2010-11-20 / News

Parents want more done to stop bullying at school

By Charles Prince

MILLERSPORT - Complaints about bullying and harassment dominated public comments during Monday night’s Walnut Township school board meeting.

“We want her to feel safe when she goes to school, but she doesn’t,” a mother told board members. Her daughter and family have become a target.

“We don’t always see it or hear it,” Superintendent Ron Thornton said. “I hate to see any family upset with a bullying incident.”

Thornton, responding to a question from a sympathetic parent, said there have been consequences for bullies.

Another mother said her daughter has been bullied since elementary school. She said they have given up talking to high school principal Charles Leedle about the incidents. “He makes her feel like a liar,” she added. Thornton asked her to meet with him about the continuing incidents.

“We do investigate,” Leedle said. “We take everything that comes to us seriously. We are firm in the way we discipline.” He added that the accused have rights too.

“Words are very powerful,” elementary school principal Angie Harrison said. “We have to be proactive.” She emphasizes, “Good is going to win in this school. I do fight for kids to be happy and safe.”

“There are complicating factors when students have disabilities,” Leedle added. “It is a frustration. There are many steps in the process.”

The district has a zero tolerance policy in place for bullying and harassment, but the rules must be applied differently for students with an individual education plan (IEP) due to some kind of disability.

“I don’t want to see any kid worrying about coming to school,” Leedle added.

A parent suggested that placing a police officer - school resource officer - in the combined junior/senior high school. He said the addition of a school resource officer at Liberty Union High School worked very well last year. The father acknowledged that an officer would increase district costs.

Leedle refuted a claim that he speaks to accused bullies as a group. “I speak to individuals,” he said. Repeated offenses will lead to suspension, he told parents. If physical violence is involved that often leads to suspension even it it is the first incident.

A teacher said she is now being subjected to threats because she befriended one of the victims.

Thornton warned board members that the discussion was getting rather specific for a public meeting. He suggested setting up a specific meeting on bullying that would include parents and staff.

When pressed by parents, board member Faye Whitaker said, “We will take action.” Thornton added, “Maybe we need to review our policy.”

In other business Monday night, district treasurer Kirk Grandy presented his latest five-year financial forecast for the district. The forecast must be updated twice a year.

His forecast projects positive ending cash balances for this school year and the next two, though the June 30, 2013 balance drops below $500,000. For the fourth year, Grandy projects a $789,000 deficit, jumping to nearly $3.1 million for the fifth and final year.

The key to the forecast is the assumptions used to create it.

Real estate property values are updated every three years, Grandy explained. This year is a triennial update and 2013 will be a real appraisal year. Based on a conversation with the county auditor’s office, Grandy is predicting a flat valuation - no overall increase or decrease. For next year, he is projecting a one percent increase in valuation for new construction.

The state used federal stimulus funds to help meet commitments last school year and again this year. For Walnut Township, the stimulus funds totalled $95,987 last year and $103,600 this year. Grandy expects this is the last year for stimulus funding.

Forecasting the level of state aid for the next two years is particularly difficult. With the state facing an $8 billion deficit, school districts are expecting cuts. Grandy has forecasted a six percent cut beginning July 1, 2011. Some recent estimates have been as high as 15-20 percent cuts. The new state budget must be in place by July 1, 2011.

The district took steps last year to cut its expenses in anticipation of cuts from the state. That included an early retirement incentive that will save $150,000 a year by replacing six retiring senior teachers with teachers at the lower end of the salary scale. Using existing staff rather than filling two vacancies will save another $48,000 a year.

“We are solvent for two more years,” Thornton said. “Everybody has financial problems. We have to tighten up a bit more and get through three years.”

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