Parents lobby board to stand firm in request for discussion of relaxed borders
The Greene County board of education at its May 20 meeting voted 6-1 against an operational sharing agreement with Paton-Churdan for a transportation director. Implementing the agreement would have brought an added $45,000 revenue to the Greene County district in the first year, with very little actual time commitment or expense, according to superintendent Tim Christensen.
Christensen had mentioned the potential for a sharing agreement at the April board meeting. The board was interested in the idea, but wanted also to discuss the future of transporting open enrolled students. Currently, the district borders are closed to each other’s buses. The Greene County board appointed a subcommittee for that discussion.
At the P-C board meeting May 7, P-C superintendent Rob Olsen told the board that he had informed Christensen that Paton-Churdan had no intention of opening its borders and there would be no discussion. Olsen told his board it was his impression, from Christensen, that the Greene County board would approve the sharing agreement without the discussion.
Christensen called a shared transportation director a financial win for Greene County. In the first year of the agreement, the state would provide an incentive equivalent to the per pupil funding for five students, which would be $30,800 minimum. That incentive would be phased out over five years, but according to business manager Brenda Muir, the incentive would total $167,000 over the five years.
Paton-Churdan would pay 20 percent of the transportation director’s salary, an estimated $15,000, although Christensen said that in practice, the person would spend less time than that serving P-C. The money would go into the general fund.
“I’m extremely disappointed that they won’t talk about it ,” board member Mark Peters said. “I’m even more disappointed that the superintendent was quoted as saying that nobody else does that. He’s the superintendent for Glidden-Ralston, and we have an agreement with them.”
Greene County has reciprocal transportation agreements with Glidden-Ralston and Ogden, allowing buses two miles into each other’s districts. The Greene County board a year ago turned down a request from G-R to allow a bus to pick up students in Scranton.
Four parents of students who live in the P-C district but open enroll to Greene County – Dawn Taute, Pat and Michelle Fields, and Tim Tucker – used the proposed shared position as a time to lobby for open borders.
“It’s hard as parents. We have an agreement with Paton-Churdan as far as educating their students, but I don’t understand why we (Greene County) can’t pick up our kids at our house instead of dropping them off a mile down the road. It doesn’t make sense,” Taute said.
“They come down here to get their high school kids educated,” Tucker said. “Something needs to get done about this sharing. This is a way to start it.”
“In the 20 years we’ve had an agreement with Paton-Churdan and they’ve asked for stuff and we’ve shared classes and all that stuff, have they ever been willing to actually keep combining and adding stuff and working in cooperation?” asked Pat Fields. “What makes you think this one would be any different?”
Michelle Fields asked what benefit Greene County students and the district would gain, aside from revenue. Board member Sam Harding said money would be the only benefit. The school’s total budget is about $15 million, and Michelle Fields suggested $45,000 was not particularly significant. Harding and board member Teresa Hagen both said that money is equivalent to one teacher salary or three associate salaries.
Parent comments later turned to the money the district receives for open enrolled students. “You said it’s all about the money. Keep in mind, you’re getting that money from the open enrolled kids that we’ve been willing to transport down or go and meet the bus,” Taute said.
For 2014-15, 38 students open enrolled from P-C to Greene County, bringing with them $234,000 in state funding. Twenty-six students open enrolled from Greene County to P-C, taking with them $160,160. The net gain to Greene County was $73,850. P-C paid Greene County about $120,000 for the classes their high school students took at Greene County High School.
“I can understand your frustration and how hard you have to work to get your kids to school. I don’t want to ignore that,” Ohrt said. “It would be easier if everybody would cooperate.”
Board member Jeff Lamoureux was also disappointed at P-C’s refusal to discuss transportation. “If they’re going to be sharing courses and sending kids down here… You would think they would give us the courtesy of sitting down and negotiating with us, hearing our side… I understand the finances of this. This isn’t going to hurt them. They’ll just go find someone else to share (transportation director) with,” he said.
According to Michelle Fields, a P-C bus has picked up an open enrolled student in the Greene County district all year. “At a minimum, that would be one thing a shared transportation director could do. A person shared could say ‘I know where the boundaries are. You stay there, and you stay there’,” Christensen replied. “One advantage is you can make sure that isn’t happening.”
Hagen supported the shared position. “When you see free money, it enables kids to do more. It’s $45,000 a year…. I think everybody can agree on the board that we all have frustrations. It’s to no end frustrating. But, it has enabled us to do stuff for our kids. The bottom line, at the end of the day, we want to do what’s best for kids,” Hagen said.
Tucker pressed. “For our kids at Greene County or for all kids in the county?” Tucker asked.
“I really think all kids,” Hagen answered.
“I think you take care of our kids first. That’s the only ones you worry about,” Tucker said.
“I’m going to worry about my kids, but I’m going to worry about your kids, too,” Hagen said.
“But you’re on the Greene County board. You worry about Greene County kids first,” Tucker insisted.
Board members were reluctant to make a motion, but finally Harding made a motion to approve the shared transportation director. Ohrt seconded. Lamoureux interrupted to verify that if the board voted the motion down, the question could be reconsidered at a later time. In a roll call vote, Hagen was the only one to vote for the motion. In the roll call, Hagen voted third.