VALPARAISO | The Valparaiso schools contract with Lumenus USA to bring up to 30 Chinese students into the senior class in the fall is off the table but was very much on the minds of about 100 people at Thursday's School Board meeting.
Valparaiso Community Schools Superintendent Michael Berta explained the process that led up to his recommendation a month ago, and the board's authorization for him to finalize a contract with the Valparaiso-based company.
Berta said Lumenus would have provided tutors and guidance counselors to help with the students' needs, and the students would have paid $4,802.57 each to the district, which is the standard tuition rate. That money also would have been used to hire any other staff needed.
The contract was never signed, but it would have been reviewed annually. It was withdrawn by Lumenus after questions and concerns were raised by teachers and residents following the board decision. Berta apologized "to anybody if they were offended" by his recommendation.
"My intent from the very beginning was to take care of our students and to offer them a program that would benefit everyone," he said.
Most of those who spoke at Thursday's meeting criticized the process that led to the decision for not including the teachers, other staff members or the community before a vote was taken. Some said the board should have done more investigation of Lumenus, which they said was only interested in making money and not educating students.
Even those disappointed by the withdrawal of the contract said more discussion was needed. Former Valparaiso Teachers Association President Charles Foster said the board failed to follow the state law in discussing Lumenus with the teachers.
"Even without the law, why would we not want to bring these matters to the light so questions can be answered," Foster said. "We can't solve problems unless we get them out in the light. It's how we stay successful as a school district."
Christopher Pupillo said if cultural exchange is so valuable, the district should be promoting its existing foreign exchange program. Others challenged the concept the Chinese students would receive cultural immersion when they would be living separately rather than with host families, as other exchange students do.
Lumenus CEO Eric Froelich said, "It was just an idea to bring students over to enrich their lives and enrich our students lives. Let's not kill the concept. Let's think of a way to make it work."
Berta, who is retiring in August, has said the issue will not be brought up again until a new superintendent is in place. The board is accepting applications through the end of the month and hopes to appoint someone in a couple of months.