Monday, March 31, 2008

March Board Mtg Update

Greetings! The Swanton School Board had a very interesting meeting on the third Tuesday in March.

Many people were in attendance, and special guests included members of Village Council as well as the Village Administrator and representatives from Park & Rec. A few folks left immediately after the issue of the disciplinary action taken on two school custodians was finished. When the public was given a chance to speak, a gentleman whose son attends our high school asked what legal rights students had to their private cell phones. We had recently received an update from our attorneys on that very issue, so Ass't Principal Steve Gfell was able to speak with authority and accuracy in his response. The parent had a few more questions and comments to make, and then we went into the meat of our meeting.

A protracted discussion between Village Council and the School Board took place on the subject of the Park & Rec situation. Jeff Michael shared the information he had obtained from Anthony Wayne's recreation board president. Dennis Heban and Mona Dyke weighed in on the discussion, as well as several members of Council. Treasurer Cheryl Swisher was able to share financial pieces of the equation for all to consider. Cheryl also mentioned the positive strides that Park & Rec had taken thus far, in setting policies, etc. I spoke up about the fact that our situation is unique in the state of Ohio - and not in a good way! Although the actual programs are very good, the funding situation needs attention.

After a lengthy discourse, Pres. Dennis Heban stated for the record that the school district would NOT be placing Park & Rec on the November ballot. This was no surprise to anyone in attendance, after hearing all of the evidence at hand. The current levy will provide money to Park & Rec through December 2008 for operating expenses.

Mention was made of the possibility of the school district merely handing over some undeterminate amount of money to Park & Rec for a year, to assist in their weaning off taxpayer dollars. No promise was made beyond that of exploring the ramifications of such an action.

Members of the current Park & Rec board are concerned that their fees to play will have to be increased beyond what folks can pay. However, no one was able to state what profit was made last year in concessions, nor were they able to provide how many participants were enrolled last year. P&R Board President, Howard Schnabel, indicated his willingness to meet with his Anthony Wayne equivalent to learn their methodology. No need to re-invent the wheel here.

Village Council will now decide whether they are interested in adding a Park & Rec levy under their taxing authority umbrella - or not. Remember: Anthony Wayne receives NO TAX DOLLARS for operating their programs, and neither does many other recreation entities in the state of Ohio. The Swanton Park & Rec receives tax money from both the Village and the Swanton Local School District. The Village maintains the parks already - this would not change, regardless of what P&R does or does not do. The big concern seems to be that fees would have to increase more than double in order to offset losing the $60,000 received from the school district levy. However, without a clear understanding as to exactly where the money is going right now, it is a bit premature to speculate on future fee levels, although an increase is likely.

One woman was pointed in her question as to whether the school board was willing to face the "backlash" sure to come if the school did not support P&R financially. She hinted that regular school operating levies would fail if we did not cough up money for P&R. The Board was not intimidated, however. The bottom line was that we were all voted into office for the purpose of keeping the school district's best interests at heart. Giving away $60K of badly needed money is not being fiscally responsible and is not in the best interests of our kids nor our district residents.

Next we had a presentation by VarTek on their proposal to handle our technology issues. It is no secret that our current situation is a mess - we are spending over $250,000 annually and over half the time the machines are non-functioning. VarTek was hired initially to do a thorough survey and inventory of our existing technology systems. Their proposal would not cost us any more money - BUT we would have equipment that worked, a planned back-up system in place, a rotating system for purchasing and retiring machines, and upgrading and standardizing equipment and curriculum.

An interesting result of the survey was the desire of the majority of our teachers and staff to switch from a Mac platform to a PC platform. This will be done in a progressive, phase-out program over 5 years. A few Macs will still remain at the high school level for specific needs there, but eventually our district will be on a PC platform. This means that our kids will graduate with a solid knowledge and experience on the operating system used in the vast majority of business in the "real world". I am excited for them! This will give them a definite advantage upon their graduation from high school.

Also that night, we approved the school calendar for 2008-2009, and the list of graduating seniors, along with the proposed curriculum for next year. It was a very busy meeting that night!

Superintendent Search

Our search for a new superintendent got underway last week. The Board interviewed 4 candidates for the position, and will interview 2 more tomorrow night (Tuesday). After the first round interviews are complete, we will determine who to bring back for a second look. We are eager to find a quality individual to help lead our team into the future, and will make our decision before the end of this school year. It is gratifying to have so many qualified men and women apply for this important position at Swanton. It's the "good news - bad news" situation: the good news is that we have so many top notch folks applying for the position! The bad news is that we have so many top notch folks applying for the position! You can be sure our next Superintendent will be a good fit for our community.

Tonight, the Board has a meeting with two school finance specialists to help clarify some school funding issues. Your school board is doing all they can to make the best use of your tax dollars for the benefit of our kids. With Gov. Ted Strickland taking away school funding pieces from Ohio schools, and energy costs threatening to go through the roof, we need all the help we can get.

Monday, March 3, 2008

One Step Forward - One and a Half Steps Back

Things on the homefront have kept me from writing lately, but that doesn't mean Swanton School Board issues have stood still.

At our February Board meeting, a gentlemen stood and said he had heard "rumors" that the Honors Classes were being eliminated from Freshman and Sophomore levels. He spoke at length of his opinion that these classes should NOT be removed. When he finished, President Dennis Heban thanked him for his comments, and moved on.

Here's what's happening: High school assistant principal, Steve Gfell, is doing some in-depth investigating on how best to educate our students. He is putting a lot of time and effort into his research, and one item he is investigating is just how honors classes affect students' opportunities after they leave high school. His research is not complete, and therefore no suggestion or recommendation has been given to the Board. However, there is one particular teacher who is unhappy that the question is being raised, and is trying to pre-empt Mr. Gfell's efforts by spreading half-truths about the situation.

I encourage any resident who has questions about the honors classes or other high school issues to contact Mrs. Baz and Mr. Gfell directly before forming an opinion. These are top notch administrators, and you may trust what they tell you.

Recently, we received notice that there is a danger our electricity bills could increase by 30-40% next January. The Energy for Education II program will expire on December 31st of this year. FirstEnergy (Toledo Edison, etc) has already indicated that it wishes to remove all price breaks for schools and treat them, instead, as corporations. Swanton Local Schools currently pays around $200,000 annually for our electric bill. If FirstEnergy has its way, that could increase $60-$80,000! Obviously no school district can absorb that kind of increase. The PUCO is holding hearings this year on the subject, and our treasurer plans to attend.

In addition, we received an odd letter from the Swanton Education Association (SEA) that ended with a disturbing, vaguely threatening ending. It stated, "If we do not hear from the Board of Education in regards to this matter, we will explore other avenues to get our contract concerns settled." In checking with our treasurer, the process on the 2007-2008 negotiated contract had been going on for this past year - with the SEA holding it up for over 6 months. We had only just received it for final typing, etc. when their note arrived. Very strange. However, I believe this issue has now been smoothed over, and the SEA has indicated they are interested in meeting with the School Board to improve communication between the two entities. Dennis Heban is willing to meet with them if they include our superintendent, treasurer, and administrators as well.

Things are heating up further on the Park & Rec issue. Jeff Michael had an extended conversation with the Anthony Wayne district equivalent to discuss their funding mechanisms and programs. They provide sports programs for over 2400 participants with NO TAX DOLLARS whatsoever. The program fees, etc. pay for their programs. Their per participant cost is just under $92 - while ours is twice that amount, for a far lesser number of participants. What's wrong with this picture?

Plus, former Park & Rec Board member, Joe Kahl, is hauling Bill Witt around with him, making presentations to individual Village Council members in an effort to forge his own recreation programs and district. He says he was told to use this procedure by Village Mayor Bushong. Please remember - Mr. Kahl is not a member of the current Park & Rec board. These efforts are his own, personal attempt to create a new recreation entity. Anyone else find that just a bit odd??

And speaking of Park & Rec, what are those line items in the treasurer's report that list medical and retirement benefits? Why is the school district paying for medical and retirement benefiits for anyone on Park & Rec? My email to Cheryl Swisher on that question hasn't been answered yet.

A question from Drew Stambaugh to Dennis Heban made me think there might be a slightly better way to conduct our meetings. I wrote a note suggesting that our Board president make a short statement clarifying what our "Old" or "Unfinished" business on the agenda was all about prior to our discussion on it. I also thought it might be helpful to repeat any questions from the public, so that all in attendance could hear, prior to giving an answer. I opined that these two things would also be helpful for when we record our meetings, so those listening from home could get a clearer picture of what was happening, and it could also help us Board members as we might look back to a prior recorded meeting. I probably wrote 3 or 4 paragraphs. Dennis Heban wrote back to remind me that no vote had been taken as to whether or not we were going to record our meetings. It had only been a suggestion at our organizational meeting, with no vote taken.


In checking with the Ohio Revised Code, and consulting with an attorney, I find there is no regulation prohibiting me from recording the meetings myself and then podcasting them on my own personal blog. Mark Bula did that with Sylvania Council - the public loved it so much that Council took it over. I think our Swanton school district residents deserve no less. So later this week, I'm going to head over to Circuit City to purchase a digital recorder.

Tighten your chin strap!