Contentious foreign student program dominates Valpo school board session
By James D. Wolf Jr. Post-Tribune correspondent February 20, 2014 11:38PM
Updated: February 22, 2014 2:04AM
VALPARAISO — Although Lumenus USA withdrew its proposal to partner with Valparaiso High School in bringing 25 to 30 Chinese students into the classroom, Lumenus was the major topic at Thursday’s school board meeting.
During a roughly three-hour meeting, Superintendent Mike Berta apologized, Lumenus CEO Erik Froelich tried to leave the matter open for the future and residents both against and in favor of the idea told the board the main problem was a lack of communication and transparency from school officials.
“How in the world could this happen and so few people would know about it?” said Charles Foster, teacher and former Valparaiso Teachers Association president.
The board voted for a partnership with Lumenus on Jan. 23 after Berta explained a bit about the program, and board members on Thursday said they hadn’t heard about the program before that day.
However, Lumenus withdrew Feb. 10 after public outcry, some centering on Mayor Jon Costas having an 11 percent interest in Lumenus, along with other community leaders, while the school board is appointed by the City Council.
Berta’s apology came at the end of a representation of what he told the board in January, along with new information he’s learned.
He said he saw the program as a way to increase revenue for the school and give students a global experience.
“I apologize to the board, I apologize to the teachers, I apologize to the residents if I have offended anybody in doing what I have described. I think it was the right thing to do,” Berta said.
There was never a risk that students would be bumped from a class or that Chinese or other foreign students would affect class rank, and the tuition the students paid and money Lumenus would give would have brought in another guidance counselor.
In response to a resident’s questions about how the difference between the $4,800 Lumenus would pay in tuition for Chinese students and the $5,200 Indiana pays per student would be reconciled, Berta said both the state payment and the tuition depend on state formulas.
Froelich said as a parent, he would have reacted the same way to the lack of process and dialogue but added, “I hope we can’t kill the concept.”
Foster said he thought the change of having 25 to 30 foreign students in the school should have been discussed with the teachers under state rules for collective bargaining.
Resident Chris Pupillo said the real issue was that the schools had an 87-student loss but a 55-student gain from Oct. 3 to Feb. 11.
Berta said the loss would result in $143,187 less for the district, but an increase to the Special Needs Funding Grant would provide a $11,613 total increase.
That 17 students who were expelled and 16 who went into home schooling “has a much bigger impact than Lumenus has,” he said.