(BEDFORD) – Around July of 2019, Dr. Ty Mungle informed the school board of forming a Visionary Committee of 30 people to set a vision for the school corporation for 2020 and beyond.
The Visionary Committee was given three options from a team of department leaders and support staff in the North Lawrence Community School system.
Many options are now being considered by the school board as they try to determine the best plan moving forward.
Dr. Ty Mungle provided WBIW with a document that outlines the need for consolidation and how the process of consolidation will be implemented.
The following priorities were considered for the three plans:
- Increase student support
- Increase student opportunities
- Ensure before and after-school programs
- Support the dedicated NLCS employees
- Maintain the effective student to teacher ratio
- Right size the school corporation
- Ensure financial stability
- Develop an Early Learning Center
The first issue for the school corporation is addressing enrollment numbers which have been declining over the last ten years. In addition, state funding for the schools has decreased, with operational costs increasing.
Over the next five years, there is an expected population decline of more than 1.4 percent for the period.
Mungle says that currently there are more buildings than needed to educate students and that the district is operating in deficit spending. There have been 7 feasibility studies performed since 1980.
“These studies have resulted in similar results each time,” says Dr. Mungle. “The district needs to reduce facilities and streamline student programs.”
The Visionary Committee agreed that a change was needed.
Dr. Mungle says that financial concerns are one of the major reasons for action at this time. NLCS has been operating in deficit spending and officials have asked for additional appropriation funds. The additional appropriation funds amount to more than $1.5 million and the education fund needs an additional $1 million. The additional appropriations were requested during the December school board meeting.
Mungle says that with the declining enrollment, there is expected to be a decrease of approximately $27 million in state funding down to about $24 million in the next three years.
The operations fund has overspent in the category of operation and maintenance of plant services. This category includes utilities, building maintenance, non-support staff (custodians) as well as general administration support services. The education fund has been overspent in instruction which includes payroll, benefits, and support services, Dr. Mungle said.
The corporation transfers $482,517.50 from the education fund to operation fund on a monthly basis. This is more than $5.9 million a year and 21 percent of the education budget. The state recommendation is 15 percent or $4.2 million annually. This would leave $1.5 million to use on teacher salaries, benefits, professional development, and curriculum.
Dr. Mungle says there is a lack of equal access to the same opportunities at the schools. Six out of nine schools have a robotic teams, and one of the three middle schools has robotics as an extracurricular activity.
“Project Lead the Way is designed to provide activity, project, and problem-based learning opportunities for the students,” he added. “While this is a priority for the district, in our current status we are only financially able to support the administration in two out of the ten elementary schools. “
There is also a lack of staff support. Several elementary schools do not have grade-level partners to which to collaborate with because there is not another teacher teaching the same grade-level in the building.
Dr. Mungle stated collaboration time is also lacking due to traveling/shared teachers between the 10 elementary schools. With the proposed plan North Lawrence Community Schools will be able to provide support and resources necessary to create a K-12 district-wide plan that will best meet the needs of the population.
The plan will improve things for students by having a behavior specialist, school psychologist, reading specialist, health services and counselor or social worker in each school.
The other improvement will include moving beyond the Core Curriculum. The non-core curriculum includes robotics, athletics, fine arts, and media club.
“Additional resources will also be incorporated into the schools. Schools play a vital role in preparing children for the future. Much of the preparation is in areas not related to traditional classroom subjects. The following subjects will continue to be the focus of the corporation,” he added.
Community-based organizations such as boy scouts, girl scouts, and others use North Lawrence Community Schools facilities for their programs.
Dr. Mungle says that throughout the transition, school leaders will work with these organizations to minimize disruption to their groups and assist in finding a space for them.
The core curriculum will remain the same and follow the Indiana Academic Standards for all grade levels and subject areas.
Mungle stated, “Students ready to learn beyond their grade level will be given that opportunity, and students needing more time and help will have that also.”
Additional curriculum offerings will include that each elementary school will offer Project Lead The Way programming to increase problem-based learning.
“This will allow teachers to engage students in hands-on activities, projects, and problems, that will empower them to solve real-world challenges and inspire them to re-imagine how they serve themselves,” he added.
The middle school level has teachers trained in PLTW (Project Lead The Way) and students will be provided the opportunity to participate in the curriculum through elective offerings.
“After school programs will be provided at each elementary school through North Lawrence Community School employees or our partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence County,” said Mungle.
The North Lawrence Community School Corporation is committed to the support of 1,200 students with disabilities. A decrease in the number of buildings will allow increased support available on a daily basis to all students. All special needs services will be offered to students in the elementary or middle school building they attend.
“Early learning is a high priority for the North Lawrence Community School system, with a goal to increase learning opportunities for our future North Lawrence Community Schools,” Dr. Mungle said. “Plans are to have a dedicated learning center at Stalker Campus. The school corporation’s goal is to meet the needs of the community, parents, and future students.”
The staffing opportunities will be enhanced through consolidation with the school corporation recognizing the role teachers play in the current and future success of students.
“Teachers and staff need resources and collaboration to be successful in the mission. At the present time, the district does not allow for adequate support of our entire staff,” Dr. Mungle added.
With the proposed changes there will be more opportunities for staff. The competitive pay, increased support through coaching and meaningful professional development, as well as quality collaboration are among the proposals.
Facilities are another major concern of the school corporation. North Lawrence Community Schools currently operates 15 schools with an average occupancy of below 50 percent. The leadership agrees that change must occur to improve the opportunities for students and teachers.
As North Lawrence Community Schools increase the number of students at campuses, the school corporation will work diligently to prepare buildings. There will be some changes needed at certain buildings to increase the capacity of kitchens, address parking for staff and design new traffic flow patterns.
The biggest concern at this time is at Bedford Middle School in regards to where the students are being dropped off and picked up. During the dismissal of the students at Bedford Middle School, vehicles park on 15th street and traffic is backed up to almost M Street which blocks the streets for several minutes. The building itself is the second oldest building in the corporation. Dr. Mungle does consider the building to be safe.
There is expected to be almost a $1.8 million in savings from the closing of the underused buildings, according to Mungle.
A new committee that will be formed in the future will explore options for the Fayetteville, Heltonville, Needmore, Springville, and Stalker buildings. The committee will work quickly to ensure the buildings will be repurposed. It is likely Stalker will be used as an early learning center and Gateway Academy.
“The changes are difficult, but the magnitude of the changes presented by the school corporation is to act quickly and effectively provide the resources and opportunities to help staff and students,” said Dr. Mungle. “A slower implementation would deliver inevitable changes over time in a way where vital resources would not be made equitable or available to all stakeholders. This will draw out over an unnecessary amount of time. Students are resilient and extremely quick to adapt. Immediate access to more resources, learning opportunities, and support structures outweigh any discomfort during a time of transition.”
Transportation is complex for the school district. In January, North Lawrence Community Schools will begin the process of rebidding bus routes by advertising. The bids will take place in February. The district lines and routes will be designed at that time. To simplify that process the new elementary district lines will follow current middle school lines when acceptable. All transportation will be communicated to parents and guardians as soon as possible.
Currently, the school board is looking at the three proposals. At this time no decision has been made. School board members says that they still have many unanswered questions.
The Thursday night school board meeting will not include any restructuring or consolidation plans. This will allow school board members more time to seek additional information.