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!