have a problem at one of the schools, they have the authority to respond,’ Clark said.
Also in the way of security, Clark said the corporation will revamp surveillance systems and its door-buzzer system. In the interest of keeping the changes confidential, he didn’t elaborate specifically as to what moves are being made.
In another matter, a vote to approve a contract extension of Corydon Central High School Principal Jennie Capelle was pulled by Clark.
Capelle, whose contract runs through June 2014, had a similar measure come up during the February meeting, but there was a 3-2-2 vote that was not a quorum, so the measure didn’t pass.
During last week’s meeting, Michelle Cooper of Bose McKinney & Evans LLP in Indianapolis, which serves as South Harrison’s legal counsel, explained that, when it comes to contracts, according to law in Indiana, at least four votes are required in order for a measure to pass or fail. Also, she said, when it comes to family members voting on a contract, the only time it is required that a voter abstain is if the person in the contract lives in the immediate household.
During February’s vote, trustee Vickie Engleman, Capelle’s mother, was told she had to abstain during Capelle’s vote. Since they don’t live in the same household, and despite the perceived conflict of interest, Engleman was legally allowed to vote on the contract. (School trustees sign a conflict of interest notice annually.)
‘One has legal ramifications and, actually, you have to follow the statutory procedure under certain circumstances, while there may be others that is more perception based (in terms of conflict of interest),’ Cooper said.
Cooper and the rest of the board went through board policies, and trustees were given the opportunity to ask questions about guidelines.
Board president Mary Mathes pointed out that, while board members are voted into office from a specific district, they represent the entire school corporation as a whole and not the area in which they were voted to office.
‘You are elected by a particular district because that’s how you are established, but, ultimately, you as a board are a representative of the entire school corporation and, when you act, you always need to act in what’s the best interest of the corporation as an entity,’ Cooper said.
In another matter dealing with board policy, Cooper explained that, according to the Indiana Open Door Law, the public does not have a right to speak at a school board meeting. Current board policy ‘ which hasn’t been followed in many years ‘ is that people who wish to speak to the board are required to give notice to the superintendent’s office 10 days before the meeting. Currently, members of the public sign in at the meeting. A maximum of 15 minutes is provided for the public to make comments.
‘You have a lot of leeway there with the types of parameters you want to establish (for public comments at board meetings),’ Cooper said.
Cooper also suggested that the board should be the last, and not the first, place people go to voice a concern. She said complaints should start with an appropriate administrator and escalate from there.
‘If the start of a personnel complaint is coming straight to the board, that is not a good policy,’ Cooper said. ‘You need to be redirecting these folks to the proper administrators … Remember, ultimately your role in that process of personnel is much different than the role of an administrator, and you don’t want to compromise what your role is in that process from a legal perspective.’
Several presentations that had been planned to be made at the meeting were postponed due to a lack of electricity and not being able to use a projector and computer.
The next board meeting will be Tuesday, April 2, at 7:30 p.m. at the administrative center in Corydon.