Dr. Maggie Hoernemann, superintendent, shared about the creation of Oriole Advocates from the perspective of the school corporation. In the summer of 2014, she was facing her first legislative budget session since becoming superintendent. For years, Avon class sizes had been creeping upward and the faculty and staff had not been receiving pay raises. She felt the community needed to be using its clout within the state to effect change. She reached out to the Sparzo family, who had been strong supporters of Avon Community School Corporation, and tossed around ideas with Dr. John Sparzo to pull together a group of people who would advocate for Avon students and teachers.
Karen Eglen shared from her perspective as a parent that she was interested in this group because of her kids. She had been going through a gradual process of asking more and more questions about why Avon class sizes were getting larger. She felt she could get involved in Oriole Advocates to learn more and “do something about it.”
Introduction Executive Group Members
Dr. Hoernemann introduced the executive committee of
- Rosie Blankenship
- Missy Van Buskirk
- Karen Eglen
- Jennifer Mills
- Trilby Berry-Tayman
- Scott Clore
- Dr. Scott Wyndham (ex-officio)
- Sarah Parent (who was absent)
- John Sparzo (who joined the meeting later)
- and Dr. Hoernermann (ex-officio) herself.
The executive committee has been a smaller group who meets monthly to dive deeply into work the Oriole Advocates need to address.
Mission, Vision, Principles
Jennifer Mills reviewed the Mission, Vision and Principles of the Oriole Advocates, adopted in January 2015. (Available to read here.) She described this document as guiding principles to show that Oriole Advocates did not want to be a negative voice in the conversation about schools. The principles talk specifically about community unity and how Advocates are helpful, informative and respectful. Although the Advocates are a separate entity from the Avon Community School Corporation, these ideals encourage the group to seek input from teachers and administrators, which means the work of the Advocates generally aligns with needs expressed by teachers.
Mini State of the Schools
Dr. Hoernemann gave a review of the historic funding per student in Avon Community School Corporation, as well as a bit about how the funding formula works (although the complexity of that state formula was far beyond the scope of the meeting). The full set of slides from her presentation can be found here. She discussed that Avon per student funding ranks us as 332 out of 365. While changes in the 2015 budget have led to positive changes, she said, “That’s yesterday’s news.” She said between November 2016 and March 2017, all of the decisions will be made for the next two years of funding, calling it the “sweet spot” for advocacy work.
Avon school per student funding is up $192 from the previous year, but still $504 below the state average. As of 9/16/16, the student count has our schools is up 164 new students.
She shared teacher salary comparisons based on last year’s data because this year’s contract is under negotiation. She noted that entry-level teachers can make more in neighboring districts: 5.9% more in Wayne, 3.8% more in Brownsburg, to name two. Veteran teachers (20+ years) can make an even greater percentage difference in salary: 10.8% more in Plainfield, 8% in Wayne, 7.5% in Westfield. This is significant because excellent teachers can leave for better-paying positions, even without moving their families.
She talked a bit about the property tax revenue loss, which is substantial. These revenues can be spent on items like building debt, pension debt, technology, insurance, buses and other improvements. She explained that the property tax cap limited residential property taxes to 1% of assessed value; farmland to 2%; and business to 3%. In communities like Avon – where about 75% of the property is residential and 25% is business, this hit the budgets impacted by those revenues hard. She explained this is a situation that wasn’t felt in all school systems. If a school district – such as Plainfield – has the opposite makeup of taxable properties (75% business/25% residential), their budget is not significantly impacted. The majority of school districts in Indiana do not have the significant impact of property tax cap loss that ACSC experiences–making it an issue that is not a concern to many in our state.
Dr. Hoernemann went on to talk about the relationship of test scores and class sizes. Avon has slipped from ranked 16th on ISTEP scores in 2012 to 23 in 2015. She noted that 2014 was the worst year for the sizes of classes.
She feels the school corporation has been very good stewards of the taxpayer’s money and would love to avoid taking this financial issue to referendum. The time and money spent on a referendum vote on taxes may not be worthwhile. So, being excellent stewards of the money is one way the corporation has tried to make ends meet.
The corporation has received a math-science partnership grant of $250,000, a propane bus grant, have terrific insurance efficiencies, had a 0% premium increase for this year (as she said, “This means we didn’t have to give the staff raises, only to turn around and take it away two months later so they could absorb higher premiums.”), has entered into sponsorships with Hendricks Regional Health and Andy Mohr, and are refinancing debt to save interest payments.
She invited those present to continue to learn with the Oriole Advocates about the needs of Avon Community School Corporation, communicate those needs to others and to advocate for the needs with legislators and the local community.
Karen Eglen led an update on the organizational structure and changes to Oriole Advocates. These include:
- The full group will now meet quarterly. (Upcoming meeting dates can be found here.)
- The executive committee meets monthly and all are welcome to attend.
- Oriole Advocates have filed Articles of Incorporation and are now a non-profit in the state of Indiana, but are not a 501(c)3 due to our legislative advocacy work. Mainly, the formation as a non-profit was done to be able to do some minor banking in the name of Oriole Advocates and to establish ourselves as a separate legal entity
- Karen shared the proposed by-laws and said they would be voted on later.
- A membership form was handed out and she explained new members can join tonight or later, but that we do require they commit to our guidelines.
- She explained that we eliminated the categories of Armchair Advocates etc. All members are Oriole Advocates and may participate to any extent they are comfortable.
Currently, we are seeking people who would be willing to write a blog post, particularly for the “Best of the Nest” series, where we highlight teachers and students doing things that make us particularly proud to advocate for our schools.
Oriole Advocates can use these tools to share information with their own networks. Meeting minutes will be posted to the website within a few days of each meeting. Calls to action are generally first posted to Facebook/Twitter, but additional information is made available on the website and in email. If any Advocate needs to contact a member of the executive committee, they may email firstname.lastname@example.org and it will be forwarded to the appropriate person.
- Twitter: avonadvocates
- (317) 662-0129
John Sparzo shared about the history of accomplishments of the Oriole Advocates, which included:
- Developed a Reputation for Positive, Encouraging Communications. One example, include writing thank you notes to our legislators after the close of the 2015 session. As John said, “They probably don’t get a lot of thank you notes.” This made a positive impact on those people.
- Boosted staff morale. Oriole Advocates have had more than two dozen teachers come to speak at meetings because the Advocates genuinely value teacher voices. These teachers feel supported and valued for their work, and have expressed so repeatedly. The Oriole Advocates liaison program is also making attempts to connect to the schools in the same, meaningful way. He said we helped show that, “We stand side-by-side” with the teachers.
- Increased funding per pupil. This is a big one, but our advocacy helped lead the way to increased funding at the last budget session of the state legislature. Avon was able to hire almost 30 teachers at the start of the 2015-16 school year.
- TIF funding. We have made our thoughts known on residential housing in TIF districts and their financial impact on the school district. We have elevated a little-understood issue to a place where important conversations are being had in Avon and in Plainfield. This may have a future impact even if it doesn’t result in changes regarding the current TIFs in place.
Missy Van Buskirk shared the Oriole Advocates shirts are available to order for $30 each. A second style of shirt will now be offered that is more of a traditional polo fabric for $20. Samples of these shirts are available. A deadline for ordering will be set soon. Advocates are not required to buy a shirt, but they do help show who you are in meetings and public events where we will have a presence.
By-Laws and Voting on Slate Executive Committee
The proposed by-laws were shared. Kent Mueller moved to accept them as written. Mark Rodgers seconded. The vote was unanimous in favor. The by-laws can be read here.
Per the by-laws and requirements of the non-profit corporation status, a slate of officers was presented. They are:
- President: Karen Eglen
- Vice-President: Jennifer Mills
- Secretary: Rosie Blankenship
- Treasurer: John Sparzo
- Member At-Large: Trilby Berry-Tayman
Linda Dobbs moved to accept the slate as presented. Missy Van Buskirk seconded. The motion carried with a unanimous vote of all present.
The executive committee, as introduced at the top of the meeting, is appointed by the president and includes Dr. Hoernemann and Dr. Scott Wyndham as ex-officio (non-voting) members.
Dates of Future Meetings:
- Monday, November 7, 2016 – 6:30-8:00 p.m. Administration Center
- Wednesday, January 18, 2017 – 6:30-8:00 p.m. Administration Center
- Monday, March 6, 2017 – 6:30-8:00 p.m. Administration Center