Friday, January 22, 2010

What's Behind Closing Lynwood Elementary ?

As regular readers of this blog know full well, the MSD Decatur Township Superintendent Don Stinson and his trusty Assistant Superintendent Jeff Baer, abetted by a rubber stamping School Board (notably Dale Henson, Don Huffman, Cathy Wiseman, Judy Collins and former member Larry Taylor), dug the District into a hug financial hole.


Stinson and Baer broke state laws in purchasing property, clearly overpaying in at least one instance. They broke state laws in spending millions more from District funds than appropriated by the Board. They played fast and loose with credit card receipts. And, they broke even more laws in signing a long term lease for the Mitchell Building PLUS they pay out $810,000 a year for three educational enterprises that should be self-sufficient.

Stinson has proposed a 'Fiscal Restructuring Plan' that is poorly written, inconsistent, and contains suggestions that are clearly unvetted for either possible implementation or fiscal impact. One suggestion was to pull all of the students from Lynwood Elementary and assign them to other schools in the district AND make the Intermediate School a grade 1-6 building along with the three remaining elementary schools AND move the Early Childhood Center (ECC) out of its building and into the vacated Lynwood building.

Not to be lost in the recap -- Stinson's Plan does NOT suggest the District sell off its unneeded properties, including the Southwest Pavilion Office Building (former Concentra Building). Stinson fully expects to move the Central Office crew, who will suffer very minor cuts in big paycheck Administrators under his Plan, over to the cushy confines of the Southwest Pavilion as soon as possible.


The background in all of the proposals swirling around Lynwood and the ECC are these.

Lynwood has failed the provisions of No Child Left Behind for three years and Stinson fully expects a repeat this year. One of the penalties for failing NCLB for 4 years is that all of the students must be allowed to attend any other elementary school in the District.

Stephen Decatur Elementary can still accept students. Valley Mills and West Newton Elementary Schools filled up and enrollment capped a couple of years ago. Even if a new student moved in next door to one of these schools, they would be forced to attend either Stephen Decatur or Lynwood.

The ECC has a mold problem that the District has not remedied. They need to either spend money to fix that problem, or find new digs for the Kindergarten.


Stinson's Plan to close Lynwood as an elementary school does several things that he does not mention in his Plan.

There is not enough room in the remaining elementary schools, including a converted Intermediate School, to absorb all 26 Teachers currently assigned to Lynwood. Even if he intended to keep them all on the payroll (the Plan suggests in one place that the District might be able to avoid any teacher layoffs - and in other places suggests teacher layoffs regardless) there are not the requisite number of classrooms. Therefore - and this is most important - CLASS SIZE WILL RISE.

There were 430 students enrolled at Lynwood last year (the latest information available on the State DOE's website). Given the enrollments at the other schools, one can calculate an increase of up to 26% in class size. This is the very last thing that should be done. Even though Stinson is trying to package it as an advancement in the educational practices at Decatur Schools, it clearly is not. It is the very worst thing that can happen in educational practices.

The ECC is a fairly new operation. The building was renovated from a goodly portion of the old Middle School about a decade ago. It is outfitted with diminutive hardware that matches the size of its students. The idea that the District has squandered money and spent like sailors in port on other things and neglected the mold problem at the ECC is unconscionable.


I have to give credit to Mike Kugelman, a former School Board member, for this idea.


He's right. Redistrict to realign the enrollment and keep Lynwood open as an elementary school. Swapping all of the 1-4 graded and 5-6 graded schools to 1-6 schools is always a good thing. It is even possible to free up more space by returning the 7-8 middle school to a true 6-7-8 middle school. But, redistricting is the key component.

Poll the families whose children attend Lynwood to see how many want to take advantage of the school choice option. It may not be all that many. Then redistrict to leave as much room in every school as possible.

Money would have to be spent to clean up the mold problem at the ECC - but it is better than abandoning yet another good building to rot away as they have done with the old high school that sits just in front of the ECC.


Stinson's Plan says that the District could avoid all teacher layoffs if the Teacher's Union agreed to a 5% cut in pay and benefits AND 17 teachers retired. My counter proposal asked for the 5% cut AND 5 teacher retirements, which is more feasible. The Union may be more inclined to accept the cut if they knew they were saving Lynwood Elementary School and keeping class sizes down.

Stinson's Plan says that closing the ECC will save $624,690 a year. Although his Plan comes up one million dollars short of the needed $9.8 million, he also must find someone to take over his long term lease of the Mitchell Building, saving $810,000 a year. Under my counter proposal, which saves the entire $9.8 million, I had suggested going along, reluctantly, with the Lynwood closing and get Ivy Tech to cover its own rent, saving $624,690 and $164,000 a year respectively.

But with the redistricting idea of Mike Kugelman, I would amend my proposal to the following. Keep Lynwood and the ECC where they are. Redistrict to free up space in all schools - even after accounting for expected transfers from Lynwood. Put forth a full court press to a) get Ivy Tech to cover its own rent in the Mitchell Building, b) get the Challenger Center finances straightened away so it pulls in revenue rather than gobbles up $380,846 a year, and c) realign the finances of the Decatur Discovery Academy so that it is self-sufficient through the Charter School funds already provided, instead of draining $265,501 a year from the rest of the District. I did not include the last two items in my counter proposal because accomplishing them relies upon Stinson's business acumen, which has proven to be non-existent. But, it is better than closing Lynwood as an elementary school, raising class size, and permanently closing the ECC building to rot. We have talented people in our Township. A small group of actual experts can be pulled together to get the Mitchell Building money pit situation squared away, as long as Stinson sits it out. When the three tenants of the Mitchell building pay their own way, as all were intended to do, then the District will save $810,000 a year - more than covering the $624,690 savings proposed for the vacation of the ECC.


This is an extremely bad financial situation that Decatur Township Schools face. By keeping Lynwood open as an elementary school, keeping class size down, and fixing the mold problem at the ECC, the STUDENTS will suffer the least in the process of fixing the financial mess Stinson, Baer, and the School Board made. That is what should matter.


Anonymous said...

I appreciate your concern and work on behalf of Decatur schools but as a teacher at West Newton Elem. I need to make a correction. West Newton and Valley Mills do still accept new students. We get new students every week. In fact, students who move in next door to Stephen Decatur or Lynwood have to be told that those are "Choice" schools and that they may choose to attend Valley (I don't think WN is taking any more Choice students).

As for simply redistricting, which should have been done 5 years ago, since Lynwood and SD are Choice schools, if you re-draw the lines and tell a current WN or Valley student that they now have to attend Lynwood or SD, they can simply choose not to go. I can't imagine many, if any, families choosing to send their children to another school if they don't have to. That's what makes the solution so complicated.

Thank you for your attention to the problem.

Had Enough Indy? said...

anon- thanks for setting me straight. I stand corrected.

While we discuss these things, we should be able to point to percentages or other data that can easily be obtained by telephone contact with the parents. Many parents might just want their child to go to the neighborhood school. Decisions should be made on widely disseminated data, so good ideas can be brought forward. Then you and I can talk about facts and not our best guesses on the matter.

In addition, part of the 'Plan' is to coordinate the new school enrollments so that they are economically diverse. I do not know if they want to pull out of Title 1, by having no schools that are 'worse off economically', but it did cross my mind. If they can make all the remaining schools economically diverse and still handle the transportation issues that would cause, they should be able to handle keeping Lynwood open.

Other districts have gone further into the weeds of no child left behind, but have not resorted to closing schools because of it. They have closed schools to fix financial problems or to accommodate declining enrollments, perhaps. But, the solution proposed for Decatur will clearly cause an increase in class size and that should be avoided until there are no other alternatives. How have these other districts handled the NCLB Choice requirements? Surely we can learn from those who have gone before us.

If Decatur's answer to NCLB is only to close a school that is underperforming, then Stephen Decatur is not far behind. Just to be clear, at no time does NCLB suggest closing a school that is underperforming on some, but not all categories; which is the case with Lynwood and Stephen Decatur.

Why not redistrict for a year and see if that and patches can work?

Like you said, it is long overdue. I think you are right on target that it should have happened 5 years ago.

Sell off the excess property. Then see if you have to lay off teachers by closing Lynwood and thereby increasing class size.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

How many Lynwood "choice" students attend VM or WN? How many Stephen Decatur "choice" students attend VM or WN? How many teachers from WN or VM have been transferred to Lynwood or Stephen Decatur? How many Lynwood or Stephen Decatur teachers have been transferred to WN or VM? What is the teacher assignment plan if Lynwood is closed? What has been the academic performance of students who chose choice? Does anyone assist parents in making decisions about choice?

Since we pay so much for the responsibility of some of the administrators, why don't we hold them accountable for the performance (superintendent and assistant superintendent for reinvention and new assistant superintendent for student achievement)???

Had Enough Indy? said...

anon 11:05 -- I agree totally. We should have that information so we can intelligently discuss the options, or even to craft options.

The facetious in me wants to say 'What responsibility ? We don't pay ENOUGH to actually get responsibility.'

Instead, since it is not productive and I just got it out of my system anyway... Let me say this. The school board should hold the administrators responsible. The community should hold the school board responsible.

Three positions on the school board are up for a vote on May 4. You do not have to declare a party if you only wish to vote for school board seats. You will be issued a ballot with only those races on it.

Anonymous said...

Lynwood students and teachers have to be shuffled in a major way or the state will soon take over the school. This is due to poor performance on ISTEP and NCLB, which is not the fault of students or teachers. Socioeconomic status is a major indicator of academic performance. There is no easy solutions to this (but large classes are not one of them). The implication is that until we (or any district) figures out how to pole vault kids out of poverty or disconnect being poor from struggling in school, major chaos will result in Decatur Township every 5 or so years as we pay a shell game to keep the state out. If a shell game is the only option, the administration needs to come up with a long-term plan that minimizes the stressful impact of routine shuffling on families.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous wanted information on students exercising choice option:

Had Enough Indy? said...

Thanks anon 9:43. I have been working on the NCLB and AYP rules for a new blog entry. As you know, school choice has been a requirement of the state DOE for the past few years at Lynwood and for some of those years at Stephen Decatur. The figures provided by your link shows 29 of 332 students from Lynwood participating and 28 of 338 at Stephen Decatur participating. Hardly a compelling endorsement for closing Lynwood.

NCLB and AYP give a range of remedies for the 6th year of not meeting AYP - implement a plan to do at least one of the following: 1) replace relevant school staff, 2) sufficiently extend school day or year, 3) hire full-time literacy or math coach, or 4) hire English language learner specialist. Closing the school or takeover of the school by the State are not even on the list. This is just another example of disingenuous information being provided by the Decatur administration to cast blame on somebody else (in this case the State DOE and NCLB) and to accomplish the underlying goal (get the ECC out of the moldy building they are now in and lay off teachers by closing Lynwood as an Elementary school).