Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Public speaks out on Duneland schools transfer student policy

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By LILY REX

15 members of the public addressed the Duneland School Board at its special meeting discussing open enrollment and transfer student policies last night.

Eight spoke in favor of Duneland being an open district, six spoke in favor of Duneland being a closed district, and one person was undecided.

The special meeting was called after the Board’s realization that a new transfer student policy that closed Duneland to out-of-district students (with exceptions for students of Duneland staff, students who have already enrolled and their siblings, and students who have attended an accredited nonpublic school in the district, for at least two years prior to transfer, who need to advance to a grade level not offered at the nonpublic school) was adopted at its August 2018 meeting without the Board’s knowledge due to its inclusion in a round of policy updates that totaled over 100 pages.

Upon discovering the new policy, the Board opted to hold a special meeting to allow public input on the policy, since it was passed the first time without the opportunity for public scrutiny.

Nothing changed at last night’s meeting--the Board decided Duneland will remain closed until they can work on the transfer student issue with a new superintendent.

The Board did hear several perspectives from the Duneland community and nearby out-of-district parents about the enrollment policy.

In Favor

Several of those in favor expressed their disappointment that their children or grandchildren will unexpectedly not be able to attend Duneland next year.

Of those, Dawn Gubic of Pine Township was one.

Gubic said she and her husband reside outside the district because her husband’s steel hauling business benefits from being near the County line. They have two children who have already graduated from Duneland, and now have a third who won’t be able to go.

Gubic said her kids transferred to Duneland after her husband’s business suffered form the recession and paying for private school was no longer viable. Before coming to Duneland, the Gubic kids were at a Christian academy in Valparaiso. Gubic said it was important to note that parents are drawn to the communities where their kids attend school.

“When they went to Victory in Valpo, we did life in Valpo,” Gubic said, noting she got gas, went to stores, and enrolled her kids in activities in Valparaiso while they attended school there.

“They were Valpo kids,” Gubic said. “and when my kids came to Duneland, they became Duneland kids.”

Gubic ended saying, “We’re willing to drive them, we’re willing to sacrifice, we’re willing to carpool because we care.”

An entire family also showed up to support open enrollment--John Doyle, his son Shaun Doyle, and Shaun’s wife, Erin Doyle, all spoke.

John Doyle pointed out that a recent comprehensive study of Duneland showed enrollment is predicted to decrease, which could free up resources and funding for more kids.

“I look at the signs that say the ‘Duneland difference’. What is the Duneland difference? Part of the Duneland difference is letting people from outside the district come in,” he said.

Kristine Kallimani, of Gary, said she has two kids who are thriving at Jackson elementary after she enrolled them at Duneland instead of the failing schools in her home district. “I don’t know where we would be if we didn’t have the opportunity to send them to Duneland. They’re doing well in math. They’re reading several grades above their level. I think they have something good to give to this community.”

Kallimani agreed with Gubic. “We shop here, we buy our gas here, we go out here, we socialize. We are bringing money to this area.”

When Erin Doyle spoke, she made another financial point. She noted that she has begun looking at other school options for her child entering kindergarten, and in doing so learned that 221 students at Discovery Charter School live in the Duneland school district. “That’s 221 kids whose parents are paying for the tax referendum when their children aren’t event attending Duneland, and Discovery does not get the tax referendum.”

Jeanne Fleischhacker said when she bought her house in Town of Pines she was told it was within the Duneland School District only to later find out that wasn’t the case. She says her daughter has thrived after transferring from Michigan City schools to Duneland. She emphasized that by closing enrollment, Duneland is keeping out students who want to have a better education and parents who are willing to be involved in school activities.

“When we started at Michigan City, I put the negative things I had heard about the schools out of my mind and looked to the positives. I joined the PTA and signed her up for the after school magnet classes and gave it my all.”

Fleischhacker said getting involved only helped her see that her daughter’s teacher was overwhelmed with behavioral issues and kids unprepared to start school. The last straw was another child attacking her daughter.

Fleischhacker was disappointed to hear of the policy change considering her involvement in Duneland as part of the PTA, working fundraisers and book fairs, planning class parties, and more.

“I’m the first to sign up for teacher meals and chaperoning field trips. I update my background check report every year on the first day so I don’t miss a chance to help.”

“Parents who utilize an out of district agreement are doing it because they want better for their children and we want to be here,” Fleischhacker said. “We are part of this community, not separated by an imaginary line.”

Against

Chesterton residents Laura Elliot and Valeria Van Kley said parents who want their children at Duneland Schools should move to the district.

“I have four students in the district,” Van Kley said. “My husband and I moved here three years ago because we wanted our kids to go to Duneland schools. if I wanted them to go to another district, I would have moved to that district.”

Former County Councilmember and Burns Harbor resident Andy Bozak said he was concerned with class sizes and the fact that some schools already share teachers for subjects like gym and art.

Bozak is also bothered by out-of-district parents not paying property taxes and the referendum tax rate. “It comes down to money and class size.”

Al Raffin said, “My feeling is that your responsibly is first and foremost to the taxpayers in Duneland, and even though there may be some schools around here that aren’t meeting the needs of their constituents, that’s not what you’re here to do.”

Rich Raffin said his heart goes out to people in tough spots, but the Board should think about people on fixed incomes and whether or not its fair to ask Dunelanders to pay extra and serve out-of-district students at the same time.

“Obviously there’s situations with different school systems that aren’t as good as Duneland, but in some ways, I think we’re letting those schools off the hook if we’re taking kids from their system. People are coming here, and they aren’t getting involved to change things for the better,” said Rich Raffin.

Bob Filipek, who ran for school board this past election, was also against open enrollment, in part because of the referendum. “I care about the people from Duneland. I live in Duneland. I’m paying for the Duneland Difference, and I want to support the referendum,” Filipek said. “But going door to door, I talked to a number of people who said they’re not gonna support the referendum if we open enrollment.”

Filipek had another objection. “When my daughter was here, a girl transferred from Valpo and came in as number two in the class, but at the same time, what about the Chesterton kid that was number two? Same thing if you have an athlete and you’re bringing a kid in from out of district and someone takes their spot. They’re not doing what they should be able to do because of increased competition.”

Board comments

Board Secretary Ron Stone reaffirmed his opposition to open enrollment. “As far as our community goes, we were the only ones in Northwest Indiana that were open besides LaPorte and Michigan City, and we were the only ones open that have an active referendum in place.”

Member John Marshall reaffirmed his support for open enrollment.

Marshall didn’t move to amend the policy at this time, but said he will continue to advocate for open enrollment under the direction of a new superintendent.

“I’ve made no secret over the years that I am a big supporter of open enrollment. Coming from a diverse educational background myself, my heart goes out to the parents that want that choice for their kids and don’t live in our system,” said Marshall.

“No matter what we do, whether we affirm the policy or not, the Board is committed to reexamining this policy when we have a new superintendent. It’s gonna be something that takes a comprehensive approach from us and the new superintendent, whoever that may be,” said Board President Brandon Kroft.

 

 

Posted 3/1/2019

 
 
 
 

 

 

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