Before teachers at Webb and Union Elementary schools send misbehaving students to the principal’s office, they first check to see if she’s in that day.
Sandra Brown has been principal of Webb Elementary for the past seven years, and this year she also became principal of Union Elementary. That makes her the only principal in Johnson County, and one of the few in the state, overseeing two schools at once.
About 440 students attend Webb or Union elementary schools, and the total is close to the enrollment at most of Franklin’s other elementary schools. Still, the two schools are 20 minutes apart, and Brown doesn’t like to split her time between the buildings each day. Brown spends about two and a half days at each school every week.
When she’s gone, counselors, teachers and staff know they’ll need to answer questions or handle problems that would normally go the principal.
TWO PLACES AT ONCE
Starting this year, Franklin schools has one principal leading two elementary schools, Webb and Union elementary schools. Here are the details of how principal Sandra Brown does it:
How long Brown has been with Franklin: Since 1986
When will Brown be at which schools: Mondays and Wednesdays at Union Elementary, Tuesdays and Thursdays at Webb Elementary. Fridays will be split between both schools
Why is Franklin doing this: To save more than $84,300 by not replacing a principal who retired at the end of last school year
A Webb Elementary teacher with an unruly student will wait a day to speak with Brown if she’s spending the day at Union Elementary.
“Everybody is willing to pitch in and do their part. This doesn’t just affect me. This affects two schools,” Brown said.
School officials at Franklin decided earlier this year to use one principal at the two elementary schools to help cut costs. After Brenda Crauder, the former principal at Custer Baker Intermediate, retired, former Union Elementary principal Cindy Mappes was moved to Custer Baker Intermediate as an assistant principal.
Brown was named the principal of Webb and Union elementaries.
Not replacing Crauder saved the school district the cost of her salary, which was $84,300, plus the cost of benefits, Superintendent David Clendening said.
Franklin needs the savings. The school district is struggling to repay money it borrowed during the past decade to build Franklin Community High School and to renovate Franklin Community Middle School. Property tax caps limit how much money Franklin collects to make those payments each year.
The money that pays the salaries for teachers and administrators comes from the state, not property taxes. But the money is based on the number of students enrolled, and Franklin’s enrollment has declined during the past five years. School officials also have been reviewing the budget to see where they can cut costs. At the end of last school year, 15 teachers who resigned or retired were not replaced, and three positions were cut.
“Because of the impact of the (property tax caps) and some of those things, we felt like having one principal overseeing both (schools) could occur,” Clendening said.
While schools may share assistant principals between multiple buildings, it’s not common for principals to oversee more than one school, though it does happen at other school districts, such as North Gibson schools in Princeton, and South Spencer schools in Rockport, said Clendening and Todd Bess, executive director for the Indiana Association of School Principals.
And having one principal oversee two schools isn’t usually a problem, Bess said.
“Every situation is unique. In this case, the principal has been there for 20 years. She knows, I’m sure, all of the staff very well. Knows the community very well. Those are pieces that enable her to be successful,” Bess said.
Brown started at Franklin in 1986 as an elementary school teacher. She became a counselor and worked briefly at both Webb and Union Elementary schools simultaneously.
When school officials were considering how to arrange Franklin’s principals, Clendening decided Brown was the best principal to lead both Webb and Union Elementary schools because of her experience at both schools, and because of her counseling background.
When Clendening told Brown he planned to put her in charge of two buildings, she told them she’d work wherever she was needed. But the prospect of leading two elementary schools was and still is daunting for her.
“I said, ‘Whatever you need me to do.’ And then I took a step back and thought about what I just said and thought, ‘Oh my gosh,’” Brown said.
Brown spent the first 10 days of school dividing her time between the two elementary schools, but starting this week she’s spending two days at Webb Elementary, two days at Union Elementary and splitting her Fridays between both buildings.
If a natural disaster, serious bus or traffic accident or other potentially catastrophic event occurs at one of the elementary schools while Brown is at the other building, she’ll drop what she’s doing to get to the other school. But anything less than an emergency will need to be handled by other employees until she rotates back, Brown and Clendening said.
“I’m trying not to anticipate every little thing. I’m a person who likes to live it and, if we need to, tweak it,” Brown said.
Franklin doesn’t have assistant principals at its elementary schools — the two assistant positions it did have were eliminated during cuts from the 2009-2010 school year. Angie Clendening, an elementary school counselor, has been rotating between Webb and Union elementary schools for the last year-and-a-half. And when Brown isn’t at one of the buildings, Angie Clendening will be, Brown and David Clendening said.
The principals at neighboring schools also can come to Webb or Union if needed. Kent Pettet is principal at Needham Elementary, next to Webb Elementary. Mark Heiden is principal at Creekside Elementary, which is near Union Elementary.
Clendening doesn’t foresee Franklin assigning more of its principals to run two schools at once. At the end of the year, school officials will review how Brown’s dual role worked, or didn’t, but Clendening doesn’t anticipate the situation will change.
This is what the school district has to do to save money, he said.
“This is not a quick fix kind of thing. So we all have to pull together. We want to work together to make this all work,” Clendening said.