News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

December 30, 2013

2013 A YEAR IN REVIEW: Education a mixed bag across the Valley

VCSC moves ahead on pool; NESC to close 2 schools

TERRE HAUTE — One of the bigger news stories for the Vigo County School Corp. in 2013 was the decision to move forward with a new, $9.8 million, centrally located pool.

The new VCSC Aquatics Center, to be funded with a bond issue, would replace aging pools at the district’s three major high schools, Terre Haute North Vigo, South Vigo and West Vigo.

The School Board voted to move forward with the project and in October approved Voorhees Park as the proposed location, pending approval of a lease agreement by the Terre Haute Parks Board.

Swimming pools at the three high schools are in poor condition and in need of renovation, and construction of a new, single facility at a central location would be the most cost-effective alternative, VCSC officials said.

n A struggling Sullivan County school district also made news in 2013.

On Dec. 2, the Northeast Sullivan School Board voted 3 to 2 to close Union Junior/Senior High School and Dugger Elementary, effective at the end of the current school year, and to move forward with a reorganization plan for the school district.

An estimated 500 people attended a short board meeting at North Central High School in Farmersburg.

The reorganization plan calls for elementary schools at Hymera and Farmersburg; Shelburn Elementary would be closed, and instead it would become a 6/7/8 middle school, serving the entire school district. North Central would serve as the district’s sole high school.

Many residents in the Dugger area pledged to take their children to out-of-district schools, including Linton-Stockton, which are closer.

District officials said the closings were necessary because of declining enrollment and lost revenue.

n In other news, the federal Affordable Care Act caused school districts across the state, including Vigo, to make some difficult decisions.

ACA mandates that employers provide health insurance to all employees who work more than 30 hours per week — or pay a penalty. Such employees are considered “full-time” under the law, but part-time by the school district.

As a result, many school corporations that employ part-time workers — such as instructional aides, health aides, bus drivers and cafeteria workers — reduced the hours of those employees.

In October, the Vigo County School Board agreed to reduce hours of those part-time employees, but not the overall weekly pay. The board agreed to increase hourly wages so that workers’ pay remains the same.

In some cases, workers with two part-time VCSC jobs — such as instructional assistant and coach — were no longer able to do both to stay within the work-hour limits.

Superintendent Dan Tanoos expressed concerns that cutting back hours for instructional assistants could hurt quality of education, especially for special-needs students.

n The Affordable Care Act and need to cut bus driver hours had another impact — Vigo County schools had to cut back on student field trips. Constraints in the transportation fund also were a factor.

Among the changes:

For elementary schools, each grade level is limited to one field trip per school year, and those field trips are corporation-sponsored. The only exception is fifth grade, which is allowed a year-end trip, but it must be academic in nature.

Also, the district no longer provides school bus transportation for middle school athletic events.

n In August, the Vigo County School Board approved a one-year teacher contract that gave most teachers a 2.2-percent raise to their base salary. The overall financial package was close to $2 million.

But because of changes in state law, collective bargaining has changed radically in Indiana, a Vigo County Teachers Association official told educators. Under a new, state-required evaluation system, only teachers rated as effective or highly effective can receive raises. For the VCSC, that was 98 percent of teachers who were evaluated.

VCTA president Mark Lee told association members that 2011 legislation, Senate Enrolled Act 1, has crippled collective bargaining and ended seniority, salary steps and the protection of tenure. Contracts between school districts and teacher unions are limited to wages and wage-related benefits.

Locally, the Vigo County School Corp. and VCTA worked collaboratively to place most of the language removed from the former contract into VCSC administrative guidelines, although those are nonbinding.

According to Tanoos, those items placed in administrative guidelines “will be honored for the length of the contract,” although they are subject to discussion during the next round of negotiations.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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