Members of the South Knox School Corp. Board of Trustees on Tuesday officially approved the first steps in a long-term plan to expand the playground at the elementary school.

For many years, there's been a house, which the corporation owns and has leased to tenants, adjacent to the elementary school playground. It's held many tenants, according to superintendent Tim Grove, and has been a welcomed retreat for many South Knox employees over the years.

But when the last tenant moved out recently, Grove said the school board decided to get out of the real estate business.

“We decided a long time ago that that would be the last tenant we would have,” he said.

The house, Grove added, is already gone, and on Tuesday the board approved the expenditure, taking $15,000 from its emergency allocations fund to pay for the demolition.

“All the evidence that there was ever anything there is gone,” Grove said. “And that's going to enable us to expand our elementary school playground.

“In another year or so, I think we should be able to do that.”

The school board also on Tuesday held a state-mandated public hearing to announce that formal negotiations with the South Knox Classroom Teachers Association will begin next month.

A new state law mandates that school corporations hold these public hearings to make the public — and teachers not involved with the union — aware that formal negotiations will begin on or after Sept. 15.

Grove said administrators began “informal” negotiations with members of the teachers union back in July; they've met three times, he said, so far.

No one spoke during the public hearing, Grove said, so they will now look ahead to formal negotiations and, eventually, a new contract.

“My hope is that everything goes well and, in October, the board will be ratifying that contract,” he said. “I'm positive as things have gone well (with teachers) so far.”

Grove, too, said he thought the corporation would be “able to meet teachers' requests” in terms of a pay raise.

“Exactly what that is, I'm not sure yet,” he said. “We may not exactly be on the same page right now, but we are moving closer to that.”

Many teachers also get stipends each year in the form of Teacher Appreciation Grants; exactly how much South Knox will get this year to divvy out remains to be seen, Grove said.

To come into compliance with state law, the board on Tuesday had to change its own policy to reflect how the money can be handed out.

The amount teachers are eligible for is based on their performance evaluation — only those with effective and highly-effective ratings receive grants — as well as their employment history and level of education; those with master's degrees get more, for example.

Per state law, highly-effective teachers must now receive 25% more than those rated as effective, Grove said.

And the school board changed a policy that requires them to tag and inventory every item owned by the corporation worth $500 or more. It was a task so great, Grove said, that the school corporation would hire a third-party to keep up with it.

“They go through every single room in every building on campus and (catalog) anything worth more than $500,” Grove said. “It's a big job.”

Most other Hoosier school corporations, however, only tag and inventory anything worth $5,000 or more, thereby significantly reducing the workload.

“When we had a recent audit by the State Board of Accounts, they suggested raising (the threshold) and said it would certainly be easier on us if we did.,” he said.

“It doesn't mean we don't care about things less than $500,” Grove said. “It just makes the process easier.”

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