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!

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