Recess, budget addressed

BREMEN — Many topics were discussed at the most recent Bremen Board of School Trustees meeting but perhaps none as poignant to parents as talk of having only one recess for the elementary school students.
Elementary principal Larry Yelaksa had addressed the topic with parents at a meeting at Sunnyside Park, some of which were in attendance at the school board meeting Aug. 7. He explained to those present that in the last few years changes had come from the state requiring the children to pass ever-increasing, higher standards.
“We are expecting a lot out of our kids,” he said, “and a lot out of our teachers. ...This (schedule change) has caused some attention and I’m glad the parents are getting involved.”
As a result of the Indiana Department of Education’s push toward reading excellence, Yelaska had initially tried to schedule the 2012-2013 school year to allow for more time in math and other lesser-studied classes like science and social studies by eliminating one 15-minute recess. Parent concern and his trying to find a reasonable solution led him to further talk with members of the Bremen Teacher’s Association, such as co-chair Rhonda McIntyre, a Bremen educator for 17 years, to find a resolution.
“We’re looking at becoming more creative with our time,” she said. “We might be looking at a different way of teaching that incorporates other subjects.”
Board member Charles Klockow noted that he hadn’t been notified of the parent meeting at the park and said he felt “parents should’ve been part of the schedule-planning process.” “I guess I’m under the belief that parents, as our ultimate customer, would want a voice in the matter — as it’s such as sweeping change,” he said.
Yelaska commented, “I didn’t anticipate this reaction. I hadn’t realized this would strike such a chord.”
Board members agreed that they had faith in the decisions made by the building administrators, Jack Jordan saying he felt that they “managed their responsibilities well as instructional leaders” and Todd Stuckman commenting, “The board didn’t know because we weren’t involved because we hired Mr. Yelaska as an administrator and a professional; I think we just pushed a button we didn’t realize was there.”
Superintendent Russ Mikel commented that as well as the options of cutting the second recess (children also have a 20-minute recess break during their 40-minute lunch period) or allowing teachers to use their personal preference and discretion, another choice would be to make the school-day longer.
“The state is holding us accountable for tests like iRead,” said Yelaska, “that’s what drove this looking at the recess time as a way to fit in more instruction. Our program was being judged by students that some of which were only with us for a couple weeks, and that wasn’t reflective of our program. … I’m just seeing the push on the students to meet expectations and the pressures on the teachers to fit everything into their day.”
Parents at the meeting, including Jessica Flores, who with another mother, Deanna Stiles, had originally invited parents to the park meeting, voiced their concerns to the board. Flores gave some statistics about the schedules for area schools, showing how their days were even shorter than Bremen’s.
“They’re facing the same requirements and still they’re managing to meet them and hold recess too, while Bremen has the longest school day in the area,” she said.
One parent present suggested using Bible study time, a period during which children leave the school to study and practice Christianity (which does not directly involve the school, and parents must give prior approval for, and that has been offered to Bremen students for about 20 years through local religious institutions). Other parents voiced their grievances of not being notified of the change and not being offered any input with the decision.
“As Mr. Klockow said, as your ultimate customers, how is it we’re being informed about lunch portions; we get emails about things not as significant as recess being taken away,” asked Pam Brown, “how is it determined and what is considered important enough to talk to the parents about?”
Flores added that for her family, not offering the second recess might be a “deal-breaker” for her child attending BEMS and that other mothers had also been considering home-schooling their children if the second recess was not offered. She asked that a final decision be made before school starts.
“We hope to have a solution locked in place by the end of the week,” said Yelaska, “and I’m leaning toward teacher discretionary recess (as a second recess in the students’ day).” He said parents would be notified of the final decision as soon as possible.
Other items addressed involved:
• Stephanie Pittman, corporation treasurer with superintendent Mikel, presented a glimpse into the school’s budget, Mikel stating that detailed notices would be published, as they are required by law, in the local news publications (the first to be Aug. 30) and that a hearing would be held in October before final approval. “We were very conservative on our revenues and when looking at expenditures, we were aggressive on that end,” Pittman said. “…We realize there are probably going to be cuts ahead so that’s the approach we take when planning the budget, because we can reduce it, but can’t increase it.”
She noted that planning the budget, she looked at figures from the last six years noting that the last five had been anything but stable.” On a positive note, Pittman said the upcoming budget could allow for salary increases and perhaps medical coverage increases, though the latter would affect the former in a smaller increase. Also expected to increase are funds for supply and travel accounts as well as professional development. Expected growing expenditures included technology costs, bus replacement costs (for two buses) and an appropriation for new cabinets in the band room which will be budgeted over the next two years.
• Personnel items approved included: New contracts with Maria Hutchinson as part-time sixth grade Language Arts teacher, Jennifer Meyer as high school Math/Physics teacher, Joe Rallo as temporary (two months) high school Social Studies teacher, Ricardo Reynoso as high school boys assistant Soccer coach, Tonya Bleiler as high school girls assistant Basketball coach, Jay Leeper as middle school head Football coach, Jeffery Grove as seventh grade Football coach, Mathew Miller as eighth grade Boys Basketball coach, Brad Sterling as seventh grade Boys Basketball coach, Greg Williams as sixth grade Boys Basketball coach, Sarah Moyer as eighth grade Volleyball coach, Sandy Moser as seventh grade Volleyball coach, Greg Williams as sixth grade Girls Basketball coach, Jeff Fitch as middle school Cross Country coach, Noelle Cannon as middle school Cheerleading coach, Vickie Knepper as middle school Yearbook advisor, Ashley Boardman as high school Art Club sponsor, Ashley Boardman as high school Fine Arts academic coach, Amber Reed as high school co-sponsor of the National Honor Society, Ragnar Flesvig as middle school assistant principal, Rita Jeffirs as instructional assistant, Shannon Verhaeghe as bus driver, Nate Rosentrater as high school boys assistant Soccer coach, and Connie Newcomb, as part-time high school ACP dual-credit Speech teacher (one to 12 weeks). The resignation of Amber Reed from high school Spell Bowl coach was also accepted. Dave Rouch was appointed to the school’s Building Corporation Committee.
Volunteers approved by the Bremen Schools Board of Trustees included Mark Wagner as high school Boys/Girls Tennis assistant, Rommie DePalma as middle school Football coach, Nathan Miller as middle school Football coach, Stephen Zellmeras middle school Football coach, Larry Martin as middle school Football coach, Dave Wunder as middle school Football coach, Eric Hudson as middle school Cross Country coach, Kayla Turpin as middle school Cheerleading coach, Danielle Hudson as middle school Cheerleading coach, Rebekah Thompson as high school Key Club sponsor, Sarah Wesselhoft as high school Color Guard instructor/supervisor, Kyle Feldman as high school boys assistant Soccer coach, Lindsay Berger as high school girls assistant Soccer coach, Ben Hueni as middle school Football coach, and Joe Rallo, high school boys assistant Tennis coach.