Vermilion school board recognizes achievements; discusses expenses

By: Melanie Williamson

The Vermilion school board met on Monday, May 8, for their regular monthly meeting.

Auditor of State award: After recognizing the students of the month from both Vermilion Elementary School and Sailroway Middle School, the board took the opportunity to recognize the staff of the school board financial department, which includes Suzanne Wilson, Cindy Akers, Loretta Farnham, Cathy Johnston, and Monica Stark. Collectively, they were awarded the Auditor of State award from the Auditor of State’s office.

This award recognizes exemplary financial reporting in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). According to a recent column written by treasurer Suzanne Wilson, qualifying for this award means the school district must complete an annual financial audit that meets the criteria for a “clean” report, which includes: timely filing of all reports, no violations or ethics referrals, and no findings for recovery, material citations, material weaknesses, or significant deficiencies.

House Bill 49: Board member Sara Stepp reported that HB49 was passed by the house and will now be going before the Senate. Stepp reported that while the education budget looks nice, Vermilion will lose a significant amount of funding due to the district’s enrollment size.

Financial update: According to Wilson, the district is at 98% of total revenue received for the current fiscal year and at 82% for total expenses. She shared that they are wrapping up all purchase orders for the fiscal year, so they can complete their reports. The new five-year forecast will be shared at the special meeting scheduled for Tuesday, May 23.

Tennis court updates: The district received $15,000 in grants to go towards the tennis court renovations. That was $5000 from the Erie County Community Foundation, $5000 through the Erie County Community Foundation from the Randolph J. and Estelle M. Dorn Foundation Charitable Impact Fund, and $5000 from the Randolph J. and Estalle M. Dorn Foundation. The board voted to create a special fund account for money received to go towards the tennis court renovations.

Basketball stats: The board approved a $400 payment to Matthew Kobal for keeping stats for the 2016-2017 boys basketball season to be paid from the VHS basketball program donation fund.  Before voting to approve this payment, superintendent Pempin addressed the board explaining that similarly to the taping of games, the money used to pay for this was raised by the coaches for this purpose. He asserted that he wanted to make it clear that this was not coming out of the athletic budget or being paid in anyway by the district.

Pempin went on to say that the athletic director has been informed that these things need to be presented to the board for approval in advance, opposed to after the season. Board member Stepp asked if students no longer do this. She followed up her question by saying that when she was in high school, students including herself kept stats for the teams. Pempin responded that while students still do some stats keeping, what Kobal is doing is much more sophisticated. He has an app and is submitting information in real time, so the coaches can access that information during breaks throughout the game.

Prom: Superintendent Pempin took a moment to recognize Anjie Cafferel and Cara Habermehl on all the work they did for prom. He explained that while there were dozens of people involved, Cafferel and Habermehl failed to recognize their own time and efforts while recognizing everyone else. He went on to say that while the prom is no more or less important than the many other events and activities put on at the school, he wanted to say what an exceptional event it turned out to be. He stated that each year there is an “expectation to be wowed” and they did not disappoint.

Pempin did also explain that the entrance to prom was changed due to the threat of bad weather. Instead of having the community members gather outside at the main entrance, they had the community inside the gym on the bleachers and the prom-goers entered through the side entrance to the gym. They had a livestream playing inside the gym, so they community members that came could still see the vehicle the students arrived in.  Pempin stated that the new entrance set up went really well, and he received nothing but positive feedback.

Superintendent Pempin also stated that he knows people have complained that they spend too much money on prom, but he is always impressed by how well Cafferel and Habermehl economize to make the most of the money they have to spend. He explained that many of the decoration elements are borrowed or bought used to save money.

Staff appreciation week: Superintendent Pempin also shared that it was staff appreciation week. He went on to assert that he couldn’t say enough about the district’s amazing staff and teachers. He stated “they make all the difference.”

Board approval: Among other things, the board voted to approve a proposal from Laketec Communication to provide and install aerial fiber line from South Street to the bus garage. This quote will be paid at a 60% discount due to E-Rate funding eligibility. They also approved an agreement with The LCADA Way for alcohol and drug prevention services for the 2016-2017 school year. Finally, they approved the spending of $19,900 for VHS running track maintenance and reconditioning.

YMCA request: Sarah Ross from the Vermilion YMCA addressed the board. On behalf of the Y, she requested the district rent them the gym at the rate of $35 per hour, opposed to the district’s non-profit rate of $50 per hour. She asserted that the YMCA served 1100 local children through their youth sports programs last year, and were able to provide financial assistance to many families to participate. She stated that the cost of operating their own building plus renting gym space was a lot, which is why they were requesting an additional discount. The board thanked her for coming and stated they would discuss it and let her know.

State testing: VHS students Liberty Oliver and Cody Shaw addressed the board with their concerns regarding standardized tests. The two students provided researched information on test anxiety, how test scores inaccurately represent the district, how they narrow the curriculum, and how other countries with much higher academic performance than ours do not use standardized tests. They ended their presentation by stating they wanted to help make more people aware of the negative consequences associated with standardized testing.

Board president Innes thanked them both for coming and for presenting to the board. She went on to say the board shared in their frustration. Superintendent Pempin also thanked them and explained that this topic was discussed at the previous board meeting and that the district is looking into what options they have. He went on to explain that one option they are currently looking at is completely de-emphasizing the tests and instructed teachers not to even talk about them until the day they are administered. This would also involve creating a new teacher evaluation system that would be portfolio based.

Pempin explained that there is only one district currently doing this and that VHS Principal Lisa Deliz has arranged a meeting with the principal of that school to see how exactly they do it and what the outcome has been so far. Once they get that information, they can make a more educated decision. Pempin reiterated that the current testing system was a problem and went on to say there was money involved. He asserted those tests are a billion dollar business.

Pempin concluded by telling the students the district is actively looking at alternative options and he does not want them to think they were not heard. Board member Oates followed this up by telling Oliver and Shaw that what they did was great; they researched the issue and presented their concerns clearly to the board. She encouraged them to keep doing that and to follow-up with the board.

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