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ST. JOHN — The message to the state legislators was simple: "We need help."

Three of the four state legislators whose districts include at least a portion of the Lake Central School District met recently with school administrators and about 30 residents to discuss issues pending before the General Assembly.

Most of the discussion could be boiled down to one statement: "We need help," School Board President Janice Mahclow said, referring mostly to the need for funding for teacher training, classroom activities and programs being mandated by the state without the funding to pay for it.

State Reps. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, and Julie Olthoff, R-Crown Point, and state Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, fielded questions and gave the group an update on what's happening in the legislature.

State Sen. Frank Mrvan, D- Hammond, whose district includes a sliver of Dyer, was unable to attend. Topics ranged from the attempt to make the state superintendent of education an appointed position to the effort to push back the start of the school year to the last Monday in August.

Local officials favor earlier school start

Although both those issues failed by narrow margins, Superintendent Lawrence Veracco and Assistant Superintendent Al Gandolfi both spoke in favor of the earlier school start saying it allows them to complete the first semester before the Christmas break and provides extra days to prepare kids for the state testing. Malchow said the start date should be a local decision.

A bill that would combine several funds and give schools more flexibility in spending the money got mixed reviews from Rob James, School Business Services Director. James said he liked the part giving schools more flexibility, but the bill contained other features that would eliminate the school's Rainy Day Fund and the insurance fund, which he said didn't make sense.

Malchow cited information from an article in a state legislature's magazine stating U.S. teachers make 30 percent less than teachers in other industrialized nation's and have twice the attrition rate. The article also said one in 10 U.S. students fall below the poverty line compared to one in four in other industrialized nations. Foreign schools are developing better educational systems using research developed in the U.S. but ignored by schools here.

"A lot of money for public education has been cut and sent to charter and private schools," she said, adding it forces public schools to do more with less money. "If you want to be the best, you have to think of changes. We can be good, but we can be a heck of lot better."

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Olthoff said she authored a bill that passed the House to require two hours of suicide prevention training for teachers every two years. Veracco asked if the bill included any funding, and Olthoff said it didn't but the plan was to provide funding when it goes through the Senate. Niemeyer later agreed with that plan.

Veracco said requiring schools to have programs like suicide prevention training and substance abuse training without a sustainable funding source means schools have to make cuts in other programs or increase class sizes. If the legislature is going to use tax money for private and charter schools, they should be held to the same standards as the public schools as far as accountability, he said.

Former Lake Central board member Paul Vreeland said it now costs $60,000 to $75,000 to get a college degree to be a teacher so you qualify for a $30,000-a-year job. Vreeland said charter schools don't improve learning because it's usually the lack of parenting that causes schools to fail and charter schools don't change that. He added the grades of charter schools should be published the same way public school ratings are published so people can see how successful they are. Or aren't.

Veracco said the legislature also should stop lowering the corporate taxes, which he said already are the lowest in the area.

Slager told the group, "If there's an issue you'd like me to champion, I'll do it."

Veracco said after the session the main message they hoped to get across was "stop the unfunded mandates."

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