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Valpo school board gets earful from residents

While getting input from residents search for new superintendent Valparaiso Community Schools Board sfront crowd more than 250 people Thursday

While getting input from residents on the search for a new superintendent, the Valparaiso Community Schools Board sat in front of a crowd of more than 250 people Thursday night for more than two hours. | James D. Wolf/for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 8, 2014 6:42AM



VALPARAISO — More than 250 people attended the first public input session for the Valparaiso Community School’s superintendent search. Audience members often were heated in the comments they gave facilitators during Thursday’s brainstorming session at Benjamin Franklin Middle School.

The board accepted Superintendent Mike Berta’s resignation Dec. 18 and have said they want to have a replacement by April.

Although the board said the subject of private firm Lumenus bringing 25 to 30 foreign students into Valparaiso High for tuition wouldn’t be a subject of conversation, the matter came up often.

Resident Chris Pupillo said most who attended the meeting came for Lumenus, and when he asked them to stand, an overwhelming majority did to long applause.

Jesse Harper said, “Is it only going to be one company making money off the schools, or are we going to open this process to other companies to make money off the schools?”

The board approved accepting students via Lumenus — a company owned by Mayor Jon Costas, Chuck Williams and Harley Snyder — at it’s Jan. 23 meeting.

The board also had to restrict audience comments to the superintendent search after questions were directed at the board.

Many spoke against having an appointed board, and resident Norman Hellmers said he wants a superintendent with “a willingness to stand up to a school board that has a reputation for bullying and forcefulness.”

His son, Jeffrey Hellmers, said he wants a superintendent who will campaign to the state and federal levels against cuts and against vouchers.

Finances — and the school’s $3.5 million shortfall after the switch to sales taxes for school funding and the property tax caps — came up often.

“We need someone who can come into this and lead us into a referendum fast,” resident Rob Behrend said.

People spoke in favor of the arts, of giving teachers and staff their first raise in five years, of cutting overtesting and teaching students for jobs rather than to develop their own skills and personalities.

Student Marisa Miller, who said she is in the top percentage of students, said the focus is on her group and failing students.

“Everyone else in the in middle is getting lost in the shuffle,” Miller said.

Rich Wheeler, a retired school teacher from another district, said he wants a superintendent “with the integrity to put the interests of the students first and consider the input of the teachers and the staff more strongly.”

Others talked about more diversity — noting the board is all white males — and input from community members in this and other matters.

Students asked for input on matters, too.

The board has chosen five community members to be citizen representatives during the hiring.



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