‘One Heart – One Tribe’: Two options

Community members share frustration with being silenced at public meeting on long-term planning for Twin Lakes’ schools


 

Twin Lakes Superintendent Deb Metzer told a crowd gathered at Twin Lakes High School that “our students deserve more” and asked them to “imagine the possibilities” of one centralized elementary school. But for many in the crowd, that wasn’t enough.

Options

The Twin Lakes School Corporation presented two potential options to the community at a public meeting on Oct. 6 regarding consolidation and renovations of elementary schools.

Option one, consolidate all three elementary schools into two buildings on the Meadowlawn campus; a K-2 building and a 3-5 building. This option would include relocation of the existing soccer fields with the potential for improved facilities. A new Primary School building (K-2) would be built to the south of Meadowlawn, where the current soccer fields are located. There would also be a separation of bus and parent drop-off traffic flow to improve safety and ease of congestion. This parking would be located behind the current bus garage and between the new soccer fields and Primary Building.

A representative from Lancer Architect Associates goes over a schematic of the potential new Elementary Campus for Twin lakes School Corporation on Oct. 6. Amy Graham-McCarty/News & Review

A representative from Lancer Architect Associates goes over a schematic of the potential new Elementary Campus for Twin lakes School Corporation on Oct. 6. Amy Graham-McCarty/News & Review

Option two, retain and renovate Oaklawn and Eastlawn Elementary Schools’ buildings. Both options would cost the corporation $30 million.

Community outrage

“This is a complete sham,” community member Terri Roscka said after the meeting in which community members were not allowed to publicly speak. Instead, the corporation offered a comment card and said that “frequently asked questions” would be answered on their website and social media platforms.

As of Tuesday, Oct. 11, answers to questions had not been posted.

Roscka said she believe the school board was acting illegally by not allowing public comment. She presented the board with a copy of House Bill 1130 and Senate Bill 83 passed by the Indiana General Assembly on July 1 that mandates school boards offer an oral public comment period at all public meetings, including those conducted virtually.

“I just disapprove of the way this entire thing has been handled,” Roscka said. “I encourage people to come to the school board meeting where they can talk.”

Emily Wilson, vice president of Bose Public Affairs Group which is associated with the corporation’s legal counsel, was at the meeting and said that the corporation’s lawyers said that public comment is only allowed at meetings in which a vote is being taken. However, many argued that a “survey” taken at the end of the meeting constituted a vote.

Imagine

Metzger spoke during the meeting and asked those in attendance to “put all your feelings asked and ask what our students could be able to do” in a consolidated elementary school.

“This school corporation I am passionate about. This is where I want to be,” she said. “So the decisions we make now weigh heavy on our hearts. They affect parents, your communities, routines, and cherished traditions. We understand that. But for just a minute lean in and listen to what could be.”

She said the corporation’s slogan is TL Pride, One Heart, One Tribe.

“When our communities work together, family, staff, and schools, we all benefit,” she said. “Imagine a building that would house K-2 students and then a building that would house 3-5 students. Enriched curriculum options available because we would no longer have to separate resources through three buildings. Having students together would allow us to offer instructional support based on the development of the child. Each school would have teachers and staff placed strategically based on their grade level expertise.

“We have the opportunity to provide specialized instructions to meet the needs of every single student in our corporation . . . when we all come together, we are better.”

She told those present that the corporation would no longer have to stretch specialized staff between buildings.

“Our reading specialists, our English Language teacher, technology expert, STEM instructional coach, our Math and English specialist, our counselors, our special education staff that are stretched thin; we would be in one centralized location,” she said. “This would benefit all students.”

Challenging times

Terry Lancer, of Lancer Associates Architects, spoke on the challenges facing the district.

“These are the challenges that are currently facing Twin Lakes School District. The first one is declining enrollment, which does create challenges with finances,” he said. “Projected deficit spending; I’m sure we all know what that means. It means you’re spending more than you are taking in. Teacher and staff salaries are not competitive with surrounding districts.”

Other challenges, he said, include grade levels spread across three separate elementary schools.

Twin Lakes School Corporation’s enrollment in 2014 was approximately 2,475 students, Lancer said. Enrollment for the 2022-23 school year is about 2,200. Lancer noted a steady decline in enrollment saying that the corporation has, “Lost a couple of hundred students over the last several years.”

In 2022, Lancer told the group the deficit spending for the corporation was $625,000.

“By 2025, the deficit spending could be over $2 million if nothing changes,” he added.

Presently, according to Lancer, Twin Lakes falls below the bar for a competitive teacher compensation package when compared to other schools in the area.

“The starting teacher at salary plus benefits (for Twin Lakes) equals $51,000 a year,” he said. “Average starting compensation for teachers in the area is $55,000.

“This is a serious issue for the school corporation. They want to attract the best talent, the best teachers in the area to educate the students of this community, and obviously when you have deficit spending it makes it extremely hard to be competitive with the other school districts to get the best talent and teachers for your kids in this community.”

“Brick and mortar never taught people anything, it’s the people inside,” School Board President Shane Hanna said.

Other issues noted were the cost per student to educate. At Meadowlawn, Lancer said, the cost annual cost per student to educate is $7,134. At Eastlawn, the cost is $8,719.

“That cost per student gets back to the size of the student body,” he said. “So Meadowlawn is a larger school with more students, it’s more economical per student to educate them. It gets back to staffing, administration, and how you can average out classroom size with teachers.

“The number of custodian workers, the number of kitchen staff, it all adds up. So, a school with a larger number of students brings down the cost per student for their education.”

The numbers

Hanna said if Option 1, consolidation of schools, were chosen, the corporation would save $1 million annually.

“That money could be used to improve and enhance teacher pay,” he said. “(Twin Lakes) is the least financially appealing place for a teacher to work based on total compensation.

“If we choose option two (renovation of existing buildings) and spend the same amount of money to renovate and remodel the current building we own, we don’t save the money and we will not achieve $1 million plus in savings each year. Therefore, if we elect option two, and the community still supports raising teachers’ compensation, then taxpayers would need to consider a referendum to make that happen.”

Hanna said option one allows a tax-neutral option. Bond money will be used to pay for either option one or two. The corporation continues to experience a decline in enrollment and revenue, and an annual deficit of $500,000. If enrollment continues to decline, at the current rate the corporation will be $2 million in the red by 2025.

Poll Questions

A live poll was conducted during the evening asking four questions:

Do you agree it is important to increase TLCS teacher compensation to be able to hire and retain good, dedicated teachers for our kids?

Do you think it is important to bring all elementary students together to promote “One Heart – One Tribe” for a student’s entire school career?

Do you agree that all elementary students should have access to the same educational experience regarding facilities, class sizes, and educational programs?

Are you willing to accept a tax rate increase if Option #1 is not implemented?

Technical difficulties made it difficult for those in attendance to answer the questions in a timely fashion. The News & Review was asked by the corporation to provide the poll to our readers. Please visit www.surveymonkey.com/r/B2WJCPH to complete the poll.

No Public Comment

Concern was raised at the meeting about oral public comment not being allowed.

As the meeting came to a close, several individuals expressed their concern about just learning about the information.

“I thought it was a farce,” Nancy Milligan said. “Those present did not have a chance to express their opinions or suggestions. It’s a very important issue.”

Marianne Conley said she was disrespected by the board.

“I felt like it was pretty disrespectful that (the meeting) was handled by the architect and not people of the board or our own superintendent. She pushed it onto them. Every aspect just now had clearly been planned for over a year. It’s just bogus.

“I will have a daughter at Eastlawn. All of our family has went to Eastlawn over the years and she would have been the last one.”

Hanna said that a study was completed “8 or 9 years ago” that projected the student population to be in decline. That study, he said, was updated approximately 1 to 2 years ago and continued to show a “significant” decline in the study body.

“We discussed different options,” he said. “The discussion began with we are operating at a deficit and what can we do about it.”

As for staffing, Hanna said, “no plans have been made, or do I anticipate plans being made to let staff go.”

As for the concern about the timing of the meeting and the format in which it was handled, Hanna said, “The goal of the meeting tonight and the one on Oct. 26 was for public input. We stand by that. We are community members, and we are fairly available. It has never been to conduct school business that is legally required to be done publicly in any other fashion than publicly. This (meeting) is for education and that’s really why we had this meeting.”

Hanna said that as of Oct. 6, no money has been paid to the architects for their work on the schematics which were drawn up and presented at the meeting. Any financial payment over $5,000 does require a vote by the school board, he said.

The next school board meeting will be Oct. 18, at 7 p.m., in the cafeteria of Twin Lakes High School.

A second public meeting will take place on Oct. 26, at 6 p.m., in the cafeteria of Twin Lakes High School.

School Board members are Shane Hanna, president, Gloria Kinnard, Becky O’Farrell, John Roscka, Maury Waymouth, Jeff Milligan, and Mike Godlove. To reach the school board by email, message schoolboard@twinlakes. k12.in.us. To reach the superintendent, email dmetzger@twinlakes.k12.in.us.

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