VALPARAISO | In its first meeting of the new school year, Valparaiso School Board members were asked to reshape their public participation policy to rebuild trust with the community.
Charlie Foster, former president of the Valparaiso Teachers Association, urged the board Wednesday to ensure that stakeholders such as parents, teachers and students know their ideas are heard and valued.
“That doesn't mean we will get what we want, but at least we are heard,” Foster said. “You need to find a way to get the communication process and public participation back to where it should be.”
Valparaiso parent Christopher Pupillo echoed Foster's comments, encouraging the board to find ways to foster dialogue and suggesting members attend the meetings of other school districts.
“It's a step toward rebuilding the trust that's so desperately needed,” Pupillo said.
Pupillo also asked the board if a process was in place to look at the impact of recent budget cuts. He cited his daughter's French class that has increased from 17 to 35 students.
Mike Berta, interim Superintendent at Valparaiso Community Schools, said the cuts should have been discussed and well thought out prior to being implemented. He said it's important to stick with the plan, otherwise the district will face additional financial problems.
“The question you asked, in my world, would have been answered way back when,” Berta said.
Prior to the public participation discussion, Berta recommended the board convene work sessions in between regular meetings to discuss potential big ticket items such as full-day kindergarten or the financial issues surrounding workman's compensation.
The meetings would be open to the public and give the board a chance to dialogue and digest information before taking a vote at its regular meeting.
Board members welcomed the idea.
The board also voted to require all new district employees to pay $35 for a criminal background check. The district will pay the fee for any instructional aides who were laid off last spring due to cuts and who have been reinstated.
Members also discussed a new state law that requires the board to submit its budget to the Porter County Council for approval. City Attorney Dave Hollenbeck said the board is required to submit its budget by Sept. 1.
The council is expected to conduct a public hearing on the budget Sept. 13 and consider it for final approval Sept. 25.
“This is virgin territory for all of us including the County Council, and we're working through it,” Hollenbeck said. “We're proceeding with the new statute appropriately and the month of September should be interesting.”