COLUMBIA CITY — The numbers are looking up for Whitley County Consolidated Schools, as administrators estimate a 67-student increase in enrollment this year.

The official count will take place later in September, but Superintendent Patricia O’Connor said she’s cautiously optimistic that this year’s count will be higher, meaning the district will receive more state funding.

An increase of 67 students would provide the district with about $355,000 more.

“Which is great; we sure can use it,” O’Connor said.

Twenty-one of those new students live outside the school district. In total, there are about 125 out-of-district transfers into WCCS.

“These students actually don’t live in our WCCS area and they’re being brought in every day to go to our schools,” O’Connor said.

With the increase in enrollment, WCCS added staff. Among them is an additional teacher at Coesse, Northern Heights and Little Turtle elementary schools and “numerous” paraprofessionals, O’Connor said.

“We’ve added additional support for teachers in classrooms that did not quite qualify for an additional teacher,” O’Connor said.

Bus driver wage increase

Whitley County Consolidated Schools administrators are proposing a wage increase for bus drivers for field trips and athletic events.

O’Connor said with the low unemployment rate, the district is having difficulty finding employees.

“This started with the bus drivers,” O’Connor said. “We have put ads in every paper in the area, we have buses parked outside with help wanted signs on them, our students at Eagle Tech made an advertisement for Bones Theater. We know we need to look at pay.”

O’Connor will be asking the board to consider a pay increase from $9 to $11 an hour for field trips and athletic events — anything outside the driver’s regular bus route.

“This is competitive in our area and a little higher than many other districts, but we feel it would be an incentive to recruit those interested in being a bus driver, and keep folks working for us,” O’Connor said.

The pay increase would cost the district about $9,600 more per year, which would come from the transportation budget.

“We feel like we can cover that cost in the transportation budget,” O’Connor said.

Though the increase wouldn’t directly increase pay for regular route bus drivers, O’Connor said it would allow bus drivers to augment pay.

Regular route drivers are paid about $62-65 daily for a morning and afternoon route. Pay is based on the route, number of miles driven and years of experience.

Background checks

In compliance with a new law, all WCCS staff will be required to have background checks completed every five years. Administrators are making a plan of attack to implement a process, and will be utilizing an outside company, Safe Hiring Solutions, to complete the background checks, starting with the most senior employees this year.

“There will be an email go out to the first group on Oct. 1,” O’Connor said.

Those employees will fill out an online form, and the background check will be completed.

“Following that, if there is a problem or issue, we will receive a notice,” O’Connor said. “Then we will decide what the next move is.”

Many of the most senior employees have never had a background check done, because background checks didn’t exist when they were hired many years ago.

“Some employees have been with us for 47 years,” O’Connor said. “We will be looking at background checks that could include something that might have happened long before there were even background checks.”

Though the law now requires all school employees to have background checks, it doesn’t have any rules regarding what should happen to employees with criminal histories.

“We will consider the severity of the charge, whether it is a misdemeanor or felony, then look at the nature of the charge, the seriousness in dealing with children, drugs and alcohol, and the employee’s judgment,” O’Connor said. “If we were to the point of dismissing the employee — I hope we don’t get to that point — there would be a recommendation to the board with all of this work. I think we will learn as we go along. There’s really a gray area in so many ways until we get into it and find out what we’re looking at.”

“This isn’t something that’s a witch hunt, but it supports good character of our teachers,” Board President Don Armstrong said.

Football helmet tech considered

Columbia City High School officials will consider purchasing technology, similar to Whitko’s, which would allow coaches and athletic trainers to closely monitor football players.

There is a device put in each helmet that sends out an alert when a player receives a single strong hit, or multiple impacts during a game or practice.

A handheld device shows the name and uniform number of the player, and archives data for each player.

“We talked to the coaches about this and there is strong support to look into it,” O’Connor said. “Our primary concern is the safety of our football players. There is a lot of information out about the safety of football players.”

The cost for 80 devices, which is about how many the high school would need, is $15,000. O’Connor said the school may be able to pull together loose equipment dollars to pay for them.

“It would warrant discussion on who would monitor and manage this,” O’Connor said. “There are a lot of questions the coaches and athletic director would need to discuss, but this is the kind of thing that would be a great investment.”

Trimesters to semesters — board will decide next week

WCCS’s board will consider making a change from a trimester schedule to semesters, starting in the 2018-19 school year.

O’Connor said it would make scheduling classes easier and allow for students to spend more time with teachers before each schedule change.

The board is expected to make a vote on the change at its next meeting, 5:30 p.m. Sept. 18 at the WCCS administration office.