Ten “Hmmm…” Moments from the HSE School Board Meeting on Feb 13

The February 13th, 2019 Hamilton Southeastern School Board meeting was one of the longer meetings. This meeting had a number of topics covered including the video retention policy, an update to the non-discriminatory policy, approval of a bond, approval of a contract, and then updates by the superintendent and board members. In this short blog post, I’m going to cherry pick ten items from the meeting that were interesting or might make you say “hmmm…..”.

Hmmm…. 1: The Never Ending Video Retention Discussion

The topic of streaming and retaining videos is one that I believe to be a no-brainer. Other districts retain videos of the board meetings and don’t indicate any date for them to go away. Other organizations do the same. As such, it is mind boggling that the topic was brought up again and nearly 30 minutes spent bantering it around before a vote was taken. At one point Mr. Boyer even commented that there were more important things for the board to be talking about than this, yet he continued to talk about this instead of calling for a vote! Look for this to be reviewed and hopefully finalized in next month’s meeting!

Hmmmm…. 2: Sexual Harassment at Fishers High School

Wow! A couple of community members, including to FHS students, spoke on alleged sexual harassment at Fishers High School and the idea that a person was being allowed to participate in a sport they were removed from as a result.This discussion by itself is enough to make you go “hmmm….’. It left many questions. You can watch the following video starting after about minute 12:00 to hear the comments. With the exception of Mr. Boyer, the board did not comment on this topic.

Hmmm…. 3: “I won’t be reporting these kinds of things in the future”

It is an unusual thing for a student to present to the school board in the main part of the meeting. As such, the two FHS students presenting (in my previous “Hmmm) deserves its own call out. The bigger “hmmm”, however, is hearing a Fishers High School Student stating that as a result of the school district’s actions they don’t feel comfortable reporting future issue such as the one discussed. This is the exact opposite of the environment the school district has been trying to create. Hmmmm….

Hmmm…. 4: “That was in our 3 year plan anyway.”

Most people likely missed the subtle comment made by Mr. Harrison, one of the technology people for the district. The board was presented with a contract that included a charge of over $10,000 for electronic equipment to add close captioning in real-time to the video streaming. It is odd that time was spent for the school board to discuss this topic because Mr. Harrison made the comment that it was in his 3 year plan to buy the hardware anyway.  Hmmmm…..

Hmmm….5: On the agenda, off the agenda

On the draft agenda from the January 30th meeting, there was an item (5.01) for Ms. Chavez to report on a policy. Ms. Chavez prepared a 15 minute report to present to the school board on diversity. In the agenda for the February 13th meeting, this was dropped for a standard item on policies and Ms. Chavez was shifted to speak as a community contributor, which is restricted to just 3 minutes. I’m not privy to the details of what was promised by the board, but do see the draft agenda on the January 30th Board Docs and the final agenda for February 13th. Ms. Chavez did her presentation in 3 minutes, which was impressive. Wondering what additional information she could have presented will may you go “hmmmm….”.

Hmmm….6: High School Choice

Just when you think it is done, it’s not. While time is running out. the administration opened up a survey to try to determine the impact of adding transportation. Adding shuttle buses between the two high schools is being considered, which would allow families that can’t afford to provide their own transportation to be able to still make a choice on which High School they want their child to attend. It seems high school choice is not yet completely nailed down…hmmm….

Hmmm…7: A new school, but no net new teachers

Southeastern Elementary will be opening next year. With a new school, you’d expect that the district would see an increase in the number of overall classrooms and thus an increase in the number of teachers. In addition to 26 new positions at Southeastern Elementary, there is also a need for teachers at other schools. Specifically,  Cumberland Road would need to gain 4 teachers, Sand Creek Elementary needs to gain 1, and Riverside Intermediate needs to gain 5 teacher. A total 0f 36 positions need to be filled in the lower grade levels.

A flow chart was created (shown below) to make sure that the hiring for these positions is equitable across the schools. Teachers in the district had until February 25th to apply for these Kindergarten through sixth grade positions. After that, the positions will be opened for consideration outside of the current teaching staff. this expanded opening is expected to happen by Spring Break. At the meeting, it was stated that there was going to be a lot of movement of teachers across the district.

Mr. Boyer asked the question of how many positions the district was going to lose at existing schools to make up for the new school. The response was that the 36 open positions, replace 36 existing positions. No new positions are being created even though a new school is being filled. That should make you go hmmm….!

Hmmm…8: Redistricting in a couple of years

Yes, you heard right. There could be another redistricting within a couple of years. This topic was raised when issues around High School Choice were raised and the need to consider different high school lines. If Durbin Elementary is updated or rebuilt, then it could take on a couple hundred additional students. This would cause a small shift in the redistricting that just occurred to take advantage of the space. The shift in the elementary schools would then roll out and impact the other schools that were being fed into. Changes to Durbin Elementary could happen within just a couple of years. Dr. Bourff seems to be pushing for this change sooner rather than later.

Hmmm….9: Posting recent videos…Maybe Not?

Previously it had been indicated that meetings in the new board room were being recorded and could be made available. At this meeting, it was stated that the board meetings that were being recorded before the streaming starts, might not be posted to the public. It was indicated that there would be a cost associated to getting the videos posted due to the need to add closed captioning and processing them to fit within the BoardDocs agenda structure. The technology group was going to need to see what the cost and effort is going to be. This would mean that some of the contentious meetings such as this one and the mid-November meeting would never go live. Hmmm….how convenient.

Hmmm…10: “In the public, not with the public”

It was stated by the board that the meetings are in the public, not with the public. This is important for those attending school board meetings to understand because it means that while you might have information that could help the board in the discussions they are having, you can’t share that information. It also means that if you want to speak, you have to request time in advance and present without the expectation of getting feedback. This means you can present questions, but you cannot expect answers. As many people saw in the February 13th meeting, the board can engage with members of the public if they want. They don’t, however, have to engage with everyone that takes the time to present.

In Conclusion

The February 13 HSE School Board meeting was definitely interesting. My notes are not perfect, but they give you an idea of just some of the many topics that were covered. Not all school board meetings are as exciting as this one, but with everything happening in the district, I expect there will be a few more exciting meetings in the coming months.

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Transparency Versus HSE Schools Video Retention Policy

The HSE School Board has been discussing their video retention policy for months now. The previous school board overwhelmingly voted for videos to only be retained for 45 days before being removed. One board member indicated that for transparency the videos should be left online indefinitely. Because it wouldn’t be until later that videos would start to be posted, the old board decided the incoming board could review the policy and decide on changes.

The new board is now in place and the video retention policy has been discussed a couple of times. If the policy is going to be changed, it is expected to happen next month.

Why should the policy change?

First, why not retain the video indefinitely? Other school districts and organizations leave their videos online. Storage is cheap, and storing them provides the ability to go back and find what was discussed. There have already been examples referenced by the new board to the interest in looking at old videos, something they can’t do because they don’t exist.

The primary argument for removing the videos has been that the written board minutes are the official record of the meetings. While this is the case, the official minutes in the current written form are lackluster at best. This is best illustrated with an example. At the November 14th meeting, there was an agenda item related to the HSEA (the teachers’ association). The official minutes documents this as follows:

6. HSEA Relationship with Board
Information, Discussion: 6.01 HSEA Relationship with Board of School Trustees

Janet Chandler gave a brief presentation to the board.

Parent, Cathy Goldman addressed the board, calling into question board reaction to social media postings.

That is the official tracking of this board item as recorded in the minutes and approved on November 30th. From these official minutes, you’d never know that this item caused the school board room to be packed. The room was filled primarily with teachers who were concerned with a public posting by an existing school board member. The parent comments reflected the same. Had there been a video of the event you’d have gotten the details that were like what is in the following poorly recorded video:

As you can see in the video, a lot was said that isn’t reflected in the minutes. More importantly, with a 45 day retention policy, an official video of this meeting would now be gone, expunged, lost in history. While a few board members might like to see it go, it could be argued that there were important points being made that would also be lost.

This is just one example. As someone who has attended a lot of school board meetings, I could list other examples of where discussions in the board meetings were not reflected in the minutes. Such a list could be an entire article on its own. I won’t do that at this time.

Will the policy change?

I believe there are currently three school board members that will vote for transparency and the posting of videos for the long term. I believe that there are two school board members that could vote against posting the minutes for the long term, just as they voted to keep the current policy no longer than 45 days. That leaves two board members that I would be hard-pressed to predict, which means a vote could go either way. THe first of these two, Brad Boyer, is an unknown to me on this topic. In the discussion from this last school board meeting, his contribution was about reviewing policies and not really about this specific policy. It was unclear if he had a point regarding the specific video policy, which left his potion questionable. The other unknown to me is Sylvia Shepler, who had sided with the old board on limiting the video to 45 days; however, the November 30th meeting she seemed to support the idea of leaving the video live “for at least four years.” From her past votes on topics, however, I won’t speculate on how Sylvia will vote. Of course, nobody’s vote is certain until it happens.

In Conclusion….

In short, right now it is unclear how the vote for retaining the videos will go. I would strongly suggest people write the board members and push for them to support transparency and make a policy that leaves the videos live forever. Being able to go back and review discussions on topics that have happened within school board meetings is a valuable resource. Let’s hope that a majority of the board members see the value in leaving this information available. After all, if there is nothing to hide, then what’s the harm in leaving them public other than it making a number of people more accountable….

And yes, here is my rough video of the video retention discussion from the January 30th board meeting:

High School Choice HSE School Board Discussion

Hamilton Southeastern Schools has two high schools, Fishers High School (FHS) and HSE High School (HSE). While recent redistricting impacted many kids in kindergarten through eight grade, the district left the high schools alone – for the most part.

The reality is, the high schools are not balanced. To offset this, Fishers has allowed parents to choose to send their kid to the high school outside of their area within the district. The result of this is that about 8 kids have chosen to go to HSE instead of FHS, and almost 200 have chosen to go to FHS instead of HSE. This doesn’t include the additional kids going to FHS for the IB program.

The net results of this for 2019-20 can be seen in the following chart pulled from the HSE School Board BoardDocs page:

You an see that in the end, HSE is currently expecting 3342 students next year with FHS having almost 7% more at 3572. While Fishers High School is higher, the district expects growth to be on the HSE side of town, thus the lower number could change.

Where the Noise is

The issue with high school choice, however, centers on transportation. The HSE district has offered transportation for many of the high school students even if they were not in the current district lines. This was not something guaranteed, so going forward transportation will not be offered. This has caused a number of people to complain. One of the biggest issues is that many people going to HSE have to drive by FHS to get there. Another issue centers on the neighborhoods near the dividing line. In those neighborhoods, there are a number of kids that have chosen to flip schools. This puts pressure on the remaining kids that are friends to do the same so they can stick together. For those families that can’t afford or have the means to drive their child to school, this adds undo pressure. Additionally, because neighborhoods are on the line, in some cases, busses from both high schools enter the neighborhood, yet kids can only use the one for the school they are allocated.

The issue has been contentious. At the last school board meeting, there was a great deal of discussion on the topic by the new school board. Additionally, one parent spoke on the topic to the board. The following is the rough video of that meeting:

Redistricting the High Schools

Based on the comments made in the last HSE School Board meeting, redistricting at the high school level is not currently planned. The choice program, while not at the percentage the superintendent would like, is close enough to let things continue as they currently stand. The plan is to continue the experiment of choice for the next year or two.

The school district is currently working on student numbers for next year now. These numbers need to be nailed down because it determines the number of classrooms and teachers needed. If there is a need to shift teachers or hire new teachers, that needs to be done sooner rather than later. As such, any changes to district school lines need to be finalized now.

Some of the Q&A:

Question: Could buses be offered for those neighborhoods that have a busload of kids that are choosing to go to a different school?

Answer: This would cause issues. There could be others that then want to switch schools who hadn’t done choice due to the lack of transportation. Additionally, other kids could say it is unfair to bus some kids but not all.

Question: Could we extend the bussing done this year for another year?

Answer: The reasoning for adding bussing this year no longer exists next year. Additionally, bussing was never guaranteed. Kids were allowed on busses if there was space.

Question: If IB kids are being transferred between schools on the shuttles, why couldn’t we expand this to allow any kids to use the transfer buses? This might take 2 or 3 more buses

Answer: If a kid can afford to drive, they are likely to drive rather than bus to one school and then take another bus to school.

Question: Why is Fishers High School more desired?

Answer: Because kids at Riverside Junior High want to stick together as do those at some of the other High Schools. Additionally, Fishers High School is closer to where a lot of kids live.

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HSE School Board December 12, 2018 – Redistricting and More…

I attended the December 12th, 2018 Hamilton Southeastern Schools Board meeting. This was expected to be an interesting meeting because the board was to approve the redistricting plans that had been developed over the previous months. Additionally, it was to be the last official board meeting for three of the seven members whose tenure ends at the end of the month.
I attempted to capture video of this meeting; however, I had limited success. I worked with a new camera, so while the video quality is better than the cell phone I’ve used in the past, I’m clearly still learning to use the camera. Additionally, I can’t control the audience around me, including the tiny kids that had been brought to the meeting that were right behind me.

Redistricting HSE Schools

The primary topic of the meeting was redistricting. Like the previous school board meeting, the HSE Superintendent, Dr. Bourff, presented a recommendation for the school board to consider. This was the same recommendation that he made at the previous school board meeting. Unlike the previous meeting, he also included several possible amendments to the proposal. You can catch my video of Dr. Bourff presenting here (sorry for the low audio in this snippet):

The first option Dr. Bourff presented as a change to the proposed redistricting plan was to move Logan’s Pointe from Southeastern elementary School and HIJH over to Durbin Elementary School and Fall Creek Intermediate/Junior High. This only impacted 19 students. This proposed change was passed by the school board.

The second option for change was to move Sunlake apartments to Harrison Parkway, and the “River” neighborhoods to New Britton Elementary School. This proposal had received a lot of discussion. This proposal would have put the “River” neighborhoods back into New Britton. The irony is that Sunlake kids would likely have to drive past New Britton to get to Harrison Parkway once the construction on 37 starts. This proposal failed to pass.

A third option for change was to move the Anchorage neighborhood from Geist Elementary School to Brook School Elementary School. This proposal only impacted 6 students that currently attend Geist. This proposed change was passed by the school board.
The fourth and final potential option for change in the proposed redistricting plan involved removing the 8% split that occurs at HIJH for students going to Fishers High School. This proposed option failed to pass by the school board.

Community Comments on Redistricting

After Dr. Bourff presented, a number of community members took time to speak. Most raised concerns regarding the redistricting plans. You can catch their comments in the following video. I bumped up the volume on this video:

School Board Redistricting Discussion

After the community talked, the school board members discussed the recommended redistricting plan and amendments. A final vote approved the redistricting plan with amendments to move Logan and Anchorage back. There would also be grandfathering for grades 3, 5, and 7; however, transportation would not be provided. Amendments to move Sunlake apartments was not approved, nor was eliminating the split at HIJH. An additional proposal to move allotments 131/132 in the Durbin area also failed to pass by the board.

The final redistricting map is currently available on the school’s web site:

Other School Board Items

There were several other items that were covered in the school board meeting.

A proposal was made and approved to move the school to a third-party audit system instead of using the Indiana State of Accounts system. An audit committee was brought up and approved in the previous school board meeting.

Also covered was an update on live streaming the HSE School Board meetings. It was stated that the school board meetings would not start streaming in January. It was stated that the school system is required to include closed captioning on the video. This was not seen as an issue. The delay was indicated to be a result of using an out-of-state company of the video streaming. This company needs to file to do business in Indiana, which will take time. It is expected that February or March is more likely to be a start time for streaming. Nothing new was stated on the 45-day retention policy. I will, however, try to record any meetings I attend and post them on a YouTube Channel for long-term retention (Fishers, The Other Side of the Tracks).

New high school courses had been presented in the previous school board meeting. The courses were presented again and approved. The courses include African Studies, International Relations, Language for Heritage Speakers, Painting III, Robotics Design and Innovation, and Science Research (Independent Study).

Thanking Go to Those Leaving

Several other topics were covered in the board member reports. The big topic, however, was the recognition of the three board members that were ending their tenures. Terry Tolle, Matt Burke, and John DeLucia will be leaving the board at the end of the month. Each of these guys brought their individual perspectives to the board. While Terry tended to be focused on beating Carmel, all three seemed to be looking out for the Kids in the district. Each contributed positively to making HSE Schools the best they could be. Losing these guys is a loss to the school system; however, hopefully those joining the board will fill the gap with fresh insights and perspectives.

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HSE School Board Candidancy

As many people know, I’m one of the few (if not the only) people that regularly attend the school board meetings that is not either on the board or paid staff of the school system. I attend these meetings for a variety of reasons; however, the primary reason is because it is a source of firsthand information related to our schools and our city; information that impacts our kids. Our kids spend roughly a third of their day within the school system, so the decisions made by this group of people impact their lives in both positive and negative ways. With a budget twice that of the city’s, the school also has the potential to impact not only our kids, but the city around us.

I’ve been regularly asked if I will be running for a position on the Hamilton Southeastern School Board this election. While there are still a couple of days left to register, at this time I do not plan to run for a position, and thus will not be registering.

Over the years I’ve watched and noted decisions made by the school board, raised questions, and called out issues. I’ve done that without a seat at the table and plan to continue to do so. After all, it’s our kids that they are messing with.