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02-19-04: Forum attendees speak out about teachers rather than St. Henry levy


BURKETTSVILLE — Some unnamed St. Henry Consolidated Local Schools teachers came under fire during a Wednesday public forum aimed at educating the public about a 9.52-mill property tax levy that will appear on the March 2 ballot.
After listening to Superintendent Rod Moorman and other district officials present an hour-long lecture on the state of the school’s finances, Moorman opened the forum up to questions. But few questions about the levy were asked.
Instead, a half dozen or so of the 60 people who attended the forum at the former St. Henry school building in Burkettsville asked questions and expressed concerns about the district’s teachers. No specific allegations were made and no teachers were named, but the criticism stirred a passionate response from Moorman.
Some parents claimed students are not being treated properly by some teachers. Charges of humiliating and embarrassing young students were lodged by parents who did not identify themselves when they spoke.
Some parents also said they would not raise formal concerns with the teacher or building principal because they fear retaliation against their children.
One woman said even after she did get the courage to air a complaint, she was never able to follow up on its resolution. The building principal told her disciplinary matters are confidential and would not tell the mother how a complaint against a teacher was handled.
Moorman told the woman Wednesday that it could be “HIPAA” that prevented her from learning the teacher’s fate. HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The federal legislation prevents the disclosure of private medical information, not school disciplinary records. In reality, all teachers’ personnel files — and any reprimands in them — are public record, except for the sensitive health information.
Still other parents aired concerns that they cannot safely complain about a teacher without risking retribution against the students.
Moorman attempted to allay such concerns, telling the parents there would be “hell to pay,” if any teachers or principals failed to properly respond to a complaint or retaliated for a complaint against a child.
“If it does happen, there’s going to be repercussions about it. We can’t operate under these type of scenarios,” Moorman said.
Twice during his energized defense of the district Moorman added an emphatic “Jesus!” before his comments.
When it appeared the discussion was headed for a showdown over the district’s teachers instead of the pending levy, Bill Beyke, who coordinated Wednesday’s event, intervened. As had been previously planned, the audience was split into several groups and sent to different rooms to discuss specific school funding issues.
Earlier in the evening, Moorman talked about how a number of factors led to the district’s need for the levy, which is a mix of renewal money and some new tax revenue.
Lower interest earnings, a change in the way student enrollment is calculated, lower than anticipated revenue from the state, declining enrollment and unfunded mandates from the state and federal government all have factored into the district’s current finances, Moorman said. He also showed that St. Henry spends the second-lowest amount of money per student among Midwest Athletic Conference schools.
About 70 percent of the district’s funding comes from the state, which has been wrestling with budget problems the past two years, leaving the future uncertain.
Board President Ralph Nietfeld told the crowd there are no guarantees that passage of the levy will carry the district through the next five years without any new funding.
“We haven’t asked for a dollar-for-dollar offset in funding reductions so we can’t guarantee we won’t be back,” Nietfeld said.
The local levy proposal is partly based on the belief that the state Legislature will get its finances righted and restore funding to prior levels. Without changes in state funding, the district will be perilously low on funding, he said. Based on current projections — with the proposed levy passing March 2 — the district would have less than enough money to meet a single two-week payroll expenditure by June 2008.
St. Henry school officials plan to repeat Wednesday’s forum two more times, including Saturday at 2 p.m. at the high school and Tuesday at 7 p.m., also at the high school.


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