School board candidates sound off

Growth is a key issue for the county’s largest school district, and Center Grove needs to be prepared for the future, candidates for school board said.

This school year, the school district’s enrollment is more than 8,000, and is beating projections of what increases had been expected. School officials have said a new elementary school will be the next need for the school district, and may be needed sooner than expected.

Members of the Center Grove school board will be in charge of approving whatever steps will be needed in the coming years to make room for added students. The possibilities include considering redistricting or what a new school will look like and how it will be paid for.

Managing an increase in students is a key issue for the five candidates running for two at-large seats on the school board. The candidates elected will serve a four-year term that begins next year, so they are focused on growth and managing enrollment, they said.

Classroom sizes are a key issue that school officials and board members will be paying attention to, current school board member Carol Tumey said. Tumey is seeking re-election for a third term on the school board.

This school year, when more students enrolled than expected, school officials hired additional teachers, made some shifts to try to get classroom sizes where they wanted them to be and assigned instructional assistants to classes where the numbers were higher than officials wanted, she said.

“We are very cognizant of the ratio of teachers to students in the classroom,” Tumey said.

Class sizes need to stay at a limited number so students are still getting individual attention, said Pingnan Shi, a high school math teacher at Greenwood Christian Academy.

At his school, the highest ratio they had was 19 students to one teacher, but he has seen several classes with 10 teachers to one student, he said.

“Class size will definitely be an issue,” he said.

The school district should look at multiple options if new space is needed, such as partnering with local churches to use space they typically don’t use during the week or to look at creating schools that are more project-focused, he said.

School officials have already taken important steps to address growth, such as redistricting, even if that wasn’t a popular decision, said David DeGraaf, president of Faurecia Emissions Control Technologies Division.

That was a necessary decision because officials made sure that Center Grove was getting the best use out of its current facilities, he said.

“That was a necessary decision, not popular, but necessary, especially with budget constraints,” DeGraaf said.

But additional space will likely be needed in the future, and Center Grove is already planning for that by acquiring land as it becomes available, which also saves money, he said. And when a project is being planned, school officials will need to be sure to discuss the vision of the future so any plans are well thought-out for coming years, DeGraaf said.

Growth is positive because it shows the school district is attracting new families. Growth also comes with added state funding, which allows schools to pay for new teachers and equipment, said candidate Nathan Williamson, education director with the Indiana Department of Education.

Center Grove may reach a point where additional space is needed for the number of students, but before reaching that point, officials must be sure the current space is being used efficiently, he said.

“Growth is a sign of positive things occurring, and also gives us an opportunity to continue to improve,” Williamson said.

Center Grove’s recent growth shows that the area continues to be an attractive place to live and raise a family, but officials will need to think about expanding or adding a new school, said Rob Daniels, an attorney.

“We need to look at how we provide a good education for our students, both new and existing,” Daniels said.

The goal would be to find a way to add a new facility or add onto one without raising taxes, he said.

About the job

Center Grove school board

Term: 4 years

Pay: $2,000

Duties: Review superintendent, approve school district budget, review and approve new school policy

Represents: All of Center Grove school district

Author photo
Annie Goeller is managing editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at agoeller@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2718.