Saturday, August 3, 2013

Another Levy Looming on the Horizon

Signs - signs - everywhere a sign - (those who remember that song are as old as I am!!)
August 6th is a one-issue special election, as everybody knows.  There is passion on both sides of the aisle.
But, before we go on, let me say one thing:  Those of you who do not live in the district, and those who do not pay any Swanton school taxes are not invited to the discussion.  This is OUR issue to decide, and just because you might be someone who works in the school system doesn't give you the right or the privilege of weighing in on the question. 
So, sit down and SHUT UP.
Now then.  Can someone please explain to me why we keep hurling insults at those with whom we disagree?  Each side screeches that the other side is  LYING.  Really??  Is that really what's happening here?  Or is it more a matter of who has what information, and whether that information is complete or incomplete??
When I was a member of the school board, a resident of the district was so upset with me and another board member that she sought to have us removed.  Try as she might, she could find no statutory basis on which to make that happen, and the effort died.  This same person subsequently ran for and was elected to serve on that same school board - and, guess what??  She came to realize that she didn't have all of the facts during her earlier campaign.  She came to realize that, in spite of her conviction that we were doing WRONG, she was actually the one who was in error.  Discovering "the rest of the story" gave her an entirely new perspective. 
Did the situation itself become altered and thus change her mind?  No - it was that she finally got all of the FACTS and realized her mistake.  She had been quite passionate about her former position - and she discovered that she was wrong to have held that position, once she learned all of the facts.  She freely admits now that she should have/could have asked, but for whatever reason, she didn't at that time. 
Did her former position make her EVIL or a LIAR or anything else worthy of personal attack?  No.  She simply was not in possession of all of the facts, and the stories she got from others whom she trusted were simply incomplete. 
Now, I'm no Pollyanna who lives with the mistaken notion that nobody ever tells a lie for personal gain.  Of course people lie!  But to immediately hurl that accusation at another without knowing the whole story is just wrong.  Nine times out of ten, the opposition isn't deliberately lying - it simply doesn't have the same pieces of information that you have. 
I am a firm believer that a decision - ANY decision - should be made only after all the facts are known and considered.  Whether that is about the person you're about to marry, or the job you're considering, or whatever - you should never decide anything until you have looked at all sides of the equation and considered the ramifications of each option before you made your final choice.  Choosing to ignore any fact only makes your ultimate choice more about emotion instead of clear thinking.  Is there any doubt as to which method is the better of the two??
So then we run into the question of what items are demonstrable facts and what items are opinions?  The line has been blurred here.  How can you sort it all out before August 6th?
I suggest that you read carefully everything you can on the issue.  Do not rely on someone's memory - insist on source documentation wherever possible.  Memory is fallible - source documents are not.
And, above all, please realize that your neighbors might hold a different opinion than you, but that doesn't make them liars.  Keep the personal attacks OUT of things.  Stick to the facts at hand!  Recognize that EVERYBODY agrees that improvement is needed in our facilities - we only differ in how we personally believe it would be best to accomplish that goal.
The vote we take on August 6 will have far-reaching consequences.  Keep your emotions out of it.  Do your homework and evaluate the facts.  Only then will you be prepared to cast your ballot and only then will your choice truly be in the best interest of this district and our children.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Fresh Start

The 2012-13 school year has begun!  The first classes have been held - the first football game - the first kindergarten class has survived separation anxiety - our local Swanton Enterprise had a great photo on the front page of the newest additions to the teaching staff, as well as the coaching staff on the inside page - a new bus was purchased, and the emergency levy was renewed at the Aug. 7th special election.  A 2-year contract with our secretaries' union was ratified smoothly . . .

Looks like we're off and running!

Although the school board has met regularly each month, you can't tell from the podcast list on the district website, which only goes up to May 15, 2012.  Were no further meetings recorded after that date??  Shame on me for not physically being in attendance - I counted on being able to know what was discussed at school board meetings by listening to the digital recordings, which is mighty hard to do if they don't exist.  

I don't know about You, but if I have prior commitments on those nights that prevent me from being there, I don't want to rely on the Enterprise for information on what transpired - especially since they don't always send a reporter to cover the meetings.  And waiting for the Bulldog Bulletin means getting most of the information long after the fact - not the best option, either.  I'm going to check with some board members to see what's going on with the recordings.

At the most recent board meeting, there was an acceptance of the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC)  "Classroom Facilities Assistance Program", as listed on the agenda for that evening.  Part of the resolution that was passed to accept this proposal involves recognition that "if the districts' electors fail to pass the local proposition with (13 months), the funds reserved for (our) project will be released."  That means if our district doesn't pass a new levy to help pay for a new building, the state will pull its share of the funding and give it to someone else. 

I assume there was some discussion of this at the board meeting on Aug. 14th, but without a digital recording, there is no way for those of us who weren't there to know what was said.  Was the amount needed mentioned?  Was there talk of what type of levy was being considered??  Inquiring minds want to know - especially those who own property and/or have a job whose tax dollars will pay for this.

Well, if you go to the district website and click several times to get to the "detailed agenda" which includes attachments, you'll find the document from the state that lists some particulars (see pgs. 2&3).  The scope of the project is to build a new K-6 building - demolish Crestwood, Park, and the "Cherry Street High School" (translation: the 1904 building).  The local "share" of this project appears to be around $8 million, after some "ELPP Expenditures" are credited.  A tidy sum.

For those of you who believe that these demolitions are a requirement of the state, please know that is not the case.  There were other avenues available that would have allowed one or more of the existing buildings to remain standing for other purposes, but the direction chosen was for demolition of all 3.   As a card-carrying member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, it is personally painful for me to acknowledge that the 1904 building is to be destroyed.  I can give you many examples of similar structures that have been saved, updated for current technology, and are being used (LEED platinum, too) in Ohio and Michigan - but here in Swanton our history is not near as important as something new and shiny.  (small wonder that our downtown is so lifeless . . . )  But that is a topic for another blog!  I'm sure those who made the decision believe they made the best choice possible, given all the parameters.  Now that the decision has been made, we should all do our best to rally behind it.

So let's start this new school year with enthusiasm and expectation that it will be a good one, for students, staff, and administration - and then go out, and MAKE it happen!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

One More Thing . . .

I neglected to mention in my earlier article that, although the authority and responsibility for these difficult decisions on reductions in force (RIFs) rests on the Board of Education, the decision was not made arbitrarily nor was it made in a vacuum.  

Over the past several weeks, meetings were held with the following groups of people:
  • Building principals
  • Transportation/Custodial Supervisors
  • Building Engineers
  • SEA Leadership
  • SSSA Leadership
  • Superintendent
  • Treasurer/CFO
Each of these groups gave their input which was carefully taken into consideration by the Board.  So as you can clearly see, the Board did their due diligence appropriately before making their decision. 

RIFs are not pleasant, but are sometimes necessary.  None of the cuts made are meant to reflect anything negative on the people currently holding these jobs. 

It was a hard decision, but our current school Board did what they were elected to do.  While we may mourn the cuts that had to be made, we should also be grateful that this group of men and women were willing to do the hard thing required of them. 

Deja Vu All Over Again

Last night was a very important meeting of your Swanton Board of Education.  To accommodate an expected larger crowd, the venue was changed to Park School, where the audience sat on a section of uncomfortable bleachers to listen to the BOE conduct business and a joint presentation on the district's financial situation by treasurer Joyce Kinsman and acting superintendent Les Schultz. 

A number of folks had indicated their desire to address the Board, and were allowed to do so early.  While board president Kris Oberheim reminded everyone of the time stipulations by reading the policy covering the issue, no one was cut short in their comments - even though more than one took more than their allotted 3 minutes.

The overriding theme of the comments, in my opinion, seemed to be:  "(we) understand the financial situation of the district, but DON'T CUT my (job), (favorite class), (department), etc. because it will hurt the kids." 

Hey - ya know what??  When a budget needs to be trimmed, whether it's a school district budget or a personal budget at home, everyone connected to that budget - including the kids - is affected.  That's how life works in the real world.  What's that old adage?  "Life ain't fair." 

I'm not sure if the meeting was recorded last night, so it is unclear whether a podcast will be forthcoming (especially since the meeting recordings are woefully behind on the district website).  But the information shared jointly by Ms. Kinsman and Mr. Schultz was solid and well presented.  Questions were allowed from the audience at various points, and several people were able to ask and receive answers. 

At issue were the proposed budget cuts being considered by the Board.  In case you don't get the Swanton Enterprise, the list of items being considered included the elimination of 2 teachers and 2 secretaries, with another teacher and library aide having their time reduced.  An elementary music position and industrial arts position were being considered for elimination, and the Spanish teacher position reduced to half-time. 

Other items on the list included strength and conditioning coach, department chairs, grade level chairs, the middle school annual and newspaper, elementary student council advisors and the Spanish Club and middle school quiz team advisors.  These are all "supplemental" positions, which pay a set percentage on top of the regular teachers' regular salaries of those who hold these positions.  

Several references were made by members of the audience to what Swanton "used to have", in regard to programs and teachers, etc.  No one waxed nostalgic over the debacle in 2002 when the district was placed into "fiscal caution" by the state of Ohio for poor financial management.  No one remembered the embarrassment and angst from back then, when virtually every resident of the district swore to "never let THAT happen again!"  No one mentioned the income tax levy that took several times at the ballot before it was passed - mostly because residents were angry that the money they had already been giving wasn't being handled properly and why would the response be to throw more money at the problem?  Only one person where I was sitting remembered the income tax collecting far more than anticipated - which is how we happen to have a positive balance in the bank right now to help carry us through these difficult financial times.  One perennially angry person made the ignorant statement that the board was trying to balance the budget on the "backs of the teachers."  Puh-leez

Mr. Schultz was forthright about the ever-increasing demands of the State for graduation requirements.  Where a high school diploma used to be had for 18 credits, it now requires 24 - and these items are in core subjects like math, science, reading/literature, etc. 

Repeatedly during the PowerPoint presentation, we were reminded that - if nothing changed, at our current rate of expenditure the district will be out of money by the 2014-15 fiscal year.  That isn't just a comment on deficit spending - it also reflects the loss over time of the carryover balance that is in the bank right now, as the district would continue to dip into that fund to make up for shortfalls each year. 

Clearly cutbacks in expenses must occur.  The only question to be decided is which particular items will be on the chopping block.  If the Board decides to cut this one, these people will be angry.  If the Board decides to cut that one, those people will be angry.  It's a "no win" situation, but no one runs for school board to be popular.  (Trust me.)

It was also emphasized that the renewal of the Emergency Levy must occur.  The audience was introduced to Anne Cook, who is the new levy chairman and who shared how the committee plans to address the August ballot.  (hmmm . . . maybe she can even convince our self-nominated "Outstanding Board Member" to actually VOTE this time, since that person didn't bother to vote when the levy was on the ballot this spring . . . )

When the Board left to go into executive session to hammer out the final details, my husband and I left.  Many others stayed to hear first-hand what decisions were made.  The Board had to decide last night what to cut, because the May filing deadline to the state of the updated 5-Year Forecast is upon them.  We said a prayer for wisdom for our 5 school board members.

And this morning, the results were the same as listed on the district website.  You can read it all here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

An Agreement Is Reached

Yes - you read the title correctly - yesterday's marathon session between the Swanton Board of Education negotiation team and the teachers' union (SEA) team did finally reach an agreement on the contract.  I'm not sure when the SEA team will present the contract's particulars to its membership, but once that happens and the Temporary Agreement (TA) is ratified by them, it will then go to the full school board for a vote.  Will there be a special meeting held to do this?  Not sure - but at the very latest, the school board should have it before them at their regular April meeting.

I believe a huge "thank you" belongs to those teachers who were willing to speak up to their SEA team "representatives" for what they felt was fair.  Had those brave souls remained silent, we might still be at impasse - with an implemented contract instead.  Thank You!!

Another huge "thank you" belongs to our community for learning the facts and standing firm in their resolve to not allow our board to offer what they cannot afford.  Thanks to You All!

To the people who did the negotiating for the school board, another huge "thank you" is in order.  Being held hostage by the SEA for almost a full year on this thing was not pleasant for anyone, and being able to finally say that it is DONE is a great relief to all involved.

As details of the TA are made public, I will share them here.