Bloomfield board on record against school reform measures; board member abstains because of political nature of resolutions
The Bloomfield School District Board of School Trustees passed two resolutions Thursday night calling for the rejection of education reform legislation that is being supported in the Indiana General Assembly by the governor and superintendent of public instruction.
Superintendent Dan Sichting recommended passage of the resolutions to reject House Bill 1002, dealing with charter schools, and House Bill 1003 concerning school vouchers.
In making the recommendation on HB 1003 resolution, Sichting said "the use of public tax collections to subsidize private schools, often endorsed or sponsored by religious institutions seem to conflict with the constitution of the state of Indiana."
He noted, "The constitution clearly states 'no money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution.
"I want everybody to understand that I'm not bringing this (the recommendation) because I'm political in nature. This has nothing to do with being Democrat or being Republican or being liberal or being conservative. To me, there is an issue with this bill (HB 1003) that hasn't been told and I've talked to the Legislative Service Agency. They (the Department of Education) did a really good job of accounting for all students that were in private schools and all students that are in public schools and all students that were in charter schools. The group that they missed (in the bill) was our home-schooled students. As these bills pass, if home-school students come back into the system, then all schools -- charter, public, private -- will see a reduction in funding because of that. There is no allowances made for home-schooled students that are coming back into the system. My fear is that we are going to build a budget thinking we are going to have x-amount of money. I don't know and I don't think Legislative Services know or I don't think the legislators know how many of these kids are going to come back into the system. There may be none of them that come back. There may be half of them that come back. If half of them come back it's going affect not just us (public schools) but private schools and charter schools in a negative manner. We are going to receive less funds. So we build a budget and we employ people and we get into the year and then we hear we are not going to get what we think we are going to get. That to me is a problem. That's my issue with this bill."
In relation to the resolution opposing HB 1002 concerning charter schools, Sichting commented, "My issue with this bill is, it would require us, if there was a charter school in our area, it would require us to transport students or give them a portion of our transportation (tax) levy for them to get to the charter schools. As you well know, our transportation levy is one of our tightest funds. Right now, it's going to be very tight as long as gas prices continue to rise. The other issue is, it is a levy-driven fund, which means I can't increase it or mandate what the increase is going to be every year ... if there is a charter school that is located in our area or located anywhere in Greene County, we are going to have to give the students that are settled in our school district part of the transportation levy to get to and from the charter school."
Sichting also noted that currently programs to improve student achievement, including full-day kindergarten or pre-school programs are not fully-funded by the state.
However, the vote on both resolutions was not unanimous.
Both resolutions passed by a 5-0-1 vote.
Board member Steve Dowden abstained, saying he didn't think that as elected non-partisan board member it was right to get involved in partisan politics.
Dowden told Sichting, "I'd like to say I admire your passion for it and I think as a superintendent, I think your job is to educate the community and let the community know the issues that affect their schools. Aside from that as a school board, we are an elected body, not a political body. Personally, I don't think it is our job as a board to debate political issues or take a stand. We have to represent our constituents throughout our board area ... I don't think it's the board's job to get involved in political issues one way or another. From that standpoint, I will abstain."
After the meeting, Dowden expanded on his earlier comments and told the Greene County Daily World, "I just don't think it's the job of the school board to be discussing and voting on political issues. My personal stance on the House legislation is not even important as it relates to my functions and responsibilities on the board of education. School board members are elected as non-partisan and are not affiliated with a party for a reason. We're an elected body, but not a political body ... The board as a whole has no binding authority over political legislation, and shouldn't be passing resolutions that favor a specific political agenda, one way or the other."