Wednesday, December 3, 2008

November meeting

It just dawned on me that I had not posted anything about the November meeting we had. duh! We DID have a meeting, and I should have mentioned it - sorry about that.

That evening we had several students recognized for their efforts in sports. Hearing the glowing comments by the respective coaches about each of these young men and women was enlightening. You could easily see the love and respect mutually held between them.

Paulette Baz has established a Superintendent's Committee to discuss Park & Rec. Included on that committee are Pam Moore and Mike Rochelle from Village Council, Mike Wiederman and myself from the school board, and some members of Park & Rec itself, including Howard Schnabel. Two meetings have been held thus far - neither of which I was able to attend, but at our board meeting Paulette gave a quick report of what has been discusssed thus far. One important thing mentioned was the desire to work closely with Park & Rec so that a "feeder program" to school sports is established and nurtured. This and other items of business need to be fine-tuned, and the next meeting of this committee is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 3rd at the Board Office.

We did have one executive session that evening, but it wasn't overly long, thank goodness, and the entire meeting was finished at a decent hour for a change. woo-hoo!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Veterans Day Program

This morning, a district-wide special program was held at the high school to honor our veterans, and it was awesome!

There were representatives from every branch of the armed forces, and the guest speaker was Mr. David Boyer - a 2000 graduate of Swanton who is currently serving in the Army. Miss Mackenzie Simon led all of us in the Pledge of Allegiance. The children from Crestwood sang a beautiful song for us, as only little ones can do, with special solos by Alexis Bergman, Olivia Bergman, and Joellen McDonnall. Park School children also sang a special song, accompanied with hand motions and cards held high to represent a large American flag in the bleachers.

Two young ladies from the Middle School - Courtney Barker and Lauren Keefer - gave a joint speech on freedom, and we were also shown a slide presentation prepared by the SHS Interactive Media Class with stirring music playing in the background (and some cool special effects on some of the slides!). Our high school band played a medley of the songs from each branch of the service, as well as other patriotic numbers that brought tears to my eyes.

High School Principal Steve Gfell concluded by sharing a personal story of his experience in the airport at Nashville last year when he learned that the plane he was trying to exit carried the body of a fallen soldier. His description of the respectful actions of everyone at that huge airport toward this unknown soldier touched all of our hearts.

A luncheon was then provided for our veterans at the Swanton Sports Center. Mrs. Betse Schmitz and Mrs. Carol Arvin really outdid themselves with their efforts here - everything was beautifully decorated, and the food and service were excellent. Both ladies were decked out in pretty, patriotic aprons and they took very good care of our guests by serving and keeping coffee cups filled around the room. The time and care they put into this luncheon was evident to all.

Many thanks to everyone who contributed to such a wonderful day!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Levy Has Passed

The .75% income tax levy for the Swanton School district has passed, but it was disappointing to see how many "no" votes were cast for this levy that was actually a reduction in the tax rate. I was hoping for something more resembling a landslide than what we actually got.

But: it DID pass, and that is good news! We owe a ton of gratitude to the Levy Committee for all of their hard work, as well as our sports teams who helped at the polls and in picking up signs after the election had ended.

The current levy will continue to collect for another year before this new (reduced) levy will take effect. When it does, our residents will be contributing to a steady stream of income for the district, but at a lower rate.

Thanks again to everyone who made a positive contribution to the effort!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

What Is the Purpose?

About a month ago, I received an email from a Board member's private email account to my private email account. The email consisted of only one question: what was my purpose for this blog?

Since then, I have had a few more ask essentially the same question. Allow me to share my response with You.

I began this blog when I was first elected, in November 2007. I told no one except my husband that I was going to blog about school board things. I told no one that I had a personal blog online. I just quietly began posting articles. Somehow, my blog was found by someone - and I am told that several people have read or read it. (THAT was a surprise!)

I have learned quite a bit since I first started. For one thing, since somebody is actually reading it, I try to "speak" to others more than just ruminating to myself, as I did at the beginning. I censor my more personal comments and opinions, even though this is a personal blog, because my purpose is not to share my opinions - my purpose is to share information. I understand the difference, and I see no point in willfully poking someone in the eye. That is not the kind of person I am.

That is not to say that everyone is always pleased with what I write! While facts are facts, people may hold varying opinions of those facts. Opinions are based more on the personal effect those facts have on individuals. So while the fact of the temperature may be 60 degrees, my opinion may be that it is 'just right' while the opinion of my neighbor might be that it is 'too chilly'.

The interpretation of facts may also be different. That is how you can have board members who have done hours and hours of study on financial reports of the district believe that they are offering a "fair contract" to a group of people, but that group may strongly disagree.

Facts are not subject to emotion, while opinions are often completely based on emotion. That is how human beings are wired.

So my purpose in continuing this blog is to disseminate, as best I can, the facts about issues in our school district. No one can hold a valid opinion on any issue if they are ignorant of the facts. This blog is my attempt to get the facts "out there" into the hands of our residents.

I will do my level best to avoid inflammatory adjectives. It is not my intent to pick a fight with anyone, even though I realize that some will hold strong opinions opposite of my own. I will not print half-truths and present them as the whole truth. I will not presume to know anyone's personal thought process and motive unless that person tells me. I take the position that ALL of us in this school district want it to succeed - even those of us who have no children currently in the system - and I realize that we will not always agree on the best way to achieve that goal.

But hopefully I will at least be able to share information with whatever few people read the articles on this blog. Those who are so inclined are welcome to chime in - pro or con - by sending their comments, and as long as they back up their opinion with their full name, their comment will be posted here, whether I agree with it or not. This can be an avenue for us to exchange ideas and information for the betterment of our school district, in addition to the opportunity afforded at our monthly board meetings.

Which reminds me . . . I know most people are not able to physically attend our board meetings, and that is frustrating. I would like to digitially record and then podcast all of our board meetings so that EVERYONE may hear what was discussed. The Board talked about it earlier this year, but no official vote was taken and thus recording has not begun. If you think that having the recordings available online would be of value to you, please tell a Board member. If the Board hears from enough of our residents, maybe we can put up an "official" site to hold those recordings as an additional means of keeping all in our district informed.

At our most recent board meeting, treasurer Cheryl Swisher moderated a financial forum on our district finances, which was VERY well done. I will share some of the highlights soon, and I will include a link to the latest version of our 5 year forecast. I think it is important that everyone in our district be aware of our financial situation - so I will share these facts on my blog.

I apologize for rambling a bit! But I hope you understand just a bit better why I write on this blog. It is my conviction that an informed populace is best able to make decisions on the issues before us. If you have a question, please feel free to write or call any Board member for an answer. If you write your question to this blog, just remember to include your full name - and a response will also be posted to the blog. That way, others who may be interested can also see your question and the answer.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Secretaries Have a Fair Contract

Yesterday (Wednesday), the SSSA voted to accept the tentative contract agreement. That evening at a Special Meeting, the Board also voted to accept the agreement.

Among other things, the contract includes a 3% pay increase for each of the next two years. You may read the other items listed by clicking here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Another Contract Settled

Last night, the Board negotiating team gave an offer to our secretarial and support staff that their negotiating team and union representative talked over at length. Early this morning (just after midnight, as a matter of fact), a Tentative Agreement was signed by both parties.

The Board will hold an official vote on the TA as soon as legally possible (we need to provide 48 hrs. notice to the public of any special meetings so as to be in compliance with Ohio Sunshine Law). I am told that the SSSA members will vote on the proposed contract next week.

I believe it is safe to say that this matter is settled to the mutual satisfaction of both sides.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Here Are the Documents

Quite an, ah, "interesting" paid advertisement in the Swanton Enterprise this evening, eh?

Quite a few charges leveled at the Board.
Hmmm. . . wonder how many are true?

Before we get started, I should let you know something: the vast majority of our teachers and support staff members are of high caliber. These are quality people, and it shows in their work.

Having said that, I can honestly tell you that I have been absolutely flabbergasted at how these rational, calm, highly professional people suddenly turn into complete strangers when contract time rolls around. I have been appalled at the tactics to which this board has been subjected. The one common thread seems to be their OEA union rep, who storms into a room with a huge chip on his shoulder. Could his apparent attempts to justify his existence in his job be the problem here? I would prefer to think that is the case, especially when it comes to our support staff.

Well, for those of you so inclined to actually read the facts instead of only reading the rhetoric, I offer for your perusal the following documents:

First: the Tentative Agreement signed by both the SSSA representative and our Superintendent, which clearly shows what from the Aug. 28th mediation was agreed to by those parties on October 6, 2008 (when their signatures were affixed).
Tentative Agreement signed 10-6-2008

Second: the handwritten proposal by the SSSA on Aug. 28th which shows several items that were NOT agreed to by both parties. (and there are many . . . see if you recognize some of them)
SSSA handwritten proposal of 8-28 NOT agreed to

Third: the most recent written proposal by the Board negotiating team, handed to the SSSA on Oct. 6th via the federal mediator. (We received no written proposal back from the SSSA - only this lovely half-page ad in the Enterprise.)

Written proposal of 10-6-2008 from Board team to SSSA

Lest we forget, here is also a link to the Unfair Labor Practices that the SSSA has filed against the Board of Education, which they expect us to fight with your taxpayer dollars when we need to have our attorney answer for us.
ULP dated 10-3-2008

ULP dated 10-9-2008

(for reference, please see Ohio Revised Code section 4117 and remember that no proof is required prior to a ULP being filed . . . which is why these things are almost always dropped by the union as part of a contract settlement - which is what has always happened historically in Swanton, as well as the most recent SEA contract situation)

Therefore - as the written documentation clearly shows, the claims made in the Enterprise half-page ad and in the ULPs lack basis in fact. That includes the statement in the ad that insists there was an agreement on a "me too" clause. As the documentation shows, that statement - among many others - is false.

The members of the Board all welcome input from the residents of our district. Please feel free to contact any or all of us, after you have had a chance to read these documents.

It is very difficult to move forward in these negotiations when we are put into the position of fending off deliberate misrepresentations of the facts. Only when the SSSA and its OEA union rep decide to negotiate in a reasonable and adult manner will this contract have a chance to be settled. The Board representatives are ready and willing to do so. I only hope the SSSA team will decide to be willing as well.

Should you wish to ask the lead negotiator from the SSSA about the glaring statements in the Enterprise ad, please feel free to contact Betse Schmitz at 419-825-1630 or email her at: . Ms. Schmitz is not the only member of the SSSA negotiating team, but it is her signature on the TA and thus she holds the lead position.

(oh! my Board email address is: - whoever placed that ad in the Enterprise got that wrong, too)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Vote Is In . . .

. . . as of yesterday late afternoon, and although the teachers' contract was accepted by majority vote, it was NOT a unanimous vote. (actually, several teachers have indicated that the "no" votes were significant. . . )

As for our secretarial staff under the SSSA, they have rescinded their Oct. 6th strike notice which means they will be at their desks in our schools.

We held one marathon session on contract negotiations with the SSSA and a federal mediator yesterday (Monday), and will be scheduling the next mediation soon.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

It's In the Paper

Okay - not to worry! According to an article in today's paper, a "union spokesman" is quoted as saying the SEA will allow their membership to vote on their proposed contract on Monday.

That same article mentions our Swanton School Support Staff Association has decided to strike on Monday because a time and date had not been worked out where both sides could sit down together to discuss their contract.

Those of you who are members of a union know that when strike date is called, there is a way for the union to delay that strike, if so desired by that union. We can only assume that our nine SSSA employees have decided that they do not want to delay their strike.

That means the school district must be prepared with substitutes to fill in during the time the strike is actually in effect.

Our two negotiating teams could have set aside time to meet together last week. But without doing so, even if a mediation is scheduled on the weekend, the district must be prepared for Monday morning with substitutes since the SSSA refused to delay their strike date.

As has been demonstrated through our dealings with the SEA recently, once a contract is proposed, there are further union-determined steps that must be followed before that contract may be voted on and then implemented.

At Swanton, the SSSA has traditionally waited until the teachers have finalized the teachers' contract before going forward with negotiating the details on the SSSA contract. It has been a "me, too" situation - whatever the teachers receive in their contract language is exactly what the SSSA wants to be included in their contract.

This year, the teachers' contract will not be finalized until Monday after school, when the SEA membership votes. As the SSSA has refused to delay their strike date, that has put them seriously behind the eightball on their own contract process.

There is nothing from the Board that requires the SSSA to wait for the teachers' contract to be finalized, other than their own desire to do so. That is entirely their right.

Without the SSSA calling for a strike delay, we will have a few days of school where our nine secretaries are not at their posts.

This situation could have been handled much differently - and I am very disappointed that the SSSA has decided to take this course of action.

I have suggested to my fellow Board members that it would be in the best interests of everyone if these two contracts had staggered terms, instead of both coming up for renewal at the same time.

But that doesn't help the situation we face today.

Friday, October 3, 2008

SEA Refuses to Vote

The Swanton Education Association had scheduled a vote by their membership on the teachers' contract they wrote for today at 3:30 to 3:45 p.m.

However, at 4 o'clock today, I received notice that the SEA had refused to take a vote. When asked, they refused to indicate when they would do so.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Proposal Passes

Last night (Wednesday) at a special meeting of the Board, we held a vote on what is technically called a "Basis for the Agreement" on the teachers' contract. This is a formal document that is a step under that known as "Tentative Agreement", which contains all of the proposed contract stipulations requiring a vote.

This meeting was scheduled because Mr. Wiederman's removal from his wife's insurance did not free him to vote until Oct. 1st.

This "Basis for the Agreement" included exactly the same salary demands that I listed in an earlier post: a $200 "signing bonus" to be added to the base before the 3% general increase was applied in the first year; then a $300 stipend added to the base - again - before the 3% general increase was calculated.

This method thus results in a general increase of 3.7% the first year, and 4.1% in the second year. At the risk of repeating myself, all amounts added to the base salary become an integral part of that base, and therefore are carried forward ad infinitum. Forever.

After the motion was made to accept this document and seconded, Dennis Heban asked if there was any further discussion on the matter? Jeff Michael had a prepared statement to read. In it, he referred to having been spit upon by a teacher, and also the verbal threats he had received from another, as well as a couple of other parents. His characterization of those and similar acts as "sickening" was apt.

I had also prepared a statement to read. My goal was to let those in our audience know that this Board was UNITED - that we were united in our distaste of the document before us; that we were united in our understanding of the consequences if the measure should pass, and if the measure should fail.

Among other things, I said:
This is the decision before us tonight. On one hand, IF the proposal is rejected, we face a certain strike by our teaching staff and support staff, plus an additional expenditure of our tax dollars to pay for substitute teachers. Not a good thing. On the other hand, IF the proposal passes, we face a definite and large deficit in just a few short years – which will be even worse if the income tax levy does not pass. Again – not a good thing.

Dennis has characterized our situation as being forced to sacrifice our future for the present. I agree with him. We ALL agree with him.

I just wanted everyone in the audience to understand that each Board member up here has done his or her homework, and we all know exactly what is at stake, should this proposal stand – or fail. While only our individual votes will show each person’s opinion on what he/she feels is the best course of action in these circumstances, we are UNITED in our despair at the rock and hard place we are now between.

Dennis Heban, Mona Dyke, and Mike Wiederman also said a few, unscripted words. The mood was somber.

The vote was taken: 3 "yes" 2 "no". Motion carried.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pay Attention

As our district goes through this difficult time, I want you to notice something.

This Board is not fighting within its ranks. Normally when there is a situation where a vote from a board of education is split, there is also public wrangling - name calling - and other childish behavior from those board members. (all we have to do is look eastward to Toledo for an example of such behavior)

But pay attention: this Board is not fighting!

Although certain members of the general public have evidenced juvenile behavior, by hollering at some of us, spitting at some of us, throwing their drinks at some of us, and menacing some of us by word or deed, the members of this school board are not fighting each other.

Last week we had a split vote. But while there was an obvious disagreement as to what is the best course of action to take for our district at this time, there was no rancor between us.

There is a reason for that. First of all, we are all adults and choose to act as such. Obviously that doesn't mean that we always agree on every jot and tittle of every issue, or that no one ever loses their temper - only that our disagreements are most always handled properly and with respect for those who hold a different opinion from our own.

Secondly, we are united in our opinion of what that TA would have done - and we are united in our opinion that its consequences, while extremely good for teachers, were extremely bad for our school district.

In an earlier post, I told you that - while the language the SEA used to write that TA was intentionally deceptive - the failed TA included a demand for 3.7% general increase this year, and 4.1% increase next year, something this district simply cannot afford. This Board is united in that opinion.

A few parents have written (or shouted) that they do not want us to reduce the income tax levy. Had more of them been in attendance at our board meetings when this was discussed, they would have heard us explain that we need the revenue of an income tax levy - not more property taxes, which are a killer for those on fixed incomes. While the former levy passed, it did so by only a very few votes - the count was excruciatingly close.

This district needs an income tax levy, but we need one that will be passed by the voting residents of our district. We simply cannot afford to have the income tax levy fail, and our decision was to place it on the ballot in a year with the largest voter turnout, at a level that we felt would give a positive outcome. This decision had absolutely nothing to do with contract negotiations, as some have suggested. It had everything to do with trying to secure a steady stream of income for the district.

At any rate, I want you to notice how Swanton School Board members conduct themselves. Although all 5 of us strongly agree that the former TA was unbelievably awful for our district, when we ended up with a split vote, there were no harsh words between us. We treat each other with respect. And we will continue to do our collective best for this district.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Mistaken Notions

The school board negotiating team held a mediation with the SEA team this morning at 9 o'clock. At this mediation, we offered a proposal that included a 3% general increase for each of the next two years. This is the percentage our treasurer had budgeted for, and this is what the SEA has been publicly stating that they wanted to have.

The SEA team refused to consider our proposal. The mediation ended.

I have not spoken directly with any of the SEA bargaining team members, but I can only assume that they read the Saturday edition of the Blade where Mike Wiederman was quoted as saying "It's going to cost us more to drag things out than to accept what was offered," he said. "If we have a meeting next week, it will be resolved."
And Mr. Wiederman was also quoted on the radio this morning as having said he was now able to "break the deadlock".

(side note: although Mr. Wiederman stated that a board member "challenged his right to vote on the contract", this statement was false - while some members of the community had done so, NO BOARD MEMBER had made that challenge, so I think he was misquoted)

Apparently, the SEA bargaining team holds a mistaken notion from Mr. Wiederman's comments. Although he has removed himself from his wife's insurance so that he may legally vote on the teachers' contract, that doesn't mean that he was planning to have the failed Tentative Agreement brought back for a second vote. It only means that the next time we have a TA before us, all 5 Board members will have a vote on the matter.

I should also tell you that Mr. Wiederman sent me a personal email just a couple of days ago, that categorically opposed what the media would have us to believe. In that email, he referred to the failed TA as "dead in the water", and not able to be brought back. He also stated that he was eager to now get the SEA back to the negotiation table so that a united board could vote together on a new, and fair agreement.

This Board was optimistic that a contract decision agreeable to both sides of the table would be obtained this morning - well within the strike deadline of Oct. 6th.

Unfortunately, Mr. Wiederman's quoted remarks have now set this effort back at least several days - and possibly permanently.

But - all is not lost. There is a Special Meeting scheduled for tonight at the high school auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Perhaps at this meeting, Mr. Wiederman will have a chance to clear up these misunderstandings so that our district may move forward and get this contract settled before any strike occurs, and before any taxpayer money is spent unnecessarily.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Econ 101

I have refrained from blogging for quite a while, as it seemed to be angering the SEA - making a difficult situation only worse. At our regular September board meeting, board president Dennis Heban asked for a media blackout while both sides went back to the table. I agreed publicly to comply. I think circumstances this week require me to break silence - we are in a crisis in this district, as you all know.

This past Wednesday, the Tentative Agreement was rejected by the board with a split vote. I cast one of those "no" votes. Let me share just a little bit of my reasoning.

Have you seen the news lately? Our nation is in financial distress. This did not happen overnight. It took decades of people in power choosing to vote on a personal agenda for re-election as a priority instead of voting to do the right thing when it needed to be done. Today we are reaping the consequences of their failure to act in the best interests of the United States, with banks failing almost daily and the stock market plummeting.

When our district teetered on the edge of bankruptcy several years ago, it wasn't because of any one thing or one year of a bizarre and uncontrolled spending spree. No - it was because former members of the board had made short-sighted decisions, choosing to placate the "now" at the expense of the future. Bad choices made year after year continued to compound on top of each other until our school district was in "fiscal caution" - close to being taken over by the state of Ohio. Drastic measures had to be taken: 20+ teachers laid off; programs slashed; a $1.6 million loan obtained; and one year when no general increase was given to those teachers who remained (although the salary steps increases were still awarded - meaning that there was no "pay freeze" then nor at any other time).

It was a terrible time in our district's history, but we got through it together.

Today we have a hard choice before us. The national economy is imploding. Our local economy is also suffering, with unemployment at 10%. The future is uncertain.

The offer we had given to our teaching staff was for a 2.5% increase for each of the next two years, plus a one-time signing bonus. Although we voted unanimously to improve their health insurance plan, we did not include a request for an increase in their premiums. This was the offer that the SEA deemed to be "unworthy of a vote".

In a written letter, the SEA then asked for "binding arbitration" - but in the next sentence they severely limited exactly what the arbitrator could rule on. On the advice of our attorney, we declined this particular "binding arbitration" as we did not want to set precedent on such a limited scope. Please understand: this request was not for a "fact finding" arbitration. In addition, our current contract does not include binding arbitration of any kind, although perhaps that could be a part of negotiations in the future.

The Tentative Agreement demanded by the SEA was for an effective 3.7% general increase the first year and 4.1% the second year, among other things. These percentage amounts are the result of adding signing bonuses and other stipends to the base salary before adding on the general increase. (to help put that into perspective, several schools in Fulton County have recently finished contract negotiations - and have given a 2% raise to their teachers)

At our meeting Wednesday night, Cheryl (our treasurer) handed out copies of a spreadsheet she had prepared that incorporated these numbers. She also included in her calculations the $7.3 million carryover, and the assumption that the income tax levy would pass. She also had removed certain figures. She took out the wages and benefit costs of 2 teachers who are planning to retire, because we wouldn't be able to afford to replace them. She also removed money for programs we had hoped to restore, trying to help this district afford the TA as presented.

Her spreadsheet showed that the TA would put this district into deficit spending by 2011 by almost a half million dollars, and worse each successive year thereafter.

The mood in the room that night was grim. Not one person at the table was pleased with what we saw before us in cold, hard numbers. We talked for around 2 hours, trying to figure out ways we could make it work. But those numbers kept staring us in the face.

Do our teachers deserve a raise? Of course they do! We have many great teachers, and this board wants to give them a fair raise. Was our offer what they wanted? No - but was our offer unfair?? I think the facts show that it clearly was not unfair, nor was it unreasonable.

However - the SEA has issued a strike notice. We now have 5 working days left to hammer out a compromise, as the strike is scheduled to begin Oct. 6th. Both sides are willing to negotiate again. Yet - only the SEA can call off the strike.

Given all of the facts before us, I think it is totally irresponsible for them to hold this district hostage to a wage hike that our district simply cannot afford at this time. But that doesn't mean they should get nothing - only that we need to get back to the table together to find a solution that is fair for both sides.

At a meeting in Memorial Park last night, it was mentioned that parents had hoped for certain programs and staff positions to be brought back. The board would like the same, and we have discussed ways to do so. But we have only a set number of dollars that we can work with, and those dollars need to be used in the best interest of the entire district. I am certain that we can make it happen - but a true compromise requires concessions by both parties.

Please feel free to write or call your school board members. I also encourage you to contact the members of the SEA negotiating team, to let them know your desire that a fair compromise be reached that is in the best interest of our kids and our district. Here are their names and email addresses:

Judi Teague ~ (VicePresident SEA)

Deisa Thielman ~ (lead negotiator)

Darla Omey ~ (President SEA)

Renee Gothke ~
(yes, it is "rgo" as there are multiple "rg's" requiring the need for the "o")

Denise Brehmer ~

We have faced hard times together before - we can do it again. With all of us working together, we can reach a fair compromise and get back to the business of educating our children.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Agreed !

Board member, Mona Dyke, shared some things with me that have value in our discussion of the issue before us. Below are her comments, slightly abridged:

There are arguments to be made for both sides, but as we continue the debate, the kids are suffering. Teachers are working to the contract, nothing more, & they are preoccupied with this.

There is a lot we agree on! We all agree that the teachers are not SOLELY responsible for low OAT scores. As Jeff, “IT’S TIME FOR ALL OF US TO BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE PERFORMANCE OF OUR DISTRICT!” We need to stand up and be the first to be accountable.

We agree that the teachers of Swanton deserve a fair contract.
-->What is “fair” is the disagreement
We both say we want to avoid a strike
We agree that we need to treat each other with respect.
We agree that teachers are not solely to blame for low OAT scores.
We agree that most teachers get into teaching, and continue teaching, for the students.

Other facts that we agree on are:
The current base pay of a starting teacher is low compared to other Fulton Co. schools.
We have a budget carryover of $7.2M.

This is NOT the Board from 2003-04!

In 2005, when school board elections were held, the incumbent was voted out and the top vote getter was Jeff Michael. The community sent a pretty strong message that they wanted things to be done differently. Last year, Cindy and I ran unopposed and replaced the last of the school board members that were seated in 2003-04. We don’t know what promises were made by people who are no longer here. Those promises don’t seem to have been put in writing. As to promises that were documented, I went back through levy documents and found the following:

Jan, 2004 1.25% income tax flyer: After several paragraphs about the deficit and the cuts that were made, then, “the Board continues to look for ways to reduce expenses and remains dedicated to the education of our children. If the March 2 levy passes, (the School Board) will examine the areas that most affect students as they decide what teaching positions can be filled, if any.”

Flyer for the Operating Levy renewal in Nov. 04 talked about the concessions the teachers and support staff made in the 04-05 contract and stated “the new treasurer and school board continue to look for savings and fiscal restraint.”

A 2007 Letter from the District to residents about the operating levy renewal said “Our school district needs the programs and services being funded by this levy to maintain the educational progress being made by our students. We also continue to be dedicated to fiscal responsibility. We offered contracts to our teachers and staff that gave them an increase yet is well within our budget. It is critical to our continued improvement and to the overall environment of the school that we are competitive with area districts and are able to attract and keep quality teachers and staff.” This point was reiterated in a flyer that was distributed.

These promises have been consistent: dedication to fiscal responsibility, to the education of the children in Swanton and an understanding that we must be competitive in the salaries we offer our employees, within our budget. Our offer to the teachers in August would put us in the middle salary range of Fulton Co. schools.

Our plan for the Budget Carryover

We might be able to afford the SEA’s request in the short term, but it will be at the expense of additional positions, programs and advisors, and the risk of returning our district to the serious financial situation we were in 5 years ago. The School Board’s plan has been to slowly build back programs and positions, as needed and as we can sustain them. Much has been done to bring back the programs and some of the positions that were cut. Does it make sense to hire good teachers, only to have to lay them off in a few years if we have to make cuts again?

We stated in the Board Bulletin, “The District has been slowly adding back programs and positions that were cut in 2003. However, the Board has no intention of going back to the spending levels that got us into trouble, nor do we intend to maintain this high carryover balance every year. According to the most recent draft of the 5 year forecast, in 2013 our carryover will have decreased to approximately $990,000, which is less than one month’s operating budget.”
Many of you know Mona personally, as she has been a very active participant in our school district for many years. She is known and respected by our teachers, as well as our community at large. She has earned this respect by doing her best to see both sides of a given issue before giving an opinion.

As she has stated above, the question before the Board and our teachers is: how do you define "fair" ? The offer we presented would place our base salary range squarely in the middle of Fulton County schools, and included an increase in benefits without an increase in cost to our teachers. Yet - the salary increase we offered is not quite as high as that asked of us by the SEA negotiating team.

So . . . what is "fair"? That is the decision that must be made by both sides of the table.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Question & Comment

At the community information meeting hosted by the SEA last night (Setp. 11), people were encouraged to write their questions on paper to have them addressed.

One paper read aloud gave the opinion that there should be specific qualifications to be a school board member: that the candidate be a parent with children in the school, and that they be a resident of the district.

First of all, in order to run for a public office you are required by law to be a resident of the district in which you run. All school board members are residents of their school district, all across the nation.

In addition, our district consists of a majority of residents who do not have school-age children. Yet, every resident in our district pays school taxes. Was the writer of this note suggesting that 2/3 of our residents should not have representation on the school board?

For the record, the current school board consists of 3 members with children in our schools and 2 who have no school-age children.

That brings me to another point. It is important to remember that this board has been uanimous in its approach to contract negotiations. One member is married to a Swanton school teacher - three members have children in the system. One member is a teacher himself in a neighboring district. This board is keenly aware of the detrimental effect these stalled negotiations have on our community.

That is why we unanimously agreed to the offer we have placed on the table. Although I cannot give specific details without having the SEA file an Unfair Labor Practice action against us, what I can tell you is that the general increase percentage we are offering is higher than the percentage increases the teachers happily agreed to in at least 5 of the past 7 years. In addition, at our August meeting we increased their insurace benefits - and our contract offer does not include a premium increase for those increased benefits.

I am at a loss to understand their refusal to accept this offer.

One comment told to me is that our carryover "belongs to the teachers". Actually, the carryover belongs to the entire district, some of which will be used for the teachers, and some that will be used for other things that benefit a broader base than teachers alone.

This morning, we learned of further state budget cuts from Governor Strickland - some of which will affect school districts across the state. It's not that your state taxes are being lowered - rather, we won't be getting as much returned to our district. That fact affects our residents and our teachers (no matter where they live). Schools across the state are reeling from one cut after another from Strickland's administration. With our economy still depressed (have you seen the unemployment numbers for Fulton and Lucas Counties?), it is very difficult to predict the future of state school funding. Our plan at Swanton is cautious - yet we want to give our teachers a fair raise (again - we're offering a higher percentage than what they happily accepted in 5 of the past 7 years). Plus, we have offered a 2 year contract. Board members have unanimously agreed that this offer is fair - reasonable - and still allows us to remain fiscally responsible.

Our offer sounds like a "win - win" situation to me.

For an insight into what issues are valid when calling for a teachers' union strike, go to the National Education Association website (the national teachers' union) and key in "strike" into the search box. I'm certain you will find it interesting.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Some Thoughts from Dennis Heban, President BOE

Dennis Heban is the current president of the School Board. The other day, he shared a few thoughts that he indicated could also be shared with You. Here is what he said:

One item that I might mention is that the offer that has been extended to the SEA is well within "industry standards".

It is bizarre that the SEA is even talking about a strike, given this offer. Teacher strikes occur when there is no pay raise and insurance concessions cause an actual decrease in salary. Or they occur when conditions are so deplorable that that it is near impossible to function as a teacher. We are nowhere near any of these situations. They have been offered a reasonable increase with NO insurance concessions. That is a better deal than what I signed in Delta! Our offer is reasonable, and what the industry will bear.

Also, the contradiction between statements that they are "united for kids", etc., and the fact that they are willing to walk out on them because of self-serving notions seems to be a bit conflicting to me.

Dennis Heban

Friday, September 5, 2008

From the Desk of Jeff Michael, Vice President of Swanton BOE

The following article was written by Jeff Michael, the current vice president of the Board of Education:

The reason I ran for this position was to increase the quality of education for the children of our district, lower the tax burden for our residents, return the district to the people, and challenge the status quo. I take pride that we have a new Superintendent and Administrative team with a plan to lead us to the designation of an Excellent district. We have been the lowest in either Number of Standards Met or Performance Index Score in Fulton County since the 2000-2001 School Year. While our Administrative team has a plan to increase our performance, the fact is that we have been and continue to be the lowest in Fulton County. Although the Swanton School District was, at one time, one of the highest spending districts in the county, held the highest expenditures per pupil, and had one of the highest paid group of teachers, yet our scores remained the lowest, clearly indicating that throwing money at the problem does not fix it. We have instituted a new administrative team to address the problem and I have complete confidence that this team is ready to do the things necessary to raise our scores. However, as our scores clearly indicate, we have a number of underperforming teachers that need to be addressed. I will propose a review process in identifying these underperforming employees. Raising their salaries will not increase the performance of these teachers, just as history has proven.

The School Board and the Administration is deservedly proud of all the positive steps that have been taken to reduce the burden to our taxpayers. Our district has gone from being $1.2 million in the red in 2003-04, to having a $7.3 million carryover this fiscal year. This is attributed to a combination of factors, including diligence on the part of the Treasurer, Superintendent and the School Board to be fiscally responsible. The Board’s goal is to continue on this path so that we may renew the income tax in November at the reduced .75% rate and continue with the business of educating our children!

We have refused a grant that is very similar to many of the pork-barrel politics that have plagued this district for years. This grant was very indicative of the wasteful spending that is approved by the Federal Government, part of this grant is my tax money and I did not agree with the allocation of these funds. I have been and continue to be very successful in leading a fiscally responsible course of action for the school district and this grant allocation was NOT FISCALLY RESPONSIBLE.

I have taken great pride in standing up to the “good ol’ boy network”. This grant and the demands of the SEA are both examples of the “good ol’ boy network” in action. The comments that the grant was “free money” are absurd. It is taxpayer money and it is our responsibility to ensure this money is spent wisely - this grant did not provide this certainty. There was NO PLAN, NO OBJECTIVES, NO MEASURABLES, meaning NO ACCEPTANCE. The only plan, objectives and measurables that were presented were pizza parties, poker tournaments, and parties before and after athletic events. Other than teaching our children how to gamble, how does this reach out to all of the children in the district? This was never presented. I hear that SACC has received another grant for $625,000 and the only plan mentioned is to have pizza parties, poker tournaments, and parties before and after athletic events. I would like to see a comprehensive plan and program to touch each and every child in the community, not pizza parties and poker tournaments.

I am sure the “good ol’ boy network” took a hiccup when we did not RUBBER STAMP the grant; I think the reaction documented in the media bears that out. But the question I have is what was SACC going to do if we approved the first grant, with a total of almost $1.2 million dollars between the two grants combined? That’s a whole lot of pizza parties and poker tournaments. I suggest you ask SACC representatives what they plan on doing with your tax dollars. In addition, the criticism of the Board of Education from SACC representatives is an attempt to discredit the board in furtherance of the “good ol’ boy network”. If SACC believes it can make the derogatory statements about the Board of Education and individual Board members and still have a good working relationship, it doesn’t happen in my book. Isn’t this so typical of the “good ol’ boy network”?

Another example of the “good ol’ boy network” in action is the insistence by the teachers that they DESERVE part of the carryover and should have their salaries increased because of that carryover. Why don’t they understand that this has no bearing on the offer we have extended, that carryover is the money of the residents and we intend to return some of it to our residents?

There has been much rhetoric put out by the SEA but much of it has been fabricated and untrue, beginning with the Treasurer’s salary and the pay freeze. The SEA misrepresented the Treasurer’s salary without validating the salary, simply for shock value. As far as a pay freeze, in my research there has not been any year when the teachers in the Step schedule did not receive an increase. Of course, this obviously is not performance based as our scores indicate. Maybe they should have given it back to the residents for lack of performance. Don’t get me wrong, I believe we have some excellent teachers who are deserving, but when the choice was made to enter into the SEA I am forced to look at them as a whole. And as a whole, our scores are the lowest in Fulton County schools, the lowest in comparison to 20 area schools (see below for the schools), and the second lowest of Swanton’s ODE 20 Similar Schools.

The initial year of the final offer from the Board of Education that the SEA “deemed not worthy of a vote” will make the Swanton teachers:
· The 3rd highest paid teachers at the Bachelors minimum level
· The 2nd highest paid teachers at the Bachelors maximum level
· The 2nd highest paid teachers at the Masters minimum level
· The 2nd highest paid teachers at the Masters with 11 years experience level
· The HIGHEST paid teachers at the Masters maximum level
· The HIGHEST paid teachers at the Masters with 25 years level
· The HIGHEST paid teachers at the Masters with 30 years level
· The 2nd highest paid teachers at the Schedule maximum level
All for scores that are the LOWEST in Fulton County schools, LOWEST of 20 area comparison schools, and the SECOND LOWEST of Swanton’s ODE 20 Similar Schools.

And they want more and deemed this offer not worthy of a vote!!! Tell me where you do not have to perform, yet expect to paid at the highest level. Reality Check!!

The SEA keep saying that they have the lowest across the board starting salaries of any school district in Fulton County, yet what is not said is if they receive the outrageous demands they are asking for, it will make them the highest or one of the highest paid teachers in the county, yet still have the LOWEST scores in the county. This does not even consider the ridiculous lowest medical and dental coverage amounts paid by the teachers. Swanton teachers pay the lowest amount toward their health insurance in Fulton County. A teacher pays $12.20 a month for single coverage and $60.89 a month for family coverage and an additional $5.00 a month for dental coverage. Compare this to what you pay!

If the SEA gets what they want, they will be the highest or one of the highest paid group of teachers in Fulton County, pay the lowest amount towards their health care in Fulton County, and have the LOWEST scores in Fulton County. The SEA’s demands are what disrespects their education, profession, and dedication. If their demands are met they will be paid more than teachers from districts that have Excellent ratings!

It has been said that you get what you pay for, but there seems to be a lack of remembrance that the Swanton Local School District was once one of the highest (if not the highest) spenders of area school districts, had the highest expenditure per pupil, and one of the highest paid group of teachers in the county, YET our State Report Card scores were the LOWEST in the county. As history has proven, money does not fix the problem. Is this reasonable or is it the SEA holding the residents of the Swanton Local School District hostage for the ALMIGHTY dollar without regard for PERFORMANCE or our CHILDREN!?!


As always I welcome and appreciate your support and welcome any questions, comments, or suggestions. This is our school district and I want to make sure it stays that way.

Local Report Card Details:


Fulton County:
1 Excellent with Distinction
4 Excellent
2 Effective
Average Indicators Met: 28 of 30
Average Performance Index Score: 100.98
Swanton lowest in both Indicators Met (20 of 30) and Performance Index Score (92.4)

20 Area Schools:
5 Excellent with Distinction
9 Excellent
6 Effective
Average Indicators Met: 27.4 of 30
Average Performance Index Score: 99.8
Swanton lowest in both Indicators Met (20 of 30) and Performance Index Score (92.4)

20 Similar Schools:
3 Excellent with Distinction
7 Excellent
9 Effective
1 Continuous Improvement
Average Indicators Met: 25.8 of 30
Average Performance Index Score: 97.5
Swanton second lowest in both Indicators Met (20 of 30) and Performance Index Score (92.4)

Swanton: Effective
Indicators Met: 20 of 30
Performance Index Score: 92.4

20 Area Schools include: Anthony Wayne, Pettisville, Perrysburg, Archbold, Sylvania, Wauseon, Eastwood, Maumee, Bowling Green, Bryan, Delta, Fayette, Otsego, Springfield, Evergreen, Napoleon, Liberty Center, Defiance, Washington, and Lake.


Anyone who wishes to respond to Jeff is welcome to do so in the comment section below, and I will make sure he sees all entries. Thanks!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Current Conditions

Just a quick note today - last Wednesday, the negotiating teams of the SEA and the school board met to discuss contract terms. They met at 9 o'clock that morning, and continued long after the lunch hour.

The Board negotiating team initiated this meeting, and NO ATTORNEYS were present for either side. Still at this meeting, the SEA refused to move from their original position. Because of this, the Board negotiating team had no other course but to offer the SEA team our final offer.

We had hoped that their team would take our offer to their membership; however, we learned from media reports the following day that the SEA negotiating team had refused to share our offer with its members, deeming it "unworthy of a vote."

I confess that I don't understand collective bargaining very well. So, I don't understand why the SEA negotiating team wouldn't just take the offer to their members to allow them to decide for themselves whether or not it was an acceptable offer. Instead, these few people decided between them (and their OEA union rep) that their members would not be allowed to have a vote on the matter.

I don't get it. . .

Since that time, I have had friends and family within the district ask what will happen should the SEA decide to strike. First of all, please know that SCHOOL WILL REMAIN OPEN !! Our kids' education is our top priority, so we have authorized Superintendent Paulette Baz to enter into a contract with Huffmaster Associates in the event of a strike. This company will provide supplemental teaching staff for all grade and subject levels to keep our children's education moving forward.

Please understand that any person who wishes to teach or be otherwise involved in a public school - even volunteers - must pass the same FBI fingerprinting and background checks as our regular teaching staff. In addition, substitute teachers are required by law to have the same educational background and license or certification as a regular teacher. So all members of the Huffmaster Associates staff are fully qualified teachers, and will greatly help to minimize any disruption for our children in the classroom or sports programs.

We Will Have School !

I am aware that in at least one of our school buildings, some of the teachers have begun spreading nonsense that the supplemental staffing will include "ex-cons", "criminals", etc. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I am at a loss as to why these people who claim to care about our kids would say such things. Unbelievable! I ask you as parents to report those teachers to us by name who say these and similar things, so that we may allay your fears, and address the situation directly with them.

Likewise, please feel free to contact the building principal or Superintendent Baz if you have questions about what is happening in the building where your kids attend. For example, if you are wondering what is going on with honors English at the Middle School, then get on the phone and call Mr. Ohlemacher at 419-826-4016 (or Mrs. Baz at 419-826-7085). If you have a question about scheduling or classes at the high school level, call Mr. Gfell at 419-826-3045. Our principal at Park Elementary is Mrs. Myers who may be reached at 419-826-3766, and Crestwood questions may be asked of Mrs. Lutz at 419-826-8991. These administrators are in the business of caring for and educating our children, and they welcome your questions and ideas. It is so much better to just call and ASK, instead of fretting and wondering about something. So please pick up the phone and get answers!

Several people have asked me to explain the difference between a standard health insurance plan and a self-funded plan, which is what we have at Swanton. Rather than take up space here, I suggest you "google" the concepts as follows:
In your search box, type in this phrase exactly as you see it here: "self-funded" insurance
Be sure to place quotation marks around the first word. Press Enter, and you'll get several pages of websites that give explanations of how these two types of insurance plans work. When I worked at The Andersons in the '70's, we had a standard Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan, but we moved into a self-funded plan and that is what they have today. Having worked over 20 years there as Benefits Administrator, I am very familiar with both types of contracts. There are cost savings and benefit flexibilities in a self-funded plan that do not exist in the standard format - plus, self-funded plans are subject to ERISA regulations.

As tensions mount during this time, please do all you can to calm your children, especially the little ones. They are caught in the cross-fire of something far beyond their control, and we all need to exercise patience and restraint for their sakes.

All of us - parents, teachers, and administration - want to get back to the business of educating our kids. Please pray for a sensible and speedy resolution to our contract negotiations.

Monday, August 25, 2008


I was out of town at a wedding reception for my brother-in-law in Kalamzoo this past weekend, so I missed out on the Homecoming game, dedication, etc. on Friday and also the Corn Fest on Saturday. Bummer !!

First, some housekeeping. Last week, I sent an email to several concerned parents in our district, and I included this question: "Is it appropriate to threaten a strike when the difference is only one half of one percent (0.5%)?" My question was based on statements made by high-ranking officers in the SEA (who are also members of their negotiating team). HOWEVER - these statements were not given in writing, and have subsequently been refused and denied by the other members of the SEA negotiating team, including their union rep. They have decided to hold firm on their initial demand, which is greater than a half percent difference. (and I thought we were almost home. . . )

Today (Monday) I read the press release issued by Superintendent Baz, as well as the article in the Swanton Enterprise. I think some things need a little clarification, in order for our residents to understand some of the terminology and phrases used in the press release. So! Here we go!

In the third paragraph of the press release (which begins, "Secondly . . . "), comments are made with regard to teacher salaries that might be just a bit confusing to anyone not already involved in public school finances. Let's take a look at them together, and as the SEA likes to use Fulton County as its comparison, we will do likewise.

There are different levels of "base" salaries - the lowest "base salary" (BA minimum) is for teachers with a 4 yr. degree and no experience. At Swanton, that salary is set at $29,198. The average BA minimum salary in Fulton County is $29,930, with Wauseon having the highest BA minimum salary of $31,525. Swanton is the lowest in Fulton Co. at this level, with the next highest (Fayette) at $29,316.

The next salary base level is the BA maximum. This is for those teachers with a 4 yr. degree and some years of experience. In this category, Swanton has $48,907. The average BA max in Fulton County is $49,278, with the Pike-Delta-York system having the highest at $52,185 (in this category, Swanton is only twenty bucks different than Wauseon). Evergreen is the lowest in this category, at $46,664.

Then we move into the categories for teachers who hold a Master's Degree in their field. In the MA minimum category, Swanton pays $32,702. The average in Fulton County for an MA min category is $33,203. Again, Wauseon has the highest number here with $34,362. Swanton is the lowest in this category, coming in just a bit under Delta who shows $32,857.

A category entitled, "MA 11 Yrs. Career Rate" is next. Swanton uses $50,367. The average in Fulton County is $50,443. (Wauseon shows $53,435) Evergreen is the lowest here, at $48,998.

In the next category of MA maximum, Swanton pays $56,791. The average in this category is $57,480. Pike-Delta-York is again at the top, with their rate of $59,797. (Wauseon is at $58,637, and Evergreen is the lowest at $56,284)

Comparing Swanton's base salary rates against the county average doesn't give a perfect picture; it only takes one or two schools on the high end to skew the "average". You can find all of this information online at the National Education Association website (see my earlier post for a link to their spreadsheet).

Let's continue our inspection of teacher salaries in Fulton County. In the state of Ohio (and others), there is a salary schedule program commonly referred to as "steps". You can read about it within the Ohio Revised Code here. Basically, the program seeks to reward teachers for their years of service. The minimum "step" in Ohio is 11 years of service, with a corresponding incentive salary increase independent of any other contractural salary increase.

In other words, if a school district did not give a general raise to their teachers, those teachers who qualified would still receive a raise based on their standing within the "steps" program. If a general salary increase was given to teachers within a district, the additional "steps" percentage would be in addition to that general increase.

In the Swanton school district, there are several "steps" beyond the state minimum. We have "steps" for each year up to 15 yrs, another step at 18 yrs, and another at 25 yrs, with corresponding salary increases at each level irrespective of any general salary increase. As one board member has described it, we have many teachers who automatically get a 4.5% raise every year just for remaining alive - because of their standing within the "steps" program. (and that 4.5% is not our highest "steps" percentage) These "steps" percentages are applied against the base salary for the category.

Again: this program is based on years of service and classroom learning only - there is no performance incentive included.

We currently have over half of our teachers participating in our "steps" program. Some of their "steps" percentages are well over 5% - independent of any general increase that may be given. So, if we would grant a general increase of 1%, certain teachers would actually realize an increase closer to 6% overall - some even higher. (although no one is into double digits - yet!) As you can see, this "steps" program is a significant addition to a teacher's bottom line here at Swanton. Our rich "steps" program at Swanton has resulted in our district having a teaching staff with the most overall years of experience in the county - it is extremely rare for a teacher to retire from the Swanton Local School District.

Now - let's talk about benefit programs. Currently, our teachers pay between 2% and 4% of the monthly premium cost of their health plan. (monthly costs to them are $12.20/single and $60.89/family) Every other school in Fulton County requires their teachers to pay more - most are over twice as much (the average is around 11% in Fulton County). In addition, other schools' contracts contain what is known as a "spouse carve-out" clause, which requires a teacher's spouse who has access to health benefits at their own place of employment to take it. Swanton does not have that clause. Obviously this policy allows our teachers to keep more of what they make.

To those of you who have asked about our state reportcard, I am sorry to inform you that Swanton has received the "Effective" designation once again (at 92.4%) - we are dead last in Fulton County, and we've been stuck here (at "Effective") for the past 3 years (before then, we were even lower). It is so frustrating to have this happen - especially when you realize that our teaching staff has the most years of experience under its belt in the county. Yet the other schools continue to receive better ratings than we. To take a look at other Ohio schools, you may click here to generate a report through the Ohio Department of Education.
(the other schools in Fulton Co. rate as follows: Archbold: Excellent w/Distinction; Delta: Excellent; Evergreen: Effective at 98.3% {which is a drop from their Excellent rating last year and still higher than us at 92.4%}; Fayette: Excellent; Pettisville: Excellent; Wauseon: Excellent)

I have heard some people say, "well - you get what you pay for" as though our teaching staff is somehow sub-par because we are not at the top of the pay scale in every category. How cruel to insinuate that our teachers care only about the money! While no one expects them to work for free, to suggest that they're only here to bring home a paycheck is wrong. They teach because they love it - they teach because they love that special feeling when the light of understanding and learning illuminates a child's face. It's a job satisfaction that is unique and rare, and it is shameful that some would reduce their efforts to a dollar sign. Just remember: all teachers had the opportunity to take a different path in college, and they chose to teach. Let us not disrespect them by insinuating that they only care about the almighty dollar.

Let me share my personal perspective on teacher salary as it relates to teacher quality. I lived in Toledo for a while, years ago, and I sent all 3 of my kids to Emmanual Baptist Christian School over on Laskey Road. My grandson attends Monclova Christian Academy, and has for the past 4 years. Although I have no personal experience with Catholic schools, I can tell you that teacher salaries at Christian schools in NW Ohio are WAAAY under public school levels. If you ask someone who has their children in a Christian school to explain their reasoning for paying that tuition, one of the things they will mention is the quality of education their child is receiving. Obviously their opinion is that - even with lower teacher salaries at the Christian school - the quality of education is superior.

On Wednesday this week, a negotiations meeting is scheduled between the two teams. Please pray that all parties will act in the best interest of our kids, and community.

Friday, August 22, 2008


A recent press release by the Swanton Education Association has caused some concern in our community. This is just a quick post to let anyone who might actually be reading items on this blog (?!) know that negotiations are continuing with the SEA, with the next meeting scheduled for next week.

For those who would like to see the actual salary rates in place currently at Swanton, you may go to the National Education Association website, where a spreadsheet of salary information was created using 2007-2008 information, and compiled in February 2008. You can be confident that the numbers are current. The link to the Ohio page is here. Teacher salaries are a matter of public record, which makes it easy to verify the statements made by either the Board of Education or the SEA.

The Board is holding a special meeting next Monday night to discuss negotiations.

Please feel free to contact any one of us if you have questions, concerns, or ideas. This district works best when we all work as a team!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Truth or Rhetoric?

This morning I received a copy of a flyer that was prepared by the Swanton Education Association (translation: our teachers' union) and distributed by teacher volunteers to people who came to the Open House sessions last night at Park and Crestwood schools. It makes some pretty strong statements against the Board of Education. Are these statements true? Is it worth our effort to examine them? I think we should take a closer look at what is printed on this flyer, because it is common for false or skewed perceptions to be taken as fact, with the result that the perception becomes "truth" to those who hold that false perception.

So let's look more closely at what is printed on this flyer, and let's take the statements and claims one at a time.

1st statement: Swanton teachers are in favor of restoring programs within the school district, like a drug education program and the Honors program.
Response: Those of you who read our first Board newsletter are already familiar with high school principal Steve Gfell's approach to improving our high school curriculum, and the sound reasoning behind it. In addition, this school district has several drug, alcohol, and tobacco education programs already in place - for example, we have partnered with the SACC in establishing the SEED (Students Encouraging Educated Decisions) program, and some of our other programs begin as early as grade school, such as the D.A.R.E. program. There are other things in progress to help our kids in these areas as well. One successful program from years back (our Youth-to-Youth program) is in the planning stages for a return performance, although all of the details have not been finalized as of this writing.

2nd statement: As a result of practices currently in place, including failure to offer and support solid programs to prepare students for college . . .
Response: Our high school curriculum is the best ever, with the changes implemented by Mr Gfell. He would welcome any resident to call and talk with him about it - please feel free to do so!

3rd statement: . . . unusual hiring practices . . .
Response: The SEA was involved with all of our hiring of administrators, etc. so I'm unsure to what they refer here.

4th statement: . . . failure to support community-led efforts to improve the safety and well-being of your children . . .
Response: hmmm .... Again, it's not clear to what they are referring, but if it's the most recent grant from the Department of Education that we rejected, our residents know full well why we turned that particular grant down. The refusal of one grant certainly does not diminish in any way all of the other things we do in support of our kids!

5th statement: . . . many students leave the area for other schools, and experienced teachers are leaving for other school districts where they can get better pay and benefits.
Response: Wow! There's a mouthful! We did have 2 teachers leave our district to work closer to where they currently live. I honestly do not know what their new wage and benefit package contains, although they would be hard pressed to beat the health insurance plan we have in our district. One of our new teachers left a teaching job in another district to teach in our district because it is closer to his home. As to students 'leaving the area for other schools, I would be interested in the research behind this statement. We have many kids who choose Penta for the last part of their high school years, which is a great option for those who want it. We have kids who live in our district who attend private school or are home-schooled. All districts have these situations.

6th statement: The Swanton Education Association has been bargaining with the school board since April to reach a fair settlement in contract negotiations, but there has been little progress.
Response: That there has been little progress is a TRUE statement. Unfortunately, the SEA set their demands in stone and have refused to budge. Last Friday, we requested that they take our offer to their members for consideration - they refused to do so. With the nature of union negotiations being what they are, I am not at liberty to give any details - but if anyone reading this is a teacher, I urge you to ask your SEA representatives for the facts and numbers. They represent YOU as a teacher, and you have the right to ask them these things. Find out what they are demanding on your behalf.

7th statement: There is money available for a fair settlement, but we see this refusal to be reasonable as just another example of the school board's failure to understand and serve the needs of its community.
Response: Well, I guess it depends on what your definition of "fair" happens to be, right? We have offered a fair settlement in our opinion, but it is not what the SEA has demanded. Again - if you are a teacher, ask your representatives for the details.

8th statement: Just like you have been given many false promises by the school board, so too have the teachers been promised a return to levels and standards set years ago and have not managed to get anything fair in return for their hard work and sacrifice.
Response: Does anyone know what promises they're talking about? I have no idea what prior boards may or may not have 'promised' - but this board has only pledged to reduce the income tax, and that's what we are doing with the levy in November. As to 'returning to levels' from years ago, I sure hope they aren't talking about going back to the fiscal irresponsibility of the past, because this district got itself into serious financial difficulties years ago, and nobody is interested in doing that again! And, again - how do they define, "fair" ? I am hard pressed to figure out what they're angry about!

9th statement: . . . contact your board members and ask them to settle the contract quickly
Response: Please feel free to contact your board members with any question or concern you may have about the district. We welcome your input and participation toward the goal of giving our kids the best educational tools they need to succeed as productive adults in our society.

As to settling the teachers' contract, it takes 2 to tango! The Board cannot force the SEA to accept our offer, no matter how good it is. At the very least, we wish they would take our offer to their membership for a vote - but, thus far, they have refused to do so. Please do not hesitate to let either group - the Board of Education or the SEA - know your views on the matter!

(Oh - one more thing. As you read of the SEA statements that "a unanimous vote" has been taken, please understand that doesn't automatically mean that all teachers were in attendance to vote. A mere 5 people, all voting the same, could qualify as "a unanimous vote" - but clearly it would not reflect the sentiments of the entire teaching staff . . . just something to remember!)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Major Board Decisions

Our August 12th board meeting had two significant items above and beyond the usual. The first was a decision on whether or not to accept a grant from the U.S. Department of Education in the amount of $511,000 over 3 years. This grant held a stated purpose of reducing alcohol consumption in our student body.

No doubt you've heard about this one.

The grant was written by the Swanton Area Community Coalition (SACC), headed up by Neil Toeppe, and including other well-known community persons such as Village Administrator Jon Gochenour, Judge Colin McQuade (past SACC president), Deacon Dzierzawski (Village Council and CEO Community Partnership), Heather Wegener (executive director SACC, and wife of Deacon), and Glen Dominique, among others. Initially, the grant called for $191,625 annually but the feds reduced the administrative costs and brought the annual amount down to $170,525 - which is still a chunk of change. Mr. Dzierzawski tells me that former Swanton school superintendent, Neil Weber, affixed his signature on the initial filing documents.

I was quite surprised to hear Mr. Toeppe state in our meeting that the grant itself had been written in February! This was surprising because it was not seen by any board members until a mere day and a half before a critical deadline with the Dept. of Ed. (back in April) when no one had time to go through the 100 or so pages of verbiage to see exactly how it was laid out. With any grant, there are multiple deadlines to meet for various pieces of the process. (The initial filing on behalf of the district was, indeed, in February 2008).

Anyway, after a weekend media frenzy initiated by Mr. Toeppe's press release, he was given another opportunity to speak to the Board in our public meeting. President Dennis Heban told everyone present that our policy is to allow individuals of the public to speak for 5 minutes, with an additional 3 minutes to respond to questions or comments. Mr. Toeppe took twice that long to read his address to those in attendance.

That is what the public was able to witness. What no one had seen was the past few weeks of the board finally being able to read through the grant - and immediately seeing the disturbing allocation of funds. Here is what the grant summary page stated (remember, these are annual amounts):

Travel & Mileage Expenses: $14,412
Supplies (for the kids): $ 4,705
(including videos, workbooks, etc)
Contractural Payments to SACC: $85,920
(this included salary for full time Community Organizer @$18/hr, salary for part time Administrator @$18/hr, computers/desks/cabinets)
Project Director (for 50% effort): $30,000
Training for health teachers: $ 6,500
Substitute teachers $3,495
(this is for when the regular teachers are out for training)
Annual evaluation fee: $30,000
(this was written for the Community Partnership - originally it had $40,000 in that column, but the Dept of Ed reduced it)
Other Admin. Costs: $6,593

If you'd like to read the summary page for yourself, here is a link to a pdf file: Click Here

That is a seriously simplified overview of the entire grant, but you get the general idea.

So after Mr. Toeppe gave his final speech at the board meeting, we held our vote, and it was a unanimous rejection of this grant. A statement was subsequently read by Superintendent Paulette Baz, giving our position on the issue. And the TV cameramen packed up and left.

The SACC and Community Coalition have initiated other positive things for our kids - the SEED program comes to mind. The school district has other programs in place as well, with the same goal: to educate our kids about the dangers of alcohol and other substance abuse and minimize or eliminate their participation in them.

This particular grant was simply not an appropriate expenditure of tax money, in the opinion of the Board. However, that does not mean that ALL grants are inappropriate, and I'm certain the SACC and Community Coalition will be able to find other grants available that will allow us to continue our partnership in doing all we can to assist our children in making good choices.

The other major item before us last night was a request from the Swanton Public Library to place a 0.5 mil operating levy on the ballot this November. They were chartered under the school system decades ago - in 1935 - and thus need to go through us to place a levy up, even though their funding does not flow through our books.

Their last levy was for permanent improvement, and actually collected more than expected. The BOE was able to give them a little over $67,000 last month - money that had collected under their levy, but had not yet been issued to them due to oddities in state law. Thankfully, Cheryl Swisher was able to find a legal way to get them their money! Hooray!!

We have a GREAT library in Swanton! I know with the state decreasing the funds libraries have been receiving, cutbacks in hours and services have been initiated in Swanton to try and stay afloat. I honestly do not know how their books look, as no financial statements were provided to board members. (no doubt we could get them if we asked) The library board has wrestled with the situation, and came to the decision that an operating levy is necessary.

The awkward thing is that the library is tied to our school district which happens to be in two separate counties - Lucas and Fulton. Lucas County residents already pay taxes to that county's public library system. A tax on the entire school district for the Swanton Public Library would effectively have Lucas Co. residents paying tax to 2 library districts. It's a tough sell to many of those residents.

You would think there would be a way to either exempt those Lucas Co. people in the Swanton school district from Lucas Co. library taxes, OR somehow have those taxes collected turned over to Swanton. Ah - wishful thinking!

The vote from the BOE passed - so there will be a library levy on the ballot this November. I think we were told that it would cost a homeowner around $15 per $100,00 of property value, and should generate slightly over $100,000 annually for the library for each year it is in effect.

Now we look forward to the start of the school year!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Yup - you read that right: the Swanton School Board is going to reduce school taxes for their district. The Fulton Co. auditor's office was in shock - no district in their experience has ever done such a thing!

The current income tax on Swanton school district residents is 1.25%, and it will continue to collect at that rate for another year. After lengthy discussions with our school treasurer, Cheryl Swisher, and careful forecasting, the Board is confident that we can LOWER that rate to 0.75% for our residents and still run the school efficiently and well.


The levy for the reduced rate will be on the ballot in November. Tell your friends!

Not only that - but the Board has also decided to allow the current permanent improvement levy to expire, and will NOT be placing it on the ballot for renewal. Instead, we will move 1 mil of inside millage to Permanent Improvement to care for the physical structures of our four schools. Although the individual savings will seem small, this combined with the reduction of the income tax level should greatly help our residents during these financially stressful times.

Woo-hoo again!!

We should remember that one of the reasons we are able to do these reductions is because the Board is now truly able to "see" where the district stands, financially, because our treasurer is very very good at what she does. I'm told she inherited a confused mess when she came on board, four to five years ago now, but she has turned that around. We just couldn't do these things for our residents if it weren't for Cheryl's quality management of our district funds.

One thing we are looking at now is how we can get that new Middle School built. You may remember that we were told some years ago by prominent residents, the superintendent and board members of that year that we would be able to get "2 for 1" when the district was working on getting a new high school. Now - as you can clearly see - we did NOT get "2 for 1" at all. So Cheryl is in contact with the state, our attorneys, and the auditor's office to see how that Middle School might be realized. That would be awesome!

I'll keep you posted as this is investigated. It is painfully obvious that our Middle School is in dire straits - and that was before the roof leak and mold was discovered in the old building. (altho they believe they have it contained, and that none reached the newer part of the building that is currently used)

I can't emphasize enough that this current school board is doing its best to do what is right for our students and what is right for our residents - even to the point of lowering the income tax rate. We study these issues - we consider them very carefully, and hammer them out over months of intense deliberations. It is not a flippant nor easy task at all. But each of us honestly cares about our district and wants to do what is in the best interest of ALL, even if that means we are unpopular with a few.

So the next time you see a school board member, shake his or her hand and thank them for their efforts on your behalf. It would mean a lot.

Friday, June 27, 2008

June Progress

The June meeting of the BOE ended with some positive steps "forward", in my opinion.

Angela Lutz was hired to replace retiring Linda Reeves at Crestwood. All of our retiring staff were honored that evening as well. I will especially miss Carolyn Short, who was the principal at Park School where I was able to volunteer my Friday mornings in the library.

One critical position that needs to be filled is that of someone to head up our cafeterias. Know anyone with experience who might be interested? If so, let Paulette Baz know right away! Other positions are also advertised, and interviews are continuing.

The board approved having our treasurer take the next step in our plan to place a reduced income tax levy on the November ballot. The current levy collects at 1.25% - our proposal is to lower it to 0.75%.

We also had further discussion about allowing the current Permanent Improvement levy roll off, and instead moving inside millage to PI in its place. This would result in a decrease in property taxes for our residents. No vote was taken on this issue that night.

A new board newsletter was approved, and will go to print this week. We hope to improve communications with all of our residents on district issues, and this newsletter will be a good start. I did notice, however, that Dennis Heban edited his original article and removed all reference to a blog. . . not sure why. Maybe his statement that we plan to update the website was thought to encompass the addition of a blog. We'll see!

You should be getting your copy soon, so let us know what you think - good, bad, or indifferent. We can't improve something if we don't know what needs attention, and we are relying on YOU to help us!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Campaign for Coach!

At our last Board meeting, athletic director Tim Zieroff proposed that we name our football stadium in honor of former Coach David Hansbarger. To that end, he also prepared a list of the Coach's accomplishments for our consideration. Let me share some of that with those of you who didn't grow up here.

"One of the most successful football coaches in Northwest Ohio Athletic League history, the former Bulldogs' mentor turned a struggling grid program in the early 1970's into a legitimate contender in which his teams captured two Northern Border League championships and five Northwest Ohio Athletic League titles while going undefeated twice in 1975 and 1981 during his outstanding tenure.

"Hansbarger, whose career record is 154-87-5 from 1972-1995, also guided the Bulldogs to their first post-season appearance in the 1995 Division IV state football playoffs. An active member in the Ohio Football Coaches Association, he has served in various capacities with the organization.

"His other honors included being named in the Region I Coach of the Year in 1975, '81, '90, and '95 and also coached the Ohio High School North-South All-Star Game in 1991 and the Ohio-Pennsylvania Big 33 All-Star Game in 1996."

Coach Hansbarger is a member of the Ohio High School Hall of Fame (not just ours!), and has a plaque honoring him hanging in the Ohio State University Stadium. (gate 8A on the East side)

The impact on individual lives beyond the practice field has endeared Coach Hansbarger to many former students. To some, he was a second father - to others, the only father figure they had during their high school years. This man made a positive impact that is still guiding others today, as evidenced by the many emails we have received on the matter.

At our May meeting, I expect that we will take a vote on naming the stadium in his honor. Stay tuned!

Interesting Stats

Not sure if you were aware of this, but we are in the midst of contract negotiations with the teachers union (SEA). As most of my life was spent working at The Andersons, in Personnel, I have no union negotiation experience (they are a non-union company). I have been told that the SEA with their OEA representative (translation: attorney) draft up their list of "wants" - and our negotiating team along with our attorney draft up a list of "offers", and then they try to hash things out in the middle.

Here are a few statistics for you to mull over. According to the last census, the average household income in Swanton was $42,000 or so. That is HOUSEHOLD income - generally a 2-income family combined. Conversely, the average teacher salary in our school district is $47,000 and some change. Interesting, eh??

While you're thinking that over, here is another fact for you. During the course of investigating the possibility of raising GPA requirements for athletic participation, I got a look at a report generated at the high school of students at the 70% level ("C") or lower. This report listed the person's name and each subject where the grade was at 70% or less. There were 209 students on that list. We have less than 600 kids in the entire high school student body, so this number represents a third of our kids who are doing poorly in school. The vast majority were far below the 70% line, and there were far too many kids flunking out of every single class.

Preliminary results from state testing are also grim. Yet, the average years of service of our teaching staff is very high.

So put those facts together, and see what you come up with.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Sports and Academics

Back in the days of my father, who played several high school sports in the '50s, a guy couldn't play unless his grade point average (GPA) was no lower than a "C" - 2.0 on a four point scale. That's just the way it was. That criteria held true when I was in high school in the '70s as well - no one could participate in high school sports with anything lower than a 2.0 GPA.

We are doing many things in our district to equip our students for life after high school, as they become productive and positive adults. Our core curriculum is being beefed up. Technology is getting serious attention, as we strive to give our kids the best educational foundation available. Several other things are in the works, for the benefit of our students.

So it was with some surprise and alarm that I discovered Swanton was subscribing to the lowest possible academic criteria for sports eligibility as established by the OHSAA (of which we are a member) : a 1.0 on a four point scale. That is only slightly above failing! On April 14th, I sent a letter to several board members of the OHSAA, asking how they could state that one mission of the organization is to "recognize and promote academics" when the academic eligibility to play is set so terribly low.

Now, before I get cards and letters - I realize that the OHSAA standards are the minimum, and that member schools are within their rights to require a higher standard than that minimum level. So I did a little survey of my own.

I went online to school websites, and also popped an email to the principals and athletic directors of 34 high schools in the four-county area, plus a few of our neighbors such as Maumee, Perrysburg, Sylvania, and Springfield, all members of OHSAA. Of those from whom I received information, only 2 used the minimum standards for academic eligibility, and Swanton was one of them.

That's the bad news.

Bryan and Bowling Green enforce 1.85 and 1.7, respectively. The vast majority of the rest use a 1.5 requirement, with varying methods to keep the kids at that level, such as requiring study tables when a grade dips or using weekly eligibility. (I made up a spreadsheet of this information, and if you'd like a copy just send me a note with your email address.)

Having fully expected to find schools using the old 2.0 standard, I confess to being very surprised at the results of my survey. Many parents with whom I spoke (at Swanton and other schools) were surprised as well, so at least I was in good company. Most were VERY surprised to learn how low the standards had dipped since their own high school days.

Anyway, I made a short statement and presentation at our April BOE meeting, and it seemed to meet with general approval (except from Dennis Heban - he told me later that it is inappropriate for a Board member to dictate to administrators what they should be doing. . . that They should recommend things to Us for approval, not the other way around, really . . . so evidently I went about this the wrong way - which shows my ignorance of how things should be done! how embarrassing!!)

The principal and assistant principal, along with our athletic director, put their heads together and came up with a recommendation that Swanton move to a 1.5 criteria. Given what I now know of our neighboring schools, that seems to be a reasonable compromise and a definite step in the right direction for our kids.

That's the good news!

Anything we can do to encourage our kids to do their best, is a positive thing!