Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Monday, May 20
The Indiana Daily Student

city

Community clashes with board members over Childs-Templeton merger report

caschoolboard022724.jpg

“You’re not hearing us!” one Bloomington parent yelled across the Jackson Creek Middle School auditorium. “I’ll leave if I have to, but you’re not hearing us; no one is hearing us!”  

As he walked out, dozens of people scattered across the auditorium’s blue chairs erupted in applause. 

92 parents and community members attended the first of two Monroe County Community School Corporation Board of Trustees work sessions on balancing socioeconomic status. The current suggestion is to merge Templeton Elementary and Childs Elementary, where Childs would take students from both schools for pre-K through second grade, and Templeton would take students for third through sixth grade. 

But community members at the meeting didn’t support the merger. All 14 people who spoke in public comments opposed it, and many stayed to discuss concerns with board members after the meeting adjourned.  

“I know that there's frustration on both sides,” Board President, April Hennessey said. “I know that there's fear and anxiety. I knew that there's a sense of grief and loss, and I don't want to invalidate any of that. And I think we are faced with the very real challenge that our district is imbalanced, and that it is our job as a board to figure out how we can begin to mitigate that harm that has been done to students.” 

The board is also considering redistricting as an option for balancing socioeconomic status, which the public was much more open to. MCCSC hasn’t redistricted at all since 2005 and hasn’t made significant changes to school zones since 1997. 

The meeting was set up as a work session, meaning it was first open for public comment then open for board discussion, where the public could no longer respond. Several concerns were raised in public comment. 

Timeline and lack of clarity 

Right now, the merger report is just that — a report, meaning it didn’t include information on a timeline or how certain splits would be addressed. At the same time, the board opening these community work sessions has made some meeting attendees feel like a decision’s already been made. Because of that, members of the community said they worry about the board rushing into a merger with questions unaddressed.   

Jennifer Lau, a Childs Elementary parent, said with both a merger and redistricting on the table, she feels there’s no real understanding of what the district’s goals are. 

“Please just slow down, take the time to develop a solid plan with the involvement of the teachers who will have it implemented and the community who will be affected by it,” Lau said. 

Others, like MCCSC parent Bethan Roberts, said there’s no point in having these conversations at this point in the process. Because there are so few details, she believes there will have to be more meetings later. 

“I'd like to join others in requesting the building in time to ensure our children don't bear the brunt of hastily made changes,” Roberts said. “We need a plan that doesn't include having to backtrack later.” 

Attendees raised concerns after the meeting about potentially attempting to complete the merger by the 2024-25 school year, which they felt was too rushed.  

Hennessey said there’s still no solid plan in the board’s discussion at this point. After the meeting, she added any official board decision would have to wait until the next regular board meeting March 26. 

“I will just say, we do not have a timeline,” Hennessey said.  

Hennessey also said after the meeting she plans to open discussion on the board’s thoughts on a timeline tomorrow. Still, she said she doesn’t think starting next school year is feasible at this point due to timing issues. 

Multiple transitions 

Because redistricting was introduced to the conversation, there was confusion about how redistricting and a merger would play out together. Some Childs and Templeton parents worried their child would have to move schools twice: once for a merger, and again eventually for redistricting. 

Childs parent Chris Cook asked how one would affect the other in public comment. He said he doesn’t feel it makes sense for his children to move twice in the case of a merger-rezoning combination, and that it would hurt their ability to succeed at school. 

Every public commenter at the meeting spoke out against a merger. However, many were in favor of redistricting: They believed it would solve the question of balancing SES without multiple transitions and that the district needs new districts due to growth. 

Frustration showed in discussion when board member Brandon Shurr said he believes people are focusing on redistricting to delay changes, to crowd disagreement. He said he feels redistricting and a merger plan can coexist, to which the crowd laughed.  

Hennessey also said during discussion that she doesn’t think a combination of a merger and redistricting would affect the same students.  

“I don't see those two things as happening simultaneously to the same population. I don't think that we would disrupt that population twice,” Hennessey said. 

However, the board didn’t offer any explanation as to how these plans would work around each other.  

Additionally, board secretary Ross Grimes suggested switching sixth grade from elementary schools to middle schools. This wasn’t widely explored during the meeting as it was brought up at the end, but Hennessey said she agreed that it’s something else to discuss in the future. 

Logistical issues 

The lack of a solid plan meant many logistical questions raised went unanswered. However, Hennessey said she’s logging the questions, and the board still discussed many of them.  

Concerns ranged from how a merger would address multi-age classrooms at Templeton to how PTOs would function. The biggest logistical concern for many parents was transportation, specifically if they had multiple children who would now be split between schools.  

The board discussed potential solutions, such as shuttles between schools and merged PTOs.  

Another concern raised was Title I funding, which Templeton Elementary and several other MCCSC elementary schools receive. MCCSC Superintendent Jeff Hauswald assured meeting attendees because Title I is federally funded based on district poverty levels, the district would just need to reappropriate funds. 

Takeaways 

The situation is complicated, as parents who support the merger and believe it will better balance SES may not be able to attend meetings. Ashley Pirani, board member and assistant secretary, said she received emails from parents supporting the merger and believes some may come from parents at a lower socioeconomic status and thus have to work during evening meetings. 

“I've received quite a bit of emails either that are in favor of it, but they can't make these meetings, or they're afraid to speak out because they feel like they'll be chastised by the others,” Pirani said. “When you're sitting here, consider thinking through this process and who's not in this room right now.” 

The work sessions are ultimately for the board to gather information about the community’s concerns, and it can’t make any official or permanent decisions. Still, parents and community members worry that measures they disagree with will be eventually forced through.  

They want transparency and to know that their voices are heard. MCCSC parent Michell Farmer said in public comment that he wanted the board to “trust the community” and allow them to be involved in decision-making.  

“We just want details, and we want thought,” Farmer said. “And that's not to say that there hasn't been conversation that's been happening behind the scenes. The challenge is for you all to bring it in front of the scenes, share with the community, engage us in the process. We're pretty smart people, pretty reasonable, and we want to work for our schools.” 

Get stories like this in your inbox
Subscribe