Concerns about funding for public schools led Southwestern teachers Karla Thornton and Brandon Frye to speak up at Monday’s Southwestern School Board meeting about current legislation in the Indiana General Assembly that would expand school vouchers and education savings accounts.
“These are two things that I am totally against because of what it draws from public education,” said Thornton, who is a member of the Southwestern Classroom Teachers Association. “A lot of school boards and a lot of superintendents are rallying and writing letters to legislators.”
She said when talking with legislators “they put the blame solely on the school boards and the superintendents and the administration, saying you guys aren’t managing money that they are giving you the right way. We know that’s not the issue. We know they are taking more and more and giving you less to work with.”
Thornton encouraged board members and local residents to write legislators opposing the legislation. “I have several in the community say they are going to do this for you, saying they believe in the public schools and they know they are working.”
House Bill 1005 to expand the voucher program and reduce public school funding was passed by the House in February and is now being considered by the Senate.
Southwestern teacher Brandon Frye said he appreciated that Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bates had joined with other superintendents in southeastern Indiana to draft a letter to state legislators concerning “our financial needs. It would be great if they could hear from everyone. We are fighting a battle and we all know, we’re always trying to find more funds, and they’re wanting to take more and more from us.”
In other business, the board:
• Accepted the retirement of Cathy Bear effective March 1 as transportation coordinator in the central office and the resignation of Devin Brierly effective March 12 as Southwestern Middle School counselor.
• Approved the hiring of Maria Teresa Bolivar as ESL/Title I aide and custodian; Tim Arnold and Bob Gauger as instructors for the Garage Program for Southwestern Elementary School; Talisha Hite, Tayra Bright and Matthew Johnson as ASD and SMD supervisors on an as-needed basis; and Brandon Frye as junior class sponsor and high school yearbook sponsor.
•Hired the following spring coaches: Paula Fulton, varsity softball; Brynen Chitwood, varsity boys; golf Zac Nussbaum, varsity boys track; Stephanie Nussbaum, varsity girls track; Kenny Garrett, varsity tennis; Tom Scroggins, junior varsity softball; Ethan Leach, junior varsity baseball; Brian Crank, Brandon Bump and Greg Hartman, volunteer assistant baseball; Coby Cloud, volunteer assistant softball; Shelly Anderson-Hamilton and Kristin Miller, co-middle school swimming; Ryan Rummel, middle school golf; Kim Crawford, boys middle school track; Peggy Eaglin, girls middle school track; Robert Green and Jason Poteet, co-middle school girls tennis; and Michael Howell, volunteer middle school baseball.
• Visual Art and Media/Film teacher Darrin Means asked board approval for a senior trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, on March 15-18. “Last year we didn’t go on a senior trip because of COVID,” said Means. He said initially there weren’t plans for a senior trip this year, but after talking with parents and students, they decided to consider it, but to a closer destination requiring less travel. He said 13 students have expressed interest, and there could be a few more. Means will chaperone along with Nora Means, the senior class sponsor. “It is for the kids. It all depends on what you think,” he said. School board president Rick Stockdale noted Darrin and Nora Means have led the senior trip for “multiple years in the past and it has always gone smoothly, and it has been an educational, safe trip” and board gave approval.
• Approved school calendars for the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 school years. Bates said some might question why Southwestern is starting a week before Madison and other area schools. “We are trying to keep our semesters as balanced as possible,” he said, noting the calendar includes a one-week fall break and a one-week spring break instead of two weeks as Southwestern has done in the past, but the school year will end one week earlier. “We believe this will give us the best calendar,” he said, adding there are three snow days included in the calendar and if more are needed, e-learning or virtual school days can be utilized.
• Approved an update to the classified employee handbook. “Since we had six e-learning days, we had six days that classified employees did not get the opportunity to work, and did not get the opportunity to earn money. A lot of them depend on getting a consistent paycheck,” Bates said. The changewill allow each classified employee, except for 12-month employees and all custodians, to receive up to five paid e-learning personal leave days each year. “They are to be used only when Southwestern is on an e-learning day,” said Bates, and if there are more than five e-learning days, he said they will need to make up that time. He said custodians and year-round employees are not eligible because they will always be working regardless of whether there is an e-learning day.
• Approved an extension of the Memorandum of Understanding that provided up to 10 paid days that an employee may take in the event of COVID-19 without having to use their own leave days. Bates said the federal government policy expired Dec. 31, but “since we are still experiencing COVID we have just extended that for the remainder of the school year, so any employee who has not yet used 10 days of COVID, if they have to be quarantined, then we will pay them with CARES Act money.” The board approved the extension, retroactive to Jan. 1.
• Awarded a contract for ION systems to Circle R Mechanical Contractors of Columbus at the lowest bidded amount of $44,570. “What an ION system does is it purifies the air,” said Maintenace Director Roger Bickers. The other bid was from Alpha Energy Solutions of Louisville for $68,540.
• Awarded a two-year contract for lawn mowing to Cloud’s Lawn Care, which currently provides the service. Bickers recommended continuing with Cloud’s Lawn Care because he thinks they have been doing a good job. Also, board member Misty Jacobs said Cloud’s “employs a lot of our own students.” Bids were Hardy’s Lawn Care, $600, Kleopfer Lawn Service, $650; Cloud’s Lawn Care, $600, and Enviroscape, $1,845.
• Awarded the contract for fire protection service to Cintas. The bids involved upgrading the system to wireless. The bid from Cintas for the annual service was $5,977.75 with an additional $1,200 for the wireless upgrade. Another bid was from Koorsen with the annual service at $7,599, and upgrade to wireless $8,753.76 plus a $1,458.96 activation fee.
• Granted a three-year extension to the elevator maintenance contract in an effort to save money on the annual fee, which Bickers said runs about $7,100 per year. By extending three years, they save 2%, and increments of savings would increase up to seven years. The board decided for the extension, but not for more than three years.
• Approved an interlocal cooperation agreement that was submitted by Food Service Director Katie King, who noted this is the third year in which Southwestern Schools have participated in the program to partner with 91 other school districts in an effort to leverage buying power on cafeteria food, supplies and services.
• Accepted the following donations: $100 from Steinhardt Heating and Cooling for the elementary student activity fund, $1,000 from SuperATV for a pitching machine for the baseball team, $890 from Hanover Softball League for softball catchers gear, $1,000 from Community Foundation for classroom books, $241 from Southwestern School Corporation to the athletic department for coaching raise for girls soccer, and an anonymous $100 gift for the senior band banner.
• Observed a moment of silence at the start of the meeting in memory of 2012 Southwestern graduate Dani Riley, who died Sunday at age 27 due to complications related to COVID-19. The board “recognized the passing” as a “loss within our Southwestern family.”
Riley’s visitation and funeral will be held at Southwestern Elementary School. Her obituary is published in today’s paper.
Madison Mayor Bob Courtney has asked the city’s Redevelopment Commission to take part in a project to address the community’s shortage of affordable housing by meeting with members of Habitat for Humanity at the Commission’s next meeting.
Courtney said he met with Habitat leaders last week to discuss the group’s plans to construct up to six homes on property Habitat owns on Lanier Drive in the area of the Restore and Green Road on Madison’s hilltop. The property has already received partial zoning approval but Habitat lacks the money to provide the required infrastructure. That’s where Redevelopment Commission could come in by supporting the project with funds that have already been earmarked to address affordable housing.
Courtney said what began as a meeting on Madison’s short term affordable housing needs, ended up focusing on a project Habitat has been wanting to pursue for nearly a decade. With the right infrastructure in place, Habitat can move forward to find the right potential homeowners and pair them with churches and businesses that support the Habitat mission to finance and build modest homes that allow low income families to “achieve the dream of owning a home.”
“We want to bring them to your next meeting to provide a demonstration on how we can support Habitat’s mission for affordable housing,” said Courtney, noting that $100,000 already has been budgeted for affordable housing opportunities. He noted that under the right circumstances perhaps even more money should be invested.
Affordable housing is just one part of the city’s comprehensive social services plan aimed at improving services and quality of life, Courtney said, adding that veterans, seniors, at-risk youths, homeless, families without affordable housing and those dealing with substance abuse are all part of that plan.
The COVID-19 infection rate in both Jefferson and Switzerland counties continue to shift in a positive direction with both communities back in the “blue” category — indicating low community spread — although they will need to stay there for at least two consecutive weeks to see any relaxation of government restrictions.
In terms of restrictions, both counties remain under “yellow” — moderate community spread — with tighter crowd gathering and business limitations but with more and more residents receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and the beginning of warmer weather, the virus pandemic is trending in a positive direction locally.
This week’s announcement that all Indiana residents over the age of 50 are now eligible to schedule free COVID-19 vaccinations and infections numbers could eventually drop even lower. Due to limited vaccine supplies nationally, Indiana had prioritized healthcare workers, first responders, and those most vulnerable in its initial vaccine rollout but that has now been expanded to include older Hoosiers.
On Wednesday, Jefferson County reported only four new cases of COVID-19, bringing the overall number to 2,954. So far 14,781 residents have been tested and the seven-day positivity percentage is currently 4% and the unique positivity rating is 7.1%. The death toll in Jefferson County attributed to the virus pandemic now stands at 74.
In Switzerland County, there was one new case of COVID-19, increasing the overall number to 755. So far, 3,809 residents have been tested and the seven-day positivity is currently 2% and the unique positivity rating is 7.7%. A total of eight deaths have been attributed to the virus pandemic there.
Overall the state reported nine new deaths and 786 new positive cases. So far there have been 663,511 positive cases overall and 12,200 deaths.
At last report, about 5,911 Jefferson County residents have received at least the first of two doses of the COVID vaccine. In Switzerland County, 1,109 have received at least the first of two doses of the vaccine.
In Kentucky, 1,080 new cases of COVID-19 were reported on March 2, according to the Kentucky Department of Health. There have been 406,201 positive cases overall and 4,671 deaths including 19 new deaths.
In information from the North Central District Health Department, Trimble County has reported 629 cases of COVID-19 with 25 active cases and overall five deaths during the pandemic. Carroll County has reported 890 cases of COVID-19 with 10 deaths.
COVID vaccine and appointments for the vaccination are being taken by the Jefferson County Health Department for residents age 55 and older, first responders and health care employees. Appointments must be scheduled by visiting www.ourshot.in.gov or calling 2-1-1.
“I come from a long, long line of boatbuilders,” says Joe Breeck, “So how I ended up in the restaurant and music business is kind of a winding path.
My great-great grandfather Joseph Breeck came over from Germany and settled in Indiana over 100 years ago. He worked on the packet lines operating out of Vevay, hauling passengers and freight.
“Eventually he moved up to Webster Lake, about halfway between South Bend and Fort Wayne. It’s not a huge lake, but he noticed there wasn’t a boat on the lake to serve the residents. So he built a wooden paddle wheeler named Dixie. In 1929 he built a steel replacement, also named Dixie, and she is still working as an excursion boat. It’s actually on the National Historic Register as the oldest surviving paddle wheeler in Indiana.
“The boatbuilding was passed down through the generations, and I currently own J&J Boatworks out near Canaan, specializing in workboats and small barges. I’m actually very close to the town of Pleasant, which is how I stumbled into the restaurant business.
“There was a little general store in Pleasant for many years, called S&J Market, and I’d spent a lot of money there. The owners got older and wanted to sell so I bought it. We put a kitchen in and turned half of the store into a pizza restaurant. Next thing you know we are packing the place, with lines out the door on weekends. People were driving an hour and more to eat there.
“I sold that in 2010 as part of a divorce, but I never really lost my taste for the restaurant business. So when the old Bello’s location opened up in the Plaza on the hilltop, I took the space and started building Rivertown Eatery. It’s set to open very soon.
“But when it rains, it pours, as they say. I got a chance to lease the space next to L&L Lounge that used to be a BBQ place, at the top of Hanging Rock Hill, and I’m putting Rivertown Pizza in there. We’re almost ready to open that one.
“And while all that is going on Joe Pettit gets in touch with me about his property across from the courthouse on Jefferson Street, and I opened the Rivertown Grill in that space. Half of the space is a sit down restaurant, and the other side is a classic bar.
“We are open and serving food, but we don’t have our liquor license yet. We are very close. But in the meantime, we have started hosting live music on weekends, usually solo or duo acts, just something to add to the dinner time atmosphere. People are really responding to the music, even if we can’t serve beer or liquor yet.
“Live music is a big part of our plans, going forward. We plan to add music at Rivertown Eatery on the hilltop once we open, and eventually at the Rivertown Grill downtown we will be bringing in full-on bands, playing from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m.
“The Grill also has a back area that we are looking at for a deck and courtyard development in the future, so maybe some music back there, too.
“Madison is a music town, no question about it. We’re not as big as say, a Columbus or something like that, but we are strong on music. It’s our plan to be a regular part of the downtown music scene as we grow and expand.”
Jordan Wilson is back, baby! After a long COVID break, Jordan is back at The Taproom, with his stellar backing band and some of the funkiest and blusiest rock cover music you’d ever want to hear. He is one of my favorite good-time dance bands, as long-time readers of this column should well know. At Mad Paddle on Friday AND Saturday is a new duo who has just moved to town, Johnny & Sallie. Friday will be their wide-ranging multi-genre show and Saturday is what they call their “Hip Trip thru the 60s!” sort of psychedelic show. Check them out, we’ll be seeing a lot more of them in the future.
Charlie Rohlfing is a retired advertising man and partner in The Red Bicycle Hall music venue. Look for his distinctive fedora bobbing above the crowd, anywhere live local music is happening.
Mad Paddle Brewery — Tracy & Elaine
Historic Broadway Tavern — Leah Pruett
Mad Paddle Brewery — Johnny & Sallie Show
Off Broadway Tavern — Chris & Zach
Switzerland County Arts Center (Vevay) — Highland Reign
Southgate House (Newport, Kentucky) Jerry King & Anthony Ray Wright
Mad Paddle Brewery — Johnny & Sallie Show
Thomas Family Winery — Highland Reign
Off Broadway Tavern — Jordan Wilson Coalition
Rivertown Grill — Chris & Zach