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Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

Principals propose realigning East, West schools

By Amy Kronenberger
CELINA - Two district principals would like to see the elementaries shift from neighborhood schools to grade level buildings.
East principal Michelle Duncan and West principal Sue Aukerman have proposed one building house students in grades K to 2 and the other house grades 3 and 4. The pros and cons of their plan were presented to school board members Monday.
The idea of realignment has been considered for more than a decade, Aukerman said.
"What really intensified the talks this year is the new curriculum standards and the third-grade reading guarantee," she said. "It would be so much easier if all the teachers were in the same building, so they could work together."
Having all sections of a grade in one building would allow teachers to work collaboratively to improve standards and ensure consistency of instruction, the principals said.
Aukerman and Duncan proposed East Elementary become the kindergarten through second grade building while West Elementary would have third- and fourth-graders. A pros and cons list was created by the teachers.
"Surprisingly enough, the teachers I talked to ... really are in support," Aukerman said. "They see the benefits; they understand the work ahead of us."
Most of the cons were due to costs, such as additional staff for special classes, adding three to five bus routes and remodeling for age-specific items (smaller drinking fountains).
Teachers also were concerned the realignment could negatively impact the future passing of levies. In November, voters rejected a building bond issue to construct a new elementary school and demolish East and West. School board members have not decided when they will put the levy back on the ballot but have said they would try again.
Educationally, teachers only saw positives for students, Aukerman and Duncan said. Teachers said the change would eliminate the East versus West mentality, and having all third and fourth grades at West would allow cross curriculum with the fifth and sixth grades at the nearby intermediate building.
Realignment would equalize enrollment in the two buildings and eliminate overcrowding at East. The change would free up three classrooms at East and add them to West, where there is space to accommodate. The class sizes also would drop on average from 23 to 20 students per teacher.
Teachers also would have access to better resources and support services.
Board members agreed the move would make the most educational sense but were concerned by the possible costs.
"There's a lot of things I haven't thought or heard about," board president Matt Gilmore said. "We need to pin down the bus information and what exactly that will need and other cost estimates. I don't know if I want to go backward in our finances ... Do the benefits outweigh the costs?"
Aukerman and Duncan, who did not have any cost estimates, will meet with various officials and create an estimate for the board.
"The only thing that comes to mind is we're already meeting the students' educational needs now," superintendent Jesse Steiner said. "How much of a benefit would it actually be? ... My job as superintendent is to provide the best education with the money we have and this may or may not be the best."
Also at Monday's meeting, board members approved high school principal Jason Luebke to take over as curriculum coordinator for next school year. Current coordinator Curt Shellabarger announced earlier this month he will retire at the end of the school year.
The board then approved the promotion of assistant high school principal Phil Metz to principal for next school year. Board members have not decided if they will hire an assistant principal.
Steiner said Luebke's new salary contract would not change and would be a lateral move instead of a promotion. Luebke currently makes about $85,000 per year.
A new contract has not been written for Metz.
Board members approved an enterprise zone agreement between the school district and Ferguson Enterprises, Inc. Ferguson - the largest U.S. distributor of plumbing supplies - plans to build a 400,000-square-foot facility along state Route 29 at the corner of Harris Road.
The agreement will give the business 100 percent property tax exemption for 15 years.
School officials sometimes negotiate a payment in lieu of taxes from the company to compensate for the district's loss of property tax. However, treasurer Mike Marbaugh said school officials decided to forego the payment.
Steiner pointed out Ferguson is expected to hire 70-80 people. Assistant superintendent Kevin Mast said the company is known for being supportive of the local schools with donations. Even without a donation in writing, officials believe the school and city will benefit from the new business.
In other action the board,
• approved the retirement of Teri Ross, third grade, and Bill Sell, high school social studies, both with 35 years of service.
• approved the resignation of Amy Luebke, high school yearbook adviser.
• learned various teachers will receive $100 mini grants for classroom supplies.
• approved various staff contract changes.
• hired health teacher Kim Lammers for one hour per day for 10 days in July at $24 per hour.
• approved the 2013-2014 school year calendar.
• approved a moratorium for all school-sponsored extracurricular activities from June 29 to July 7. Steiner said the buildings are shut down during that week, and it gives the kids a break from sports.
• learned from Steiner the Mercer County Board of Elections will move its polling location from the Franklin building to another location by the November election.
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