ST. JOHN | More than 100 parents attended Tuesday’s Lake Central School Board meeting, demanding board members answer concerns and take action to reduce the number of students in some elementary classes.
Class size was one of two issues 17 parents and teachers signed up to discuss during the public comment session at the end of the meeting. School funding became a major focus during this discussion.
Earlier in the meeting, Director of Finance Rob James gave a slide presentation and explanation of budget figures for 2013 that will be published in local media Friday and Sept. 14.
His 20-minute presentation covered how school districts, especially Lake Central, face financial challenges because of new state regulations. He told the board and audience that state law prohibits school districts from spending more money than they take in and doesn’t allow money from one fund to be used in another category.
For example, funds designated to buy buses can’t be used in the general fund to hire more teachers or classroom aides.
The comment session became heated as parents continued challenging Board President Howard Marshall and Superintendent Larry Veracco to justify how money is spent in the Lake Central School Corp.
Marshall had set the ground rules, indicating the board would take all concerns under advisement and not answer specific questions, but James explained the state laws again to parents. Veracco told one parent, “So you want us to ignore state law?”
In the face of these answers, a number of parents still demanded to know why money was spent on Coach-brand buses to take marching band members and athletic teams to away events when more teachers were needed to reduce elementary class sizes.
James said the buses ordered for 2012 cost less than anticipated, leaving money in that account. Asked why the money in that bus fund wasn’t saved for another year, the finance director said the band director and athletic coaches asked to have the buses with undercarriage storage if there was money available.
“We had the opportunity to spend that money on these buses,” James said.
Parents, administrators and Marshall traded verbal exchanges on the subject until Marshall finally gaveled the meeting closed.
Kindergarten classes a major concern
Heather Rose, of Schererville, led the classroom size discussion, telling the board about one large kindergarten class at Watson Elementary in Schererville, where her two children attend.
Her son’s kindergarten class started out the school year with 29 students. Another student joined the class Friday and is an ESL or English as a Second Language student. In addition, teachers no longer have aides in the classroom.
Rose said she chose to address the board because attempts to “open a dialogue between the parents and the corporation to rectify our concerns over class sizes” went unanswered.
There’s a discrepancy in the information given out by Director of Primary Education Mark Kellogg at last spring’s kindergarten orientation and the reality of kindergarten sizes, she said.
Among the promises Rose said were made were capping of all kindergarten classes at 24 students.
"How can the School Board defend allowing administration to increase kindergarten class sizes to over 27 students and feel no responsibility to take immediate action?” she asked the board.
Watson currently has four unoccupied classrooms where students from larger kindergarten classes could be enrolled if another teacher were hired, Rose said.
“We are asking the School Board to keep the promise of administration to not increase class sizes to over 24 kids and find other ways to bridge the budget deficit,” she said.