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Chapman says he's staying at Cannelton

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By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

Schools chief accepts, declines Kokomo job

CANNELTON - Cannelton Schools Superintendent Al Chapman decided at a special school-board meeting Tuesday to keep his job, even though he had verbally accepted another in the Kokomo area that promised what he called after the meeting a "substantial" pay raise.

Approximately 30 people attended the meeting to show their support for Chapman, who was given a pay raise, retroactive to July 1, 2007, to $93,000. He was being paid $86,151 annually.

The school-board meeting began about 40 minutes late, and Chapman waited outside the office where they' re normally conducted as board members deliberated in an executive session. Such sessions, closed to the public, are normally conducted before and continue after the open meetings, but normally don't delay the start of the public meetings by more than 15 or 20 minutes.

The issue of Chapman's job arose in a roundabout way. He reported that Ginger Conrad had asked to relinquish part of her duties. The board in place at the time opted in 2006 to add high-school duties to the elementary-principal job she held.

"It has been a pleasure" serving in the expanded role, she said at Tuesday's meeting, "but I have a growing family and an elderly mom I'd like to spend more time with."

Board member Barbara Beard said she used to work at the high school, and "Mrs. Conrad has raised the standards there, requiring teachers to teach and students to learn."

Chapman offered to take over as high-school principal while retaining superintendent responsibilities, returning Conrad to her elementary leadership role. The board approved both changes.

In the motion adding high-school leadership to Chapman's duties, board member Bill Garrett included the retroactive pay raise.

The superintendent's contract is good through 2011, Harris noted.

The unusual crowd was on hand because they'd heard Chapman might leave the corporation. That issue wasn't addressed until Betsy Riley asked about it from the audience. The superintendent confirmed he was staying, which elicited applause from the crowd. Chapman's expression indicated he was moved by the show of support.

Garrett said he appreciated efforts Chapman has made since becoming superintendent in 2004.

"We didn't understand the mess we were in when we brought him here," he said. "He uncovered it."

Repeating ideas he expressed upon taking the job, Chapman said he intended from the beginning to serve as Cannelton's superintendent until he retires. "And my goal when I came here was Cannelton schools will be here many years," he added. "If money was an issue for me staying or going, I wouldn't be here."

The school system has been plagued by financial problems that included needs to repay state funding overpaid for inflated student counts that occurred before he arrived.

"We will work the money issues out," he said. "We have mechanisms in place to do that."

While Chapman expressed concern in early March about the corporation's ability to pay its teachers'salaries and other bills, he said late in the month he was talking with banking and state education officials in efforts to stretch repayment of $1.3 million in debt over as much as 20 years.

Chapman explained Wednesday a 20-year repayment plan was being formulated in conjunction with representatives of Fifth Third and German American banks, but has to await a change in law to occur July 1, after which it can be presented to the board, then to the public. He said it could go to a referendum or a 1028-style hearing like those conducted by school corporations hoping to launch major construction projects.

Board President Christal Moskos voted against the raise. She said Wednesday she regretted not explaining her vote at the meeting, but "I didn't feel like I would be a good steward of community funds giving a raise ... when I know we're in a desperate financial condition. I think the raise was unspeakable."

Member Ed Bozarth objected to giving Chapman back pay, explaining," I'm against retroactive pay (generally); I don't care who it is."

Harris noted the superintendent has been performing without extra pay grant-application duties formerly performed by Sheila Donis. The board accepted her resignation last June.

Chapman said after the meeting he'd verbally accepted a superintendent's position at the Taylor Community School Corp. near Kokomo, but hadn't yet signed a contract.