Saturday, February 23, 2008

Things Are Not Adding Up

I apologize for devoting so much 'space' to this Park & Rec issue, but this thing really has me buffaloed. Board members received copies of a 2-page "Financial Detail Report" from Cheryl Swisher, for fiscal year 7/2006 to 6/2007 related to P&R. This is how it reads:

Total for #190 (Other Personal Services): $28,878.00
Total for #213 (Social Security-Cert.): $406.43
Total for #220 (Retirement - Noncertificated): $4,042.92
Total for #229 (Other Noncertificated Retire): $1,601.02
Total for #251 (Medical/Hospitalization-Noncrt): $285.08
Total for #252 (Life - Noncert.): $0.87 (you read it right!)
Total for #253 (Dental - Noncert.): $18.55
Total for #260 (Insurance - Wrkrs Comp/Disabil): $500.00

(pg 2) Grand Total: $35,732.87

I have to ask Cheryl, but I think the numbers refer to account numbers.

Beyond that, where is the breakdown for that huge "Other Personal Services"? According to a list we received, a total of $21,850 is spent on directors' salaries. Some is paid for referees and umpires . . . what is making up the difference here??

There were also hourly positions listed: Soccer Spring field maintenance @$8; Concession help @$8; Baseball field maintenance @$8; Football field maintenance @$8; Soccer field maintenance @$8; and Arts & Crafts help @$10 per hour. I do not have a total of what these hourly people were paid in fiscal year 2006-07.

I just learned that Village Council requires any expenditure of their monies by P&R to be run past them first for approval. Has that happened at the School Board level as well?

Pam Moore of Village Council has reminded us that the physical parks are all owned and maintained by the Village. If Swanton had no recreation programs, these parks would still be maintained. The levy money through the school district is for the programs only.

Does $58,000 to $60,000 of taxpayer money sound like a lot to run sports programs? This is not including the money generated from fees, concession sales, etc.

What's wrong with this picture??

Friday, February 22, 2008

Interesting Developments - P&R

A few interesting tidbits of information have surfaced since our board meeting Tuesday the 19th.
First off, our meeting was fairly well attended. Representatives of the Park & Rec board were there, including new president Howard Schnabel and treasurer Jenni Nijakowski. Each spoke a bit about progress P&R had made with regard to setting policies, etc. and Mr. Schnabel mentioned his desire to develop a good working relationship with the School Board for the betterment of our community and for the good of the kids who use the programs offered.

Our treasurer, Cheryl Swisher, mentioned that she had been told by Mayor Jim Bushong of Village Council's inquiry as to whether a levy for P&R under their umbrella could encompass the entire school district for taxing purposes. No one could verify whether this was true.

No decision by the School Board was made with regard to Park & Rec that evening. Instead, President Dennis Heban thought it would be best to include discussion of this issue with other interrelated financial considerations on a workday set aside for that purpose.

The next day, I spoke with Pam Moore of Village Council. She confirmed what Cheryl had been told - and also told me that Council had received an answer to their inquiry: they could use school district boundaries for a levy for P&R. She was quick to point out that Council had not voted to do so, however - they had only done some checking into the possibility. Nothing more. She expressed some concern that a Village levy on the ballot for P&R would be viewed negatively by those who did not live within the Village itself . . .

But that's not all. Just today, I received an email from treasurer Cheryl Swisher which included a copy of a resolution passed by the school board on May 19, 1986. This document shows that Park & Rec were initially under the Village umbrella for funding until this date, when they were shifted over to the school district. The resolution number is 101-86.

John Syx was the superintendent for many years until he retired in 1986, and he then served on Village Council. So at least the mystery of "how" P&R came to be on a school district levy is finally solved, and it was only 20 years ago. Interesting.

Let's be honest. It shouldn't be necessary for P&R to have a levy at all for operating expenses. At the meeting, all of the sports programs were mentioned as the reason for the expense. Yet other, local sports programs do not require levy dollars unless there is some type of building program necessary - say, for soccer fields or something. Volunteers do all of the work, including the mowing and field marking. Fees for participation, concession sales, ticket sales, etc. pay for referees and other necessary items. Businesses donate uniforms and the like. The community collectively gives - not out of a levy tax requirement, but out of the generousity of their hearts. And the job gets done quite well, thank you.

Well, I need to talk with some of the local park people to get a better idea of the details involved. If I am going to speak intelligently about this subject, I need to do my homework.

If any of you have information you're willing to share, please feel free.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Of Parks & Politics

Well, the rhetoric has begun! The Swanton School Board is now the object of a verbal assault by some Village Council members and a couple of others, over the issue of whether or not we place a renewal levy for Park & Rec on the November ballot.

No official decision has yet been made by the Board, but that doesn't stop them from crabbing! The common theme is, "How can the Swanton School Board be so callous as to eliminate Park & Rec programs that will hurt so many children??" and the classic, "This is gonna cause a lot of 'bad feelings' in the community that will hurt the schools!"


Sorry fellas, but the way I see it, if the Board chooses not to place Park & Rec on the November ballot, that does not mean the programs are eliminated. It would only mean that the funding for such programs would have to come from another source. duh !

Having had kids in various sports programs through the years, I can speak with some authority on how such things are handled. Coaches are all volunteers - usually parents. There are fees charged. Concessions are sold. In short, there are several ways to pay for sports programs that do not involve a school district levy. And just a reminder: we are unique in this, as no other park system in the state of Ohio is connected to a school district levy. None.

My personal opinion is that P&R should become its own entity, independent of the Village and School District. That is how other park districts in our state handle things, and it works much better. I am sure that our neighboring park boards would be glad to share their methodology, so no one would be reinventing the wheel. Anthony Wayne’s park district is a good model, for one. I don’t know that much about Delta’s set up, but perhaps they would also be a good one to ask. Of course, there are plenty of others within a reasonable radius from whom we could get information and advice. I don't know what all is involved, so I'm not sure how much time it takes. It is quite possible that there simply isn't enough time to get the task done this year. Some programs might have to be scaled back or delayed a year . . .

But for goodness sake, stop whining that the sky is falling if the Board decides not to renew the levy, and quit trying to spin the situation into being "against the children" or such nonsense.

Here's the thing. I am a parent. All good parents find themselves in the position of being "the bad guy" when a decision must be handed down that is unpopular with the child. The decision is made based upon the best interest of the child, not out of concern that the child will be ticked off.

Tthe situation with Park & Rec is no different. The School Board members were elected to serve the residents and students of the district to the best of their ability. They are responsible for decisions that are in the best interest (financial and otherwise) of the district. Period. If our collective decision on February 19th is unpopular, so be it. No matter what we decide, we will not please everyone. And that is not our job anyway. Our task is to study the issue, decide what is in the best interest of the district and then act accordingly.

Being of sound mind and tough hide, I refuse to place my vote based on someone's attempt to "guilt" me into a short term fix for a long term issue. Here is what I wrote to my fellow Board members the other day:

No one wants to be "the bad guy" - but the time for dancing around the issue has long passed. We need to have the resolve to discuss this at our February meeting thoroughly, so that Mona and I have a clear picture of the situation - and then we need to decide on our course of action (or, inaction, as the case may be).

We do our residents a grave disservice by continuing to waffle on this huge issue! Park & Rec need a firm answer from us. I get the distinct impression that they are deliberately dawdling, as they have for the past several years, because the school board has not been strong enough to act.

I see these options:

1. We state that we will place it on the ballot in November.
2. We state that we will NOT place it on the ballot in November.
3. We state that we will place a one-year levy on the ballot (not the 4 year renewal) to give them just a bit more time to get their act together, with the understanding that this is the end of the school district's direct involvement. (emphasis added)

Are there other options we might have?

I feel very strongly that our discussion at the February meeting must end on a productive note with a decision, no matter what that decision happens to be. Our character as a board should be strong enough to make decisions - not allow a decision to be made by default of our inaction or by a stated perception of potential "bad publicity". We were each elected to serve the Swanton School District and to keep its best interests foremost in our deliberations.

So - there's my two cents worth! :-)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Park & Rec Mess

Oh what a tangled web we weave . . .

Recent articles in the Swanton Enterprise have our district residents buzzing about the Park & Rec situation. This link is one article written on the issue: ( ) and this link is the other article: ( ).

Since those articles have appeared, I have had several residents question me on the school board's position.

At the December 2007 school board meeting, with Bill Green presiding as president, Joe Kahl was not re-appointed to his position on the Park & Rec board. In addition, Mr. Kahl was told -again - that a recreation district needed to be pursued. No further action was taken by the board that night.

At the January 2008 school board meeting, Mr. Kahl spoke and told the new Board that the suggestion to create a recreation/park district was in the works. He mentioned that he was meeting with Village Council and had already spoken at length with Mr. Gochenour on the subject, and was confident the issue could be resolved.

In attendance at the January meeting were several members of the Park & Rec board. None chose to speak that evening.

Apparently, Mr. Kahl was in attendance at the subsequent Village Council meeting and spoke to those in attendance. No action was taken at that meeting, but it is interesting that Mr. Kahl was the one doing the talking given that he is no longer on the Park & Rec board. I was not at that meeting - but I am told Mr. Kahl was the only person who spoke on behalf of Park & Rec.

Village council member, Pam Moore, was not in attendance at that meeting, but after reading the minutes of what transpired, she called three school board member to insist that Park & Rec be placed on the ballot ("one more time") to keep it going, as the Village just couldn't do it. She was insistent that it was the only appropriate course of action, in her mind, because the Village simply couldn't handle all the extra work involved and levy monies needed to be pulled from the entire district, not just the Village itself.

Mrs. Moore was unaware that the Park & Rec board had been told to investigate and pursue becoming its own district some two years ago. She was concerned that there wasn't enough time for the Park & Rec board to become an entity in order to place its own levy on a ballot for funding.

I told Mrs. Moore that our situation - with a park levy funneled through the school system, and bumping up against the 20-mil floor - was unique in Ohio. She was unaware of this fact. I explained to her that this situation cost the school district between $58 to $60,000 each year that we could not afford - not to mention the administrative costs involved that are absorbed by the school district as well. She was also unaware of this fact.

I just received an email from our treasurer, Cheryl Swisher. She had a phone call today from Bill Green (former long-term school board member and president) who suggested that the board issue a formal statement to quell the rumors flying around. He said he thinks that the community may think poorly of the fact that the park programs are not given due consideration.

My response to Cheryl was as follows:

My understanding is that the current Board was going to discuss Park & Rec at our next open meeting before we issued an official statement. It is a weighty matter that requires open dialogue, and not something to be debated behind closed doors - which is also a huge sore spot with our residents. My personal concern is that Pam Moore of Village Council has made a statement to the Enterprise that basically said she had called each Board member individually and was pleased with the result, leaving the impression that her personal lobbying efforts were smoothing over the problem to allow Park & Rec to be placed on the Nov. ballot. I have heard from several residents who were NOT pleased with what they perceive as "back door politics". So I was glad to be able to tell them that this School Board would discuss the matter openly - they were invited to attend - and our decision would be forged and shared publicly.

As for Mr. Green suggesting that the programs are not being given "due consideration", I would remind him that the former board of which he was a highly visible member had attempted to get the Park & Rec people to clean up their act for over 6 years. From my perspective, that certainly looks like more than enough time for "due consideration". The trouble is that the public at large is unaware of these facts - it is now up to us to get them informed.

I believe that podcasting the recordings of our open meetings will go a long way in providing full disclosure to our district residents.

It would be best for Mr. Green to share his concerns at an open board meeting with everyone else, during our Public Comment timeframe.

To date, there has been no further discussion of the Park & Rec situation since the January 2008 school board meeting. However, I am certain that this issue will be discussed at our next public meeting to be held Tuesday, February 19th at 7 p.m. Only by addressing this issue openly can the school board hear from its constituents, discuss all aspects of the problem, and come to a rational conclusion that keeps the interest of the Swanton Local School District paramount.

I hope to see you that evening, and hear your comments. In addition, I am hopeful that we will be able to begin podcasting our meetings to keep all of our residents apprised of what is happening in their school district.