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East Allen to gather information on budget

NEW HAVEN – Despite a consultant's recommendation, the East Allen County Schools Board will move forward with plans to gather information related to its budget.

Earlier this year, the board voted on its top goals based on suggestions in special work sessions. The top three areas the board wanted to address were the budget, transportation and alternative education program. Board members formed committees, which include members of the community, to delve deeper into the topics.

During its meeting Tuesday, the board's legal counsel and consultant William Hopkins of Barnes & Thornburg LLP strongly urged the board to leave direction of the budget to the incoming superintendent, saying setting budget priorities should be the superintendent's responsibility.

The district's former Superintendent Karyle Green left the district March 1 under a mutual agreement with the board to leave prior to her contract expiration. The board is currently interviewing candidates to fill Green's position and hopes to name a new superintendent within the coming weeks.

Forming any policy related to the budget could undermine the role of the new superintendent, Hopkins said.

Board members differed in their opinions of Hopkins' recommendation.

Bob Nelson, who is heading up the transportation committee, asked for further direction from the board on how the committees would move forward. Bill Hartman said the new superintendent may want input on committee member selection, but he stressed that no recommendations should be made to the board from the committees.

"I think it would all hold until we have a new superintendent," Hartman said.

Board member Arden Hoffman said the committees are fact finding to come back with suggestions, with the board being ultimately responsible for action.

"We're engaging people in the community…to be a part of that decision-making process," Hoffman said. "I wouldn't want to reverse that situation."

Hartman said a good time to resolve the situation would be when the board meets with Hopkins in executive sessions for board training.

Board President Neil Reynolds said the committees' purpose will be to gather information and listen to community input, refraining from recommendations until a new superintendent is in place.

Also Tuesday, the board reversed a vote from last year that moved a special education program for 18- to 22-year-old students to New Haven Elementary. The board voted Tuesday that the program remain as is.

Kirby Stahly, assistant superintendent for administrative services and business management, said the building was previously on the state Department of Education's list of unavailable buildings, where it can remain up to two years. The district had already sent a letter to the department to get the school removed from the list based on the board's previous decision to use the building for the special education program.

Stahly said he would discuss with legal counsel and check state law to determine how long before the building would become available for use by a charter school.

Under state law, public school buildings that go unused for instruction educational purposes after two years will become available for a charter school to purchase or lease it for $1.