Buses to be leased, ISTEP discussed at Knox School Board Meeting

 Knox High School student Noah Kender was recognized for his participation in the Congress of Future Science and Technology Leaders in Boston, Mass., from June 28 to 30 as a representative of Knox High School. Seen here are Principal Elizabeth Ratliff, Noah Kender, and his parents Richard and Debra Kender.
Rachael Herbert-Varchetto

KNOX —The Knox School Board met Nov. 16, discussing the future of bus transport and the budget.
Mark Jensen, transportation director for the corporation, reported that of 39 buses, the vehicles range from 1997 to the 2015 year models.
Jensen reported the corporation owns several gas compared to the many diesel run buses for the corporation. When asked why the gas buses were kept around if the industry had made an effort to begin switching to diesel, Jensen explained the gas buses start up easier in the winter time.
“Most of them are in good shape, but the age shows, with water and moisture, rust,” explained Jensen.
The upside to diesel’s however, is that the machines are easier to repair and maintain if they get into an accident.
When looking at alternatives, Jensen stated that two of the buses are mini buses and older than 2002, with one requiring $4,000 to $5,000 to repair, and the second needing fuel injector pump work, a cost of up to $20,000.
“The buses have got bad rust. They can last another year and we may have to spend money on a plow, about $5,000,” said Jensen.
The school board requested looking into leasing buses rather than purchasing new buses, which can be in the realm of over $80,000 or more, depending on models and companies.
The school board next approved to stay with their current insurance company, rather than move to a new one.
Board Member Mike Yankaukas inquired why the board wanted to stay with their same company, who had a higher cost of $50,000 a year more on the insurance than other bids.
“My opinion now that we can entertain is I like it’s been a rush for us to make a decision and from what I have read and researched, I feel at this time it’s beneficial to stay with [the current company],” said member Wendy McIntire.
Yankaukas protested, saying, “It’s the lower bid. I didn’t see anything different in the policies and it is structured in the same ways as our policy is structured. It’s a cooperative model. We should support the vendors that support public schools.”
Board Member Gary Dulin had a slightly different view.
“I’m looking at it every time we turned in a claim we didn’t have any problems. They always gave local help when we needed it. They could raise the rates with a new company.”
Yankaukas pointed out their current company could also raise the rates in the future as well.
The majority of the board ultimately chose to keep First Source as their insurance provider.
Superintendent AJ Gappa spoke at length about the continuing issues with ISTEP testing scores, the state, and students.
During the first week of November, parents had the opportunity to see their student’s scores, per a letter sent out by the schools in rapid response to the short time window. The practice of allowing teachers and parents to see the scores had changed, whereas only parents can see the individual scores and only they can request a retest from the state.
The state changed testing companies this year for the test, also handing out the phone number of last year’s testing company, for questions regarding the change in testing. In addition, there has been some question regarding the fairness of the test.
“Last year there were two different tests, A and B. They didn’t have a baseline or a standard starting point. The tests weren’t exactly the same and there was a question if one was harder. They also gave the tests online in some cases, and paper and pencil in others. One might have been easier than the other,” said Gappa. “There were a lot of question marks about the test this year.”
The tests were changed to be more rigorous this year, but whether that is the contributing reason to lower tests scores among students statewide is unclear.
“The 2015 National Assessments have shown Indiana schools have never performed better, but the new ISTEP+ scores have produced some of the lowest pass rates since they startled making comparisons in 1997,” said Gappa.
Parents were encouraged to ask for recounts, however some were put onto a waiting list or were cut off during the phone call. Scores will not officially come out till December, though the estimate is a tentative one.
Gappa encouraged the school board, and by extension, parents, to speak up to the legislature on these issues and voice their concerns.
In other news:
• High School Principal Elizabeth Ratliff gave a short report on the success of a donation of thousands of books from the Teacher’s Store in South Bend. The outlet called several schools, including Knox, to say they would donate several pallets of free new and gently used books. Teachers and students were encouraged across the middle and high schools to take books home. The offering was last counted at 200 books left.
• Knox High School student Noah Kender was honored at the meeting for his involvement in the Congress of Future Science and Technology Leaders in Boston, Mass., from June 28 to 30 as a representative of Knox High School and Indiana.