NLCS Responds to Complaint Regarding Visionary Committee Selection

(BEDFORD) – The North Lawrence Community Schools responded to a complaint filed to the Public Access Counselor.

Jason Johnson, of 625 Indian Creek Camp Road, filed the complaint on November 19th.

His complaint reads:

“I feel the Bedford North Lawrence school board including the superintendent, has violated the state’s open door law by not identifying those chosen to sit on the Visionary Committee and by not disclosing to the public the time and place of these meetings. The meetings to discuss the district’s school closings should have been open to the public to observe.

“The school board members are elected by the community to serve and the community needs to be present at these meetings due to the effect it would have on our kids.  A lot of the business of the community is conducted behind closed doors then announced afterward. It not only ethically and morally wrong, but unlawful.

In response to the complaint, North Lawrence Community Schools Attorney Greg Pittman responded by saying:

“Dr. Thomas T. Mungle the North Lawrence Community Schools Superintendent of Schools hired ESOLVE Consulting Group in July of 2019 to assist in developing a plan for consolidating elementary schools and middle schools within the North Lawrence Community Schools District.

Dr. Ty Mungle

ESOLVE recommended that Dr. Mungle invite community members who represent a cross-section of the community to meet and discuss the status of the North Lawrence Community Schools and discuss options available to Dr. Mungle relating to the school consolidation. The group selected by Dr. Mungle represented different occupations, ages, socio-economic groups and geographical areas from the school district. As stated by the complaint, the name given to the group was “Visionary Committee”.

The North Lawrence Community School Board did not appoint the Visionary Committee and the Board’s presiding officer did not appoint the Visionary Committee. Dr. Mungle, with ESOLVE’s advice, personally invited participants. All the participants of the Visionary Committee were volunteers from the community. The Visionary Committee met eight times at StoneGate Arts and Education Center in downtown, Bedford, Indiana free of charge. The Visionary Committee was advisory to Dr. Mungle and had no authority to take action of any kind. It had no control over public funds and is not subject to audit by the State Board of Accounts. The Visionary Committee was not required. More importantly, the intent behind creating a Visionary Committee was to get public input not avoid it.

The Visionary Committee met the final time on December 4, 2019. ESOLVE presented a survey of the Visionary Committee to the North Lawrence Community Schools on December 5, 2019, in an open public meeting. The survey showed different percentages of the Visionary Committee participant’s opinion on certain issues relating to North Lawrence Community Schools, including plans for consolidation. All information reviewed by the Visionary Committee and all its information gathered from the Visionary Committee was presented to the North Lawrence Community Schools Board in meetings open to the public. No information was presented to the Board in executive sessions.

The Visionary Committee is not a public agency and is not subject to Open Door Law. It was created by statute, ordinance or executive order as set forth in Indiana Code 5-14-1.5.  It is not a governing body because it was not appointed directly by the North Lawrence Community Schools Board or its presiding officer as set forth in Indiana Code 5-14-1.5.2 (b)3.  Because it was not a public agency subject to Open Door Law, the names of the Visionary Committee participants are not subject to public disclosure. Although it is noteworthy to mention that the Complainant never requested a list of participants of the Visionary Committee.

Kris Cundiff from Public Office could not give a time frame when a ruling will be made on the complaint.

The public had an opportunity to speak for or against three plans laid out by the North Lawrence Community on November 15th at Bedford North Lawrence Performing Arts Center. The public has been able to talk for or against the proposal in the school board meetings since the recommendations were made public.

The committee released three options :

Plan 1: Leave things as they are and do nothing. This involves leaving the three middles schools, 10 elementary schools, one high school, and one career center. This will cause the state to take over because of the school corporation’s deficit spending

Plan 2: Reduce the district to three larger K-6 elementary schools: Parkview Primary/Intermediate, Dollens in Oolitic and Shawswick. Consolidate seventh- and eighth-graders at Bedford, Shawswick and Oolitic middle schools into one middle school – Bedford Middle School.

Plan 3: Same middle school consolidation as Plan 2. Elementary schools for grades K-6 would include Parkview Primary/Intermediate, Dollens, Shawswick, and Lincoln.

Dr. Ty Mungle recommended to the board in December his approval of Plan 3.

The North Lawrence Community School Board met in open session on December 7th, at the administration building to discuss building space, as well as more facts in terms of enrollment numbers and costs associated with the consolidation.

Some of the information was not yet available and will be researched at the next Open-Session to be held on Monday, December 16th at 6 p.m. and on Tuesday, December 17th at 6:30 p.m. This meeting will also be on Facebook live during the open session.

The open sessions are not available for the public to comment but the public may observe the process between the school board members and Dr. Ty Mungle.

“None of us wants to close schools. We need to create more opportunities for our kids, which we cannot do at this time,” said School Board Vice-President Dr. Kamal Girgis.

Richard Farlow attended the Open Session on Saturday, December 6, 2019 and commented on his feelings of that session:

“After attending three meetings of the school board regarding the Superintendent’s proposal to close and consolidate schools. I feel compelled to comment.  During my 32 years of management in the federal government, I have never seen a proposal submitted for approval with as much missing information as what Supertindent Mungle has proposed.  It is unfeasible to say his plan will save North Lawrence Community Schools any money because he has shown no evidence of anticipated costs, and not even done the detailed planning required to cost out what changes are needed to make this plan work. To continue to blame old software or other people is unprofessional and simply passing the buck.

“The more I observe the process, the more I am convinced that the initiative is not ready for any type of decision. If approved now, the children and taxpayers of this county will pay the price.

“But, many believe we have pushed the issue as long as we can. Many of the Visionary Committee attended the School board meetings to get behind the idea of consolidation.”

Bill Spreen speaking in November at Performing Arts Center on the proposals on consolidation

According to studies since the 1980s, there were recommendations to close schools because of declining enrollment.

Bill Spreen was a member of the 1997 Committee who recommended closing Fayetteville School. 

“As a community, we need to support our elected school board. Do I have all the answers? No. There need to be some changes. But, our children hear what we say around the supper table. They the school board is a part of us, we elected them. So, when they make a decision, If we support the decision these kids will have a smooth transition,” Spreen said at the Performing Arts Center in November.

The North Lawrence Community School Board is expected to vote on the consolidation on Thursday, December 19th during the regularly scheduled board meeting at 6:30 p.m. In anticipation of large public turnout, the meeting has been moved to the Bedford North Lawrence Performing Arts Center.