By William Kincaid
COLDWATER -- Superintendent Rich Seas told school board members Tuesday he wants a more responsible, policy-driven Tri Star Career Center administration.
Seas and board members confronted Tri Star Director Tim Buschur with a multitude of questions concerning the management of the program. Buschur ultimately was urged to be uniform in the vocational program's methods of governance for its programs housed in Celina, St. Marys and Coldwater.
This discussion comes as Tri Star's 20-year agreement on how it operates comes to an end. A new five-year contract must be implemented before September.
Both Seas and the Coldwater board no longer find Tri Star's outdated methodology of having several policies that are often based on "common sense" and "the way we've always done it" acceptable, they said.
"Things were different," Seas said about how Tri Star used to run. "You're going to have to be more accountable ... a different way of business than what we've been accustomed to. Those days have come and gone." One of Seas and the board's primary problems with Tri Star is the multiple contract policy. Because there are different programs housed at either Coldwater, Celina or St. Marys, students and teachers must adhere to the rules of whatever building students attend.
In other words, there are no universal rules for the Tri Star program. Rather, teachers and students live by the rules and contracts of whatever school they attend -- not a singular Tri Star policy.
And Seas thinks this is an unfair policy: students may be disciplined more severe or less harsh for the same offense, depending on which school they attend. And teachers may receive more extended time off days, a different salary schedule and varying teaching hours depending on the school.
Tri Star Advisory Council member Larry Dues, who also was present at the meeting, said a different set of rules for each school is positive because students will learn that different places have different expectations as to what will be tolerated.
"You're in their house, you abide by their rules," Dues said. "It's a good lesson."
Buschur said a possible solution would be to have all nine schools served by the program implement the same rules or to create another set of rules that simply governs the Tri Star program. He said meetings have been held to discuss this in the past.
But Seas said a new policy must be written for both clarification and legality.
"It should be put down in the agreement," he said. "Spelled out clear."
Seas and the board also questioned the legitimacy of the advisory board and its power in making such decisions as whether to cut a program or not.
The advisory council consists of appointed, not elected officials, Seas stressed. In the past Seas said many of the advisory board's decisions were not made with the consensual support of the boards of education of the schools served by Tri Star.
For example, recently an E-Commerce program was removed from the Tri Star curriculum and neither Seas nor the board was notified of the transaction.
Buschur, who is responsible to continuously appraise and evaluate all career technical programs, said there is no official policy-driven method in determining whether a class should be cut or not.
When board member Linda Steinbrunner asked at what point does Buschur decide to cut a class or not, Buschur replied, "common sense."
"I know it's a bad way to put it," he added.
Seas also told Buschur he would like to see one of the schools be a true fiscal agent. Currently, Celina City Schools is what Treasurer Sherry Shaffer calls a flow-through agent. He said estimates are made each year, and then a final bill is sent out to the schools after the fiscal year.
Seas also said he would like to see communication with the superintendents and Tri Star improve. He also wants to see more meetings.
"This stuff isn't going to go away," Seas said. "Vocational education is very important."
Seas said he also is interested in what other superintendents think about the forthcoming contract with Tri Star.
"I need to live with the decision of the other school districts," Seas said.