Cannelton schools caught inflating enrollment again

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By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

CANNELTON - A 2005 audit of Cannelton City Schools records revealed an overcounting of students for the 2003-04 academic year, Schools Superintendent Al Chapman reported at a regular school-board meeting Wednesday.

Student numbers, upon which state funding is based, have been inflated in the Cannelton school system since at least 1998, according to previous News reports. Then-Superintendent John Thomas reported in late 2003 the school system had finished repaying the state for overpayments that came as a result of inflated elementary-enrollment figures for 1998-2000, which predated his arrival. After Chapman reported in April 2006 the overcounting had continued, Thomas said he based his reports on information he received from building principals, but accepted responsibility and said he should have checked the documentation more thoroughly.

Long-time school-board member Jack Harris expressed frustration at the time that the district continued to overreport its student populations.

"We pay principals and the superintendent to do that, but it looks like somebody hasn't been doing his job," he said. "I have tried to do everything I can. I've questioned them, 'do you have it right?' " and they say they have it right. I approach them several times during the year. It's something we have to rely on the responsible people to take care of for us."

Harris resigned last July, citing other concerns.

Hired in June 2004, Chapman noted the latest inflation occurred before his arrival. In discussing earlier occurrences, he stressed that he ensures counts are performed correctly because the law requires it.

The latest count showed 16 more students than were actually registered, he told the board. "I'm anticipating further contact from the state."

In other business, he urged board members to visit the state Department of Education's Web site at http://ideanet.doe.state.in.us. Information there shows gains the school system has been making the last four years in Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress exam scores. "We're gradually getting better every year," he noted. Visitors to the site can click on "K-12 School Data" and "data for one school or one school corporation in Indiana," then type a school name or search by county to get to the information.

On Chapman's recommendation, the board adopted a policy that will require all corporation equipment worth $5,000 or more to be recorded in an inventory. Board members and administrators also received other proposed policies for review before the board's next meeting.

The board approved the employment of Eric Harris for three morning social-studies sessions for the remainder of the year. Board member Jerry Harris abstained from the vote due to a possible conflict of interest. They also approved the employment of Billy Lane as a noncertified staff member working with emotionally troubled students. Chapman said he had been serving as a substitute teacher in that area for several weeks.

Jerry Harris said he witnessed Lane's actions on the job, and found him dedicated and passionate about the work.

"I really appreciate those teachers for all they have given," board member Christal Moskos added. "We have a high at-risk population."

Principal Ginger Conrad said the corporation's annual Young Authors and Artists Fair had been postponed from Feb. 21 to March 13. Visitors will be able to view students' creative expressions from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in the city's community center. Winners will be announced at 6 p.m.

Eighty-nine students who earned Pride Cards during the second nine-week grading period will be honored in luncheons still to be scheduled, Conrad added. "We congratulate all of the students who have met the mark in academics, attendance and citizenship," she said.

She also congratulated Jaci Garrett, a sophomore athlete and scholar, for being selected as a peer role model by the Indiana High School Athletic Association. Like other Perry County students featured in a Feb. 4 front-page News story, "Jaci has committed herself to being a drug-free athlete who is willing to be a spokesperson and role model for others in our county schools," Conrad reported.