Thursday, December 27, 2007

Park and Prejudice

As I mentioned in my previous post, the December meeting of the School Board included an item that was an eye-opener, at least for me. Here is the gist of it:

Apparently, since time immemorial, the Swanton School District has placed a levy on the ballot on behalf of the Swanton Park & Rec. No one is exactly certain how this began, but it has continued down through the decades on the premise that residents in the entire school district should be taxed via school district levy for Swanton Parks because some school sports functions utilize park facilities (e.g., the baseball diamond, etc.).

The park recreation system has never gone through the process of becoming an official entity, or park district, which would then give it the authority to place a levy on the ballot for itself (think Toledo Metroparks, for example, which had an item on last November's ballot in Lucas County). Rather, Swanton Park & Rec has piggy-backed onto the Swanton School District for its operating expenses: to wit, levy monies and administrative tasks (which are performed by School District personnel).

Still with me?

Perhaps it made sense, way back when this all started, even though the logic escapes me as I learn about it in 2007. . . but recent cuts in state school funding (thanks to Gov. Strickland) have forced the current School Board to seriously question the situation.

To put it more clearly, this 0.4-mil levy for the Parks effectively costs the School District $58,000+ dollars per year! Because Park & Rec has not bothered to organize into a self-supporting entity, it has cost the School District untold hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years.

Given our district's recent money problems, we are well within our rights to question those former School Board members who allowed this to continue during their tenure.

For a more detailed explanation of the financial implications involved, give a call to the School District treasurer, Cheryl Swisher. It will curl your hair.

At the next meeting of the School Board (January 14th, 7 p.m.) we will be discussing this issue, and no doubt representatives from Park & Rec will be in attendance. This has been a very sweet deal for them, and we expect they will want to maintain the status quo.

At the last meeting, Mr. Kahl (P&R board) made emotional statements of how the Swanton Park & Recreation system serves underprivileged children throughout the entire school district . . . . however, he gave no facts that could support the current levy situation. School board members at that meeting did not allow themselves to be put on a guilt trip that evening by Mr. Kahl, and decided to NOT put the Park levy on the March 2008 ballot. Rather, the issue was tabled until the next School Board meeting in January.

I am sure that it is a tedious paperwork process for the Park & Rec system to create a park district. Twisting the collective School Board's arm for levy money is far easier. But what is the right thing to do? Phone calls around the immediate area and around the state have proven what we surmised: there is NO school district in the state of Ohio that places a park levy on the school ballot thereby losing critical funding for its students. We are unique in Swanton - and in this case, it is not in a good way.

It is time for the Park & Rec Board to step up to the plate and create a park district, and it is time for the Swanton School Board to assist them in that process by refusing to place them on any future school levy ballots.

(Oh - as a side note, you might find it interesting to learn that, according to treasurer Cheryl Swisher, of the $58,000 the Park & Rec board has been getting each year, a full $49,000 of it goes to their staff )

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

December Meeting 2007

The final meeting of 2007 for the Swanton Board of Education was held December 17th. Ms. Cathy Cline was not in attendance, so she missed out on the words of thanks from fellow board members directed toward her and Mr. Green, who is retiring from the Board. In recognition of their service to the community, two large posters (created by students) hung on the wall and there was a cake! In addition, a beautiful glass gift was presented to them, with each of the schools etched on the surface - very nice.

I was surprised that the meeting did not begin on time. I arrived at ten minutes before seven, and was annoyed with myself for "rushing in" so late - but the meeting did not begin until some twenty minutes later. I'm not sure if this is normal or not. Time will tell.

At one point, Mr. Green welcomed me as a new board member, and asked if I had anything to say to those in attendance. I had not expected to be asked to speak, and I'm sure I sounded like a dolt. I'll be ready in the future!

One of the first items of business was to give recognition to two former students who had helped on the most recent yearbook. I learned that this is a standard part of board meetings which is confusing to me. Why do we recognize student achievements at school board meetings instead of at school assemblies in front of their peers? How special is it for the student to receive their certificate in front of their parents and a handful of others, versus in front of the entire student body? From my perspective it makes more sense to have the superintendent and a representative of the board go to the school itself and present the award/certificate to the student at a regularly scheduled assembly. That would have a far greater impact for the student, don't you think? But no one asked my opinion . . . I'll have to share it in January.

The board went into executive session for over an hour. Most in the audience took advantage of that time to have a piece of cake (thanks, Chris Wood!). It was a long wait.

An eye-opening discussion was part of the meeting that night, concerning the relationship between the school district and the Swanton Park & Recreation board. I will write about that in another post, as I want to be sure I have the numbers straight.

The board was informed by the treasurer that, if they wanted to have an issue or levy on the March ballot, state regulations required the decision and paperwork to be filed with the county auditor no later than December 20th. After a little discussion between board members, it was decided NOT to have an issue/levy on the ballot in March.

Although a special election could be called in mid-summer if necessary, those are costly to do for the district and are usually avoided because of that. Most likely the next levy will be on the November 2008 ballot.

A few other items were discussed, and then the board retired to a final executive session to discuss the treasurer's contract. Most everyone left at that point - it was 10:30 p.m. and a nasty night to be on the roads.

Getting Involved

This past Tuesday, I took a tour of the Crestwood school with Mrs. Linda Reeves, the principal. She escorted me around the building and graciously introduced me to the teachers and staff that were there working with our K-2nd grade children.

Afterward, we chatted briefly, and I learned that Crestwood is in the same boat as Park school: the library is only open three days each week because we do not have the staff to have it open those other two days.

This is a terrible situation for the students.

Any reputable study from any decade clearly shows that teaching and encouraging solid reading habits in students improves performance in virtually every other subject, including math. The reverse is also true: poor readers do poorly in every other subject.

Those libraries are vital to our kids' success - now, and in their later lives as adult citizens.

If we had just a few dedicated people willing to volunteer their valuable time to help out, we could keep both of those libraries open all week long. Just a couple of hours each week would make a huge difference!

To that end, I have volunteered my Friday mornings to be at the Park school library. I am in the process of working out details of also volunteering for library duty at Crestwood.

Our kids are our future - they will be making our cars, dispensing our medications at the pharmacy, running corporations, repairing our roofs, flying our airplanes, nursing us back to health in the hospital, caring for our teeth every six months, staffing our nursing homes, and teaching the next generation of students. It is vital that we give them the best educational foundation possible to help them succeed in their chosen field of endeavor - and that means they need to read, and read well.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Small Beginnings

Although I grew up just outside of Swanton, lived in the area most of my life, and still have many friends and relatives here, I discovered during my campaign for Swanton Board of Education that my married name effectively "disguised" me for the most part. It was a bit unsettling. People just didn't know who I was, and I'm sure it made some a little nervous.

But I was elected to the School Board in November 2007, and I am excited to have a chance to serve the community!

Shortly after the election, I met Neil Weber, our school superintendent, and his right-hand person, Chris Wood. We had a nice chat one morning, although I didn't catch up with Cheryl Swisher (treasurer) that day nor the other time I popped into their offices. I sent a quick email to each of the school principals as well, and Mrs. Paulette Baz was kind enough to offer a tour of the high school!

She was very kind to take me through the facilities and give me the opportunity to meet some of the teachers when possible. I thoroughly enjoyed our time together. Afterwards, I decided maybe it would be a good idea to introduce myself to the other school principals as well, so that we could each put a face with our name.

I first stopped in to meet Mrs. Linda Reeves at Crestwood Elementary. Having deposited myself on her doorstep unannounced, I caught her a bit off guard, but she was very gracious in asking if I would like to schedule a day to come during the lunch hour to meet each of the teachers as well. We set a date, and I was off again!

Next I headed over to the Middle School, hoping to meet Mr. Steve Smith. I entered the office, and realized that the lady in front of me must be the other newly elected board member, Mrs. Mona Dyke. I introduced myself to her, and we had a quick chat together - I learned that her cousin was a friend of mine from my former employment at The Andersons! Small world! She pointed me in the direction of Mr. Smith, and I headed that way. Unfortunately, he was not in his office at that moment, and two students were already waiting for him. I decided to try and catch him at another time.

From there, I went to Park Elementary where I met Mrs. Carolyn Short. I apologized for showing up unexpectedly, but Mrs. Short was wonderful. She immediately asked if I would like a tour of her building? and I was delighted to say, "yes!" Off we went! I was able to meet several teachers, and during our conversation, Mrs. Short was clear and direct as to her opinion of what needed to be done for Park Elementary and its students. At one point, she apologized for being so frank - but I was glad she spoke plainly. I much prefer the direct approach myself, as does she. I was very impressed with her ideas and approach to the students' needs in her building. She is a delightful woman - I could have happily taken her home with me.

I was not able to attend the Board meeting in November, as I have class on Monday nights. However, my schedule is such that I should be able to attend the December meeting and I am planning to do so. One thing I plan to ask is that the Board digitally record their meetings and then make the recordings available online for those parents and others who are unable to physically attend. There are many who would love to come, but circumstances preclude their ability to do so. Having the meetings available 24/7 would go a long way in helping to forge a bond between the Board and those they serve.

We'll see what happens! I don't want to come across like the new kid on the block trying to bully everyone else around. I just think it is a good idea, worth pursuing. Hopefully the other Board members will, too.