Monday, November 30, 2009

Basic School Finance

A training session on the basics of school finance was held for our newly elected school board members on Tuesday evening, November 24th. Treasurer Cheryl Swisher had prepared handouts for each person and we spent a little over two hours going over her materials.

We did not directly address the Five Year Forecast that evening, although it was mentioned in passing a few times. The main focus that night was to familiarize the new board members with the financial packet that is part of each monthly meeting. General topics were:
  • What are the accounts?
  • Where does the money go?
  • Where does the money come from?
  • The Board's role in the financial process
  • Review of board reports
  • Questions

Of course, out of a school district's expenses, fully 85% is on salaries and benefits. Board President Jeff Michael reminded everyone that the difference between the salary we had originally offered to the SEA and the final contract is $1 million annually - which goes on forever, each and every year. He made the point that salaries and benefits are the largest expense over which a school district has any control, and that decisions made on contracts have an everlasting effect - good or bad - on a district.

Cheryl spoke about the differences between the various types of funds and how certain funds can only be used for specific purposes. For example, the Permanent Improvement fund holds money that cannot be used for operating the district, by law. It can't even be used for repairs of our buildings! She used the example of a broken pane of glass in a school building window. PI money cannot legally be used to repair that broken pane of glass - but it COULD be used to replace the window completely!

There was a short side discussion on the prospect of a new Middle School. Our "turn" for receiving state funds is coming up soon, but in order to qualify for a new building the enrollment must be at a minimum of 350 students - we are currently at 312 in the Middle School.

Cheryl explained the Board's role, and suggested we ask the right questions:

  • What is our district's current millage rates?
  • Are any levies expiring and when?
  • When is our property going to be reappraised and how will that affect us?
  • What are the assumptions in the Five Year Forecast?
  • How is our health insurance funded and how does it compare to other Districts?

She was very thorough in her presentation, and shared a lot of valuable information. In her summary, she cautioned that the school board must keep the overall financial picture in mind when approving contracts and staffing, and must make certain that what is approved is allotted for in projections shown in the Five Year Forecast.

This first training session was very well done, and a subsequent session on the Five Year Forecast should also be enlightening for the new board members.

November Meeting

Our November 17th school board meeting began with many board commendations to particular students to recognize their successes in athletics and music. Congratulations to them all, for their hard work and perseverance!

The Treasurer's section of the meeting was pretty straightforward, with action taken to accept the Appropriation and Amended Certificate as presented, a depository agreement with National City, and Transfers. There were no "Now & Then" POs this month.

For the Superintendent's portion, Mr. Griggs presided for the last time in his capacity of interim superintendent while Paulette Baz was on maternity leave. The recommendations on various personnel matters were unanimously accepted, including a retirement, several volunteers, certificated and supplemental contracts.

We were asked to approve the process to begin taking bids on mold remediation in the closed off section of the Middle School. We have had both state level and county Board of Health representatives inspect this building and give recommendations. There are about 5 rooms that will receive mold remediation and the other cleanup can be done by our custodial staff.

Bids for a new ADA compliant bus had been received, and we were asked to approve the Blue Bird bid of $80,030 which included a $1500 trade-in allowance for our 1991 Blue Bird bus plus an early payment discount of $200. There was a short discussion of whether a better price for the old bus might be obtained by attempting to sell it on our own. We unanimously approved accepting the bid from Cardinal Bus Sales & Service for the Blue Bird bus, and we may expect delivery in March 2010.

There were reports by Mr. Griggs and Mona Dyke on the Ohio School Board Association (OSBA) conference recently held in Columbus. We had a short Executive Session, and then our official business was finished.

A report from Mr. Griggs showed that our absence rates have been running from 5-9%, which is in the "normal" range.

Mona and I thought it would be helpful for our newly elected board members to receive some training prior to them taking office. With schedules being so crowded this time of year, we were able to set one date for a financial training session with Treasurer Cheryl Swisher. Other training will be provided as time permits, in addition to that provided by the OSBA.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

October Meeting - Spooky 5 yr Forecast

Our regular October board meeting was held last night, Oct. 20th, and we had quite a few people in attendance. President Jeff Michael was not able to be there, so Vice President Dennis Heban presided.

At the beginning of the evening, a Board Commendation was presented to Dave Smith, recognizing his great achievement in winning the national title of America's best bus mechanic. He shared a bit of what he had done to win the award - it was impressive! Great job, Dave!

We always address the reports of the Treasurer as our first order of regular business. After approving the Transfers/Advances, Now & Then PO for Great Lakes Biomedical (related to our cooperative venture in a drug grant with Evergreen), and the rates for various substitute positions for the 09-10 school year, we then turned our attention to the 5 yr. Forecast.

Sorry for the "Spooky" title - with it being October and all, I couldn't resist.
Anyway, Treasurer Cheryl Swisher walked us through each aspect of the 5 yr. Forecast which is required by the state to be filed by the end of this month.

A significant part of school financing comes from the State of Ohio through various avenues. As many of you know, the state has been having a lot of problems trying to finalize its budget - which has a direct effect on school budgets. Many items are still unresolved, which led Cheryl to ask (at a recent conference) why the October forecast is required to be filed when so many of the numbers aren't known yet. She is of the opinion that her forecast for our district is pretty good for this school year, but from that point forward there are too many state related variables for this forecast to give a true picture.

However - based on what she does know at this point, we will begin deficit spending in 2011 to the tune of $770,932. Because we have a healthy cash carryover, we can get by. From that point forward - as best as she can calculate - our deficit spending will be $2,336,064 in 2012; $3,392,859 in 2013; and $4,909,897 of deficit spending by 2014. That is not a typo.

Again, because of our healthy cash carryover, we might not go back into Fiscal Caution until 2013, but by 2014 we will be truly, honestly and completely in the hole to the tune of $2,989,466. Cheryl also mentioned that IF our current "Emergency Levy" is put back onto the ballot at some point as a renewal, we will still be broke by $2.5 million dollars in 2014.

None of this takes into consideration the fact that our turn for a new middle school should be coming up in a few years . . .

Cheryl reminded us that, since 2004, our district has 'lost' a total of 216 students. So even without all of the current gyrations by our state government, we lost the revenues tied into enrollment numbers.

Mike Wiederman asked how State Issue 3 might impact our district finances if it was passed this November? Cheryl was quick to point out that every time something related to gambling was touted as being "good for schools", it wasn't good at all !! For example, remember when the Ohio Lottery was going to infuse all that money into our state public schools? Well every time we got a dollar from the Lottery - the state found a way to take back two (or thereabouts). Cheryl assured everyone that it was a consistent pattern, and she was quite sure that it will be no different with the gambling money associated with State Issue 3 that will be on the ballot. All state public schools would experience a net loss of funding, just as they had with the Ohio Lottery. So - for those of you hearing the TV ads that mention how great this will be for Ohio schools . . . don't be fooled!

So - on that cheery note, we moved on to the reports and recommendations of the Superintendent.

Russ Griggs is our acting Superintendent right now, as Paulette is still officially "off" on maternity leave. She was in attendance that night, with little Paul David (already 4 weeks old!).

The Board approved all of the Personnel recommendations, including student teachers and volunteers. We also approved the adoption of the Ohio Department of Education model of Special Education Evaluation Procedures.

There was some discussion with Middle School Principal, Ben Ohlemacher, about the proposed 8th grade trip to Philadelphia next May. Dennis Heban expressed concern that deposits made in November were non-refundable, and we didn't want anyone to lose money on the deal. But we were assured that great care would be taken to ensure that no deposits would be made unless it was certain that the trip would occur. The Board then gave its unanimous approval for the trip.

We also approved a one year subscription to the OSBA Communication Plus publication, the ODE School Food Authority Permanent Agreement, and the BGSU Field Placement Agreement for 2009-12.

At the end of the business portion of our meeting, Dennis asked if we had any school board candidates in the audience? As it turned out, we did! Chris Oberheim and John Schaller were both there that evening, and introduced themselves. It was nice to be able to put a face with the names.

We were then adjourned - and it was only 8:15 !!

Obviously, the tenuous fiscal picture will make for interesting negotiations next year with the SEA.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A New School Year

At our September board meeting, district treasurer Cheryl Swisher said that some things were still not finalized on the state level to allow her to present an updated 5 year forecast, but what she had to-date was not encouraging. Certain state policy changes have been touted as being "good for schools" by state level politicians, but are only mere shuffling around of existing programs - some resulting in a net loss of funds for school districts. Mrs. Swisher is closely monitoring the situation and will keep us informed.

Mrs. Baz was in attendance at our meeting, and had a few personnel updates on supplemental contracts and student teachers. Each building principal had their building report included in our board packet, as usual.

Principal, Ben Ohlemacher had special packets prepared for us on his goals and plans for the Middle School. They have changed to a six period day. This will give our Middle School students around 21 additional hours of instruction in core academic classes this year, as compared with last year. Also, there are 40 minutes of daily intervention available where needed. Failure is not an option under Mr. Ohlemacher's plan.

One of the proposals put forth by Mr. Ohlemacher was his request to hold a parents' meeting to see what level of interest there might be in an 8th grade trip to Philadelphia next Spring. If enough parents are interested and if the financial considerations can be handled so that no one is left out from lack of funding, it would be a whirlwind, 2 day tour. Some of the places included in the tour package are Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell Pavilion, Historic Christ Church and Betsey Ross House, the US Mint and the National Constitution Center. The Board gave its permission for a parents' meeting to be held.

At the end of our meeting, board member Mona Dyke mentioned that she was finalizing the second issue of the Bulldog Bulletin. Residents of our district should be receiving that issue soon.

I have noticed campaign signs for school board popping up lately. One I saw has a catchy slogan that I like. I have been told that one candidate for a school board position is a former Village Council member who had to resign that post due to physical issues (this has been some time ago, apparently). I hope those issues have been improved, if this person is now running for another public office. I would much rather have all three open slots be filled by people voted in by public election, and not have any of them leave the post prematurely which would require the remaining board members to appoint a person to serve the balance of that term.

Whoever is elected will be thrown quickly into contract negotiation scenarios with our district unions next Spring.

Friday, August 28, 2009

August Board Meeting

We are off to a good start of the 2009-10 school year.

At our regular August school board meeting, we learned that enough children had enrolled for Kindergarten that allowed us to recall a teacher. Good news!

Superintendent Paulette Baz had suggested that we tap Russ Griggs to fill in for her when she is off on maternity leave. Mr. Griggs has over 27 years of experience and is well known by many in our area. He has served in the Delta and Evergreen districts, among others. He should allow our school district to move forward smoothly until such time as Mrs. Baz returns to the helm. Her due date is in the latter part of September, so no doubt we will have her for a few weeks before her first child is born.

By now you have received your first issue of the Bulldog Bulletin, which is our newest venture in communication with residents of the district. This format will allow our principals to share their news and other updates, along with the Board. By having this newspaper mailed to all residents of our district, everyone will be informed in a timely manner.

It may surprise some to know that our district is made up of a majority of people without children currently in our schools. The Bulldog Bulletin will thus help us to communicate with those who otherwise might not be aware of school district events and progress. In addition, consolidating school district news into one publication will help the district to save money. It is a "win - win" situation for all!

Our cumbersome school district policy manual is going the way of the dinosaur, as we have worked closely with NEOLA to get all of it organized and available online. This was a huge task, and many thanks go to Mrs. Baz, Mrs. Woods, Mrs. Swisher, Mrs. Dyke and others who put in so many hours to make it happen.

Issues with the Swanton water supply have made football practices and other things difficult. We have had to purchase water, as the odor and foul taste mean the kids refuse to drink it. We are told that the Village is working on the problem.

Our state ratings have been posted, and Swanton remains "Effective" by Ohio standards. Our principals are working closely with the Superintendent to formulate and implement a cohesive plan that will allow our kids to be "Excellent" .

As a reminder, if you have a question or concern please follow the regular "chain of command", by contacting the appropriate building principal first. Most of the time this will be all that is necessary, but if you feel a need to take your question further you may contact the Superintendent. Board members are charged by law to formulate the policies under which the district operates, so if you have a general policy question you may contact one of us.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Board Candidate Reminder!

Hey - do you know of someone who is running for the office of school board member in Ohio this November? If so, please remind them that the Ohio School Board Association (OSBA) is sponsoring workshops across the state during September.

According to the OSBA, attendees will learn:
-> school board powers and duties
-> the most difficult things to learn about being a school board member
-> campaign issues, including campaign finance

Board member ethics and behavior
-> conflicts of interest
-> compatibility of public offices and positions
-> locally developed policies
-> Ohio's Open Meeting Law
And a Question and Answer session will be held.

There will be workshops in six locations throughout the state, as follows:
Sept.11 - New Philadelphia, Hampton Inn
Sept. 12 - Columbus, OSBA office
Sept. 14 - Findlay, Findlay Inn & Conference Center
Sept. 15 - Ohio University Inn, Athens
Sept. 21 - NEOUCOM, Rootstown
Sept. 21 - Roberts Conference Centre, Wilmington

The cost for the workshop is $75, and you must make a reservation. All sessions (except Sept. 12) run from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., with registration beginning at 5:30 p.m. The Sept. 12 session runs from 9 a.m. to noon, with registration beginning at 8:30 a.m.

Registrants for the workshop will receive a Board Candidate Kit, which contains a lot of useful material.

Encourage those you know to attend one of these sessions!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Landmark in Danger of Demolition

The building we now use as a middle school is actually 3 buildings joined together. The first and most grand was built - out in, what was then, the middle of nowhere - in 1904. An addition was tacked on to the west side around 1927, I think, and included "the pit" - then the final section was added on some decades later.

If you aren't able to attend school board meetings, you might not be aware that several companies were contacted to give a quote on tearing down the 1904 structure.

There has been talk for quite some time about what to do with the old building. It has been shuttered and neglected for many years. With no one required to walk through it on a regular basis, a leak in the roof was undiscovered until significant water damage had occured. Mold remediation in the affected areas has been estimated to cost over $25,000, while cleaning, painting, and other repairs to the building have been estimated at between $175,000 and $225,000 - a sum the school district simply does not have to spend on an old, unused structure.

The Ohio Revised Code allows a school district to "sell" an old building for a nominal fee to non-profit organizations that may be interested. Unfortunately, our local geneaology and historical group doesn't have enough money for those repairs, either, and I am not sure who else might be interested.

To get an idea of how salvaging an historic building can be done, we only need to look at Monclova, where volunteer labor under the direction of a prominent local contractor saved and restored their beautiful old school. Now it is the host to many community events, the YMCA operates a day care in one wing, and upper levels are rented to others for exercise classes, etc. It is now a thriving part of the community - and it's wonderful!

Our 1904 building was made possible by the founders of Swanton - some of whom remain prominent families in the community to this day. Its construction was of the highest quality and materials of the time, and little of its original grandeur has been lost - at least on the exterior.

The interior rooms, heating and electrical systems and other things need serious attention. But it remains a jewel in our town - even though it has been sealed off for many years. (Actually, our building is in MUCH better shape than that of the old Monclova school prior to its restoration!)

Anyone with a little vision can see how this wonderful old structure could again play an important role in our community- but it will take money and labor to bring it to fruition.

Is there anyone out there who is willing to try and save the 1904 building for posterity and community use? If we pooled our resources, money and otherwise, we could do it - together. But something must be done relatively soon if we are going to save it from the wrecking ball.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Are You Good with Numbers?

Election rules are very detailed with strict deadlines to be followed. Time is fast running out for anyone interested in having their name on the November 2009 ballot for the position on the Swanton Board of Education.

For those considering tossing their hat into the ring (there will be 3 board positions to fill), here are a few questions to ask yourself that might help you decide whether or not to run for this office.

How do you make decisions in your personal life? For example, if you are single, how do you treat the forgetful waitress at your favorite restaurant? If you are married, do you prefer to maintain open and solid communication channels with your spouse or do you prefer to manipulate things behind the scenes? If you have children, do you make decisions with their ultimate well-being in mind or do you find yourself deciding by default, when they whine enough or complain enough that you give in to their immature demands just to shut them up? (it is appalling how many people "parent" this way)

How well do you get along with your extended family? Every family has a few folks that are difficult to get along with - how do you handle it? Do you avoid them and look for ways to keep them out of any decision making process, or do you include them even though you figure you probably won't see eye-to-eye on the issue? In other words, do you treat them fairly and with respect - even when they are arrogant and obstinate or bellicose? Have you ever worked with a group of people of disparate character traits or have you been somewhat isolated by owning your own business or confined to an office? Are you honest to the core, or are you willing to shade things just a bit to get your own way?

Those are interpersonal skills that can quickly come into play in a school board position. But there are other skills that are also very important.

How much and how well do you read? That might seem like an odd thing to ask, but - trust me - there is a TON of reading that needs to be done each and every month if you expect to make informed and intelligent decisions that affect the district and its funds. Those who just hate to read might want to think twice about running for this office.

Do you balance your checkbook at home? Do you at least know HOW to balance your checkbook?

How do you handle your home expenses? Do you know how to live within your means or are you in debt up to your eyebrows? Have you ever planned ahead for a large expense so that when it came along you were able to pay for it - or did you just melt the plastic again?

The thing about being on a school board is that you are spending OTHER people's money - not just your own. You are on a board that has to spend millions of tax dollars very carefully so as to get the best result for our kids. And it is not as easy as it may look. There are many government mandates that come with directives - but no funding. Some expenses are able to be reined in without too much fuss, but others are completely out of your control, such as the price of gas or electricity.

Huge and unexpected expenses might hit - which is one reason the state requires a certain percentage level of carry-over funds to be maintained. Dipping too far into that state-mandated cushion is what put our district into "fiscal caution" several years ago. Not a good place to be.

And EVERYBODY knows how to do your job better than You! Oh yes! Make no mistake - every single person in this district has an opinion on how things should be done, and very few are hesitant to share that opinion with you in the most graphic terms. Never mind that they might not have all the facts at their disposal like you do - they know exactly what needs to be done, and get quite angry if you don't agree.

Matter of fact, there have been some quality people in this position who refused to run for a second term because they had taken so much abuse when they were in office from those they had considered to be friends.

Will you continue to feel comfortable shopping at the local Kroger after you're in office, or will you find yourself driving just a bit further to get groceries so as to avoid the possible keying of your car and other small acts of vandalism from your faithful constituents?

Will you be upset when your kids come home from school with the latest angry gossip from their friends about the stupid decision made by the board? Will you take it in stride when someone rigs a bomb in your mailbox? (yes - all of these things have happened)

Do you have a personal agenda that you believe you can institute by getting elected to the school board? Have any axes to grind? Remember: you will be only one vote out of five. Mighty hard to push through an agenda alone.

All potential candidates should think carefully about their reasons for running for a school board position. We need good people!! I don't want to scare anyone - but it is important for those considering placing their name on the ballot to know these things.

You need to be a good reader. You need to be good with numbers and financial reports and forecasting. You need to be good with people, even those that strongly disagree with you.

Just remember: even Superman had people crabbing about him! You will never be able to please everyone at once - most times, there will be many more annoyed with you than not. And the entire district depends on you, so you can't cater to one group over another. Your responsibility is to the entire district. Nothing less.

So - after considering all of that - are you interested? We could use 3 good people!!

No Slacking Off in the Summer!

Just because the busses aren't running, and classes aren't in session doesn't mean our buildings or staff are slacking off!

The Treasurer's office has fiscal year-end reporting to finalize and submit. Administrators huddle over reports and paperwork, making numerous decisions that will affect the up-coming school year.

There is a TON of deep cleaning and painting and other maintenance projects that surge into high gear once the kids have gone off on their summer vacations.

There may not be children in the hallways, but the buildings are far from silent!

It's already the 15th of July - summer break is half over. Already there are newspaper inserts talking about "Back to School" offers. Time flies by all too quickly.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pre-Board Candidate Workshop

The latest edition of the Ohio School Board Association (OSBA) newsletter came in the mail yesterday, and there is a notice within its pages of a free workshop for people who are thinking about running for school board.

The workshop will describe the roles and responsibilities of boardmanship and requirements of running for a seat on a local board of education. Scheduled for Saturday, July 25 from 10 to noon, the workshop will be led by two veteran OSBA staff members. They will allow time for questions as well.

Space is limited! If anyone is interested, you should contact OSBA Workshop Specialist Laurie Miller at (614) 540-4000; (800) 589-OSBA; or email to register.
The OSBA website also has more information for candidates: and you can learn about this and other board candidate workshops at
Check it out!

Congrats to Dave Smith!

The Ohio School Bus Mechanics Association administered a written test April 8, 2009 to determine who will represent Ohio in this national competition scheduled for September 22-25, 2009 at Michelin American in Greenville, South Carolina. Three school bus technicians tied for first place - Emmett Deligatti, Brian Henderson and David Smith Jr. A hands-on diagnostic test was given to determine who will represent Ohio in the America's Best School Bus Technician contest.
The Ohio School Bus Mechanics Association is proud to announce the winner of the Ohio competition for the best school bus technician. David Smith, Jr. (Swanton Local Schools) will represent Ohio in the America's Best School Bus Technician's Training and Skills Competition.
This national competition will be held at Michelin America in Greenville, South Carolina, September 22-25, 2009.
The above article was shared with us last Friday. Congratulations to Dave Smith!!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Concessions in the Park, etc.

Last night, the school board was invited to a joint session with Village Council to discuss a proposed lease agreement for use of their ball fields.

We spent an hour discussing various aspects of the proposal, and we finally came to a tentative agreement - pending proper review by our respective attorneys.

The agreement will allow the newly formed Swanton Recreation Program to use the sports fields of the village for practices and games, and also will allow the concession stands to be operated by non-profit groups. In addition, the Village will be allowed to use our high school football field to shoot off their annual fireworks display.

The vote by Village Council was split, leaving the Mayor to cast the tie-breaking vote. The school board vote was unanimous.

I would like to personally thank everyone who worked so very hard to bring this agreement to fruition. Now our community may move forward - united again!

May Meetings

The school board held two meetings in May. We scheduled a "special meeting" on May 13th to discuss our updated 5 yr. forecast and our regular meeting was on May 19th.

The numbers on our 5 yr. forecast are not good. With the economy in our country and our state going further down, daily, and the unemployment rates and foreclosure rates skyrocketing in our two counties, it is not a pretty picture. Estimates for next year on foreclosures are worse than this year.

Our Treasurer, Cheryl Swisher, gave all in attendance a copy of the current spreadsheet. If you were not there, and would like a copy, please give her a call. Here are the areas you should observe closely:

Line item 4.50 is "Total Expenditures". Did you know that the state requires every school district to have a minimum of 20-25% of this line item held in reserve? When a district's reserve dips below that minimum, it is officially declared to be in "Fiscal Caution". Our district was in this situation a few years ago.

Line item 6.01 is "Excess of Revenue & Other Financing Sources over(under) Expenditures..." and this is the line where you begin to see deficit spending show up. (for those of you without an accounting degree, "deficit spending" is when you are paying out more than you are taking in - kind of what happens to some folks' personal checkbooks from time to time)

Line item 7.02 is "Case Balance June 30". This is where you will see the amounts of our carryover. At the end of fiscal year 2008, our carryover was $7.3 million. Following that line over, you will see how the deficit spending numbers above slowly eat away at the carryover until it disappears completely by 2013.

Without addressing our deficit spending, our district will be in "Fiscal Caution" by fiscal year 2012.

The projected deficit spending amount for fiscal year 2010 is just under $342,000.

The projected deficit spending amount for fiscal year 2011 is slightly over $2 million.

The projected deficit spending amount for fiscal year 2012 is slightly over $3.2 million, and the carryover now shows $2.7 million - less than the 20% of projected expenditures for that fiscal year required by the state (which means we are in "fiscal caution").

The projected deficit spending amount for fiscal year 2013 is almost $4.5 million - and that huge carryover that we had in 2008 is now completely gone, and line 7.02 shows a negative number
( -$1,711,627 to be exact).

Sobering facts.

Thankfully, our levy passed last November so at least we can count on a revenue stream for a few years. Trying to pass a levy in troubled economic times is virtually impossible, as other districts around us who waited are discovering. Of course, our levy can only collect on those who are able to pay - 0% of no income is $0 to the district, just as foreclosure on homes and property means less property tax coming into the district.

The school board looked ahead and recognized that the general election ballot of November 2008 was our best chance of having a levy pass - and it barely squeaked by (losing in Swanton and Swancreek townships and passing in the Village).

Our income is thus set as best it can be - and now our only recourse is to rein in expenses.

Did you realize that the SEA (teachers') contract that was passed last year will cost the district around $800,000 more over the next five years than the contract we originally offered them? (and that amount only gets larger as time goes by)

One of the items on our May 19th agenda was to look at ways to address the projected deficit spending for next year. Superintendent Paulette Baz brought us a long list of proposed cuts in staffing to make up for the projected $342,000 deficit. We spent a l-o-o-o-n-g time in executive session, hammering out what we thought we could cut and still give our kids a good education in the Swanton system.

It was not an easy task.

Some things were beyond our control. For example, classroom enrollment dictates that we remove a kindergarten teacher because the numbers aren't there to allow us to keep her. It is the nature of union contracts to require people with the least amount of seniority to be let go when cuts are made in staffing, no matter how great the new person might be. Now - if our kindergarten enrollment increases this summer to the proper levels, we can hire a kindergarten teacher, but the good one we had to let go might already have another job elsewhere.

How discouraging for new teachers!

We looked at high school staffing levels, custodians, library aides, etc. - nothing was held back as we looked for ways to cut our spending.

Finally, we voted to eliminate the kindergarten position (as described above) and one custodian position. Two other jobs (a library aide and middle school math teacher) will not be replaced when the current holders of these jobs retire/leave.

Eliminating these 4 positions only covers less than half of the projected deficit spending amount, but still saves the elementary PE teacher and does not cause any high school level changes. It does cut down on library time for our elementary kids - unless the regular teachers are willing to take their students to the library themselves. (which they are allowed to do)

As board member Dennins Heban commented, unless our economy makes a dramatic turnaround, the school board will be forced to make further reductions next year to keep the doors open.

Why am I sharing this grim news with you? Because this is an election year - there will be 3 school board positions on the ballot in November. Whoever decides to run for these positions will need a steel spine to make some difficult decisions next year when they take office.

They will also need to have a good grasp of finances and accounting skills. Only a thorough understanding of long-range forecasting will help them make sound financial decisions for the district.

Let's face it. If we can't make these difficult decisions, the state will step in to do it for us. I am certain no one wants that to happen!

We all must work together for the good of our kids' education and the future of our district.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Tangled Web

Did you see the article in the Enterprise today about the controversy over rec programs? There are some - ah - interesting quotes by Mr. Gochenour.

In the third paragraph, he is quoted as stating that the school board "decided to unilaterally withdraw" from the former joint park & rec program.

Ah - not quite. Remember: we held several meetings that included 2 Village Council members. The Dec. meeting (which I recorded) had Mike Rochelle stating that the plan we had come up with together needed to move forward, and we all agreed with his statement. This plan included representatives from both the village and the school district. Both he and Pam Moore were pleased with the end result, and were confident that the rest of Council and the Administrator would also be pleased and would want to implement our joint plan.

At a special school board meeting in January, the school board moved forward exactly as we had discussed and planned with those two Council members. We didn't change a thing. Hardly the "unilateral" move as charged by Mr. Gochenour.

Also in that third paragraph, Mr. Gochenour states that there are leases with Corn Fest and Party in the Park every year. What he neglects to mention is that those are one or two day events - and there is no stipulation that village residents get a price break on anything. I believe the appropriate phrase here would be "apples and oranges".

In the seventh paragraph, Gochenour is quoted as saying Council "preferred the framework we had before, where we both had say."

Ah - not quite. In the former situation, the Village handled all items related to the physical parks, and the school district oversaw the sports programs themselves (along with some minor park maintenance, and concessions). The Village has never "had a say" in the recreation programs.

In the twelfth paragraph, there is a statement that the Village's proposed discount for village residents is "not set in stone", but village officials want "some type of discount".

Ah - not quite. At an April 27th meeting with council members Rochelle and Moore, the Mayor and Gochenour, other discount options were mentioned as a discussion item, and were immediately shot down.

On page two where the article continues, in paragraph three Gochenour indicates "a sticking point" on the language of the insurance portion of the proposed lease. I can only assume he did not run the language of the proposed lease past either the village insurance agent nor the village attorney, because no one is able to hold a policy on property they do not own - which is what the Village wanted us to do. Appropriate language was provided by our attorney for insurance purposes, but no one from the Village agreed to the change.

In paragraph seven, Gochenour says he doesn't "understand (our) decision to do what (we) did" but "it's all about the community. That's what (the Village) considers most important".

Ah - not quite. Had that been a true statement, the plan forged together by Council members and school board members would have gone ahead as planned, and we wouldn't be having these articles in the Enterprise or on my blog. Mr. Gochenour would not have refused to give us keys to the buildings where our equipment is stored. He would not have refused to give us keys for the Choir Boosters to run concessions. There are many things that would never have happened, if Mr. Gochenour truly considered our community to be important.

I hope that Mike Rochelle and Pam Moore - the two council members who were fully involved from Day One, and who know the whole truth of this matter - are paying attention to how their Village Administrator is acting and speaking through this situation. Our plan - THEIR plan - could have been humming happily along by now, if it had been allowed to proceed.

Why did it suddenly come to a screeching halt once Mr. Gochenour got involved??

I believe there is still opportunity for Village Council and the school board to work together for the good of our community. But it can only be accomplished if everyone is willing to work together, honestly, as we had begun to do. As Pam stated in that December meeting, "this is a real win-win for everyone!" - and it can be again.

Let's work together !

Update on Swanton Rec

There have been a few things happen since my last posting on the newly formed Swanton Recreation Program. The school board placed a paid ad into the Swanton Enterprise and into the Key. Allow me to share a little background information on those ads.

A meeting was scheduled between the village and the school district on Monday, April 27th. In attendance from the village was the Mayor, Village Administrator Jon Gochenour, and council members Mike Rochelle and Pam Moore. Representing the school district was Superintendent Paulette Baz, Treasurer/CFO Cheryl Swisher, and board members Mona Dyke and myself.

Some of the general goals and ideas for the (new) Swanton Rec program were discussed, as none of the village folk had attended our Board meetings and a couple of them mentioned feeling 'out of the loop'. (altho they could have known these things had they attended a board meeting or talked with Mike R. or Pam . . . .)

Anyway, Cheryl reiterated our desire to work amicably with the Village on an agreement that was fair to both sides. We spoke only briefly about the concessions - we explained what our plan had been (to allow the Booster Clubs to do concessions at the games) and Mike Rochelle stated that an ad had been placed (he didn't say where) asking non-profit groups who were interested in running concessions to contact the Village. When asked which non-profits they hoped to have reply, he mentioned the Lion's Club, Rotary, and (drum roll) : the SACC (of which Mr. Gochenour is Treasurer and Village Council member Deacon Dzierzawski is Secretary). We did mention that we had purchased equipment within the buildings that we would want back. There was no response to that statement, either time it was mentioned.

The lion's share of the conversation was concerning their proposed 50% discount to participants who are Village residents. I asked if we might see the lease agreements they had with other sports programs (men's slo-pitch, etc) so that we might compare them with the proposed lease they had prepared for us - and Mike R. said that no other groups had a lease. I said, "then - this is a punitive measure?" and Jon G rolled his eyes.

It was stated by village people several times during our meeting that, as everyone used the parks, it was "not fair" for only village residents to be taxed for the parks. Being a Lucas County resident myself, these statements struck me as odd. Parks are always paid for by taxes on the residents who live there. Rarely, you might find one that has little booth set up to check drivers' licenses to ascertain whether the visitor is a local person or not, with a small fee charged to the non-resident. (I know Olander Park in Sylvania did that for quite a while - maybe still does.)

But -as you all know - the norm is for anyone from anywhere be able to use local parks at various places, while the only people paying for their maintenance etc. are the residents, who do so via specific taxes for that purpose. (Typically, privately owned land is appraised at a higher value when located next to a park or other green space in a municipality - but, I digress . . . )

One of the village representatives stated that the recreation program fees for village participants should be reduced by half because that would make it "fair" for everyone. Several times, they said it shouldn't be "such a big deal", as this was only a small minority of our entire program enrollment, and the difference could easily be made up by raising the program fees on the non-village participants. Mr. Gochenour mentioned the high cost of water and electricity, and how expensive it was to change a lightbulb up at the park and how they had never charged us for any of that before. . .

We went round and round on this issue. There were many "eye rollings" by Mr. Gochenour throughout the course of the 1 1/2 + hour meeting, along with several smirks.

Cheryl again asked, "we need to work together - what will it take for us to get this moving forward?" The Mayor agreed with her that we need to move forward, and leave the past where it is. He also seemed to feel that the Village had been left 'out of the loop' on things. Again - I'm not sure exactly on what, but I mentioned that they had received a personal invitation to our special board meeting where we planned to discuss the program, but no one came. No one responded to my statement.

Pam and Mike mentioned that the fee discount would not be implemented until fall sports - and it was likely that it would not be a requirement in next year's lease.

Do those statements reveal the true purpose of this proposed discount to village residents, that would potentially impact them just in time for the November ballot? hmmmmm. . . Well, I do not claim to be a mind reader, so I will not speculate on motives.

But Jon G has made no bones about the fact that his preference is to create a new entity with taxing authority of its own, so that the entire school district would be taxed for village parks. He has stated this over and over.

There were a few other minor language issues we saw with the lease. A copy of those changes was given to the village people, who said they would discuss our concerns at their council meeting scheduled for that evening. Cheryl and Mona said they would attend, in case there were questions.

When they left, I did a quick check of just how many village residents were involved in the Rec program. I used the list of current participants, so of course it did not include anything for fall sports (which they said would be the FIRST time the discount would be given to residents - even though fall sports are not played on village parks).

Out of the 612 participants we had in Spring sports, fully 320 are Village residents - over 52%. During our meeting, we said that this lease would force us to raise fees on the others to make up for the village discount. Gochenour kept referring to it being such a small cost to us - but clearly that would not be the case. If we had to raise fees on 2/3 to make up for 1/3 having a 50% discount, it would be very difficult . . . but if we have to raise fees to the extent that the numbers truly reflect, the Rec program cannot continue to exist.

(as a side note, we also looked up the taxes paid for park levies by particular village residents and then calculated what their children's participation fees would be under the Village's proposed lease - more than a few would receive a discount greater than their tax bill)

Could that be their goal - to sabotage the Swanton Rec program, so that it dies - and then they can create a taxing entity in its place? Only Jon Gochenour knows the answer to that question.

These statistics were shared with Pam Moore prior to the council meeting that night. The vote that night to insist that the school district sign the original village lease was unanimous by Village Council. Apparently our concern that their proposal had great potential to harm the program fell on deaf ears.

Honestly, though, I am against this proposed lease on principle. Even if there was only one village participant out of the whole bunch, that one person should not receive a discount on their participation fees simply because s/he lived in the village.

The fee structure is designed to be fair to EVERYONE. For out-of-district participants, there is a slightly higher fee. But all school district kids are under the same fee structure, with discounts given only for multiple children in the same household. That is how it has always been done in the past - that is how it is done by every other recreation district in the state. That is the FAIR way to handle fees.

The attempt by Village Council to hold these sports programs hostage to their demands is terrible. Their apparent disregard for the kids of our community is shameful. I hope village residents take note of what has been happening - these are their elected officials, and should be held accountable.

Plus, it is their elected officials who keep deferring to their employee - the Village Administrator. When two council members are fully engaged in the planning process of a new and positive thing for the community - when they state with great confidence and enthusiasm that their colleagues will support the plan that they helped to forge - and when these same council members then make a 180degree turn on the matter once the Village Administrator becomes involved, something is very very wrong.

I just hope that good sense and concern for our kids will return to Village Council, so that we may get back to the business of making a positive impact on our community - together.

It's not too late.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

April Board Meeting

Our April meeting was held on the 21st, and we opened the business part of the meeting with commendations and recognition of several young men and one young lady who are members of Mr. Kauffman's Tech Prep Accounting class - the only program of its kind in NW Ohio. This group of students had recently won a prestigious award and we were pleased to give them additional recognition that evening.

During the Public Relations portion of the meeting, a parent shared his concerns with the Board about the softball program in which his daughter wishes to participate through the newly formed Swanton Rec Program. Others might also have some questions, as many things will be handled differently than past practice under the former program. Please do not hesitate to contact Paulette Baz at the Board Office with your questions on the new policies of the Swanton Rec Program!

During the Treasurer's portion of the meeting, Cheryl Swisher reminded everyone that our financial reports are on the NWOCA website and current as of midnight the night before. If you would like instructions for accessing these reports, please let her know, as she has prepared a sheet to walk you through the process.

We did not discuss the 5 year forecast, as we are going to have a special meeting on that subject.

The Superintendent's portion of the meeting included certificated teacher contracts, classified contracts, and non-renewals. There were several pages of names involved in these categories. One person whose contract was up for non-renewal was present at the meeting and requested to address the Board. She read a prepared statement. (we were not given a copy)

Under New Business, the Board accepted several donations to the various media centers, and approved the 2009-10 Athletic Handbook. Athletic pass fees were also approved, as well as the Middle School Cedar Point Trip.

The Village had delivered a proposed lease agreement via Administrator Gochenour the prior Wednesday. We had asked our attorney to look it over, and Paulette said she was convening a meeting of the Superintendent's Committee on Rec to discuss it. Therefore we took no action on the proposed lease that evening.

Beginning this meeting at 6:30 helped make possible a finish at 10:15 - even with two executive sessions thrown into the mix. Personally, I would rather have this early start time for every meeting, if it means we will be able to get business done and get home at a decent time! But - there are some days when business will just take longer and that's just the way it is.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Wha' happened??

In my last note, I shared a little information on the newly formed Swanton Recreation Program that was created to replace the former Park & Rec joint venture between the school district and the village. Although I mentioned the people who had been involved in committee meetings to discuss the options before us, I really didn't say very much about the details.

Apparently I should have.

Therefore, I will now share with you some of those details.

In early November 2008, our Superintendent Paulette Baz set up a meeting with Mike Wiederman and myself from the school district, and Pam Moore and Mike Rochelle from the Village. The stated purpose of this committee was to forge a plan for continuing the recreation programs for the kids in our community without a tax levy to fund those programs.

(A short history: Under the old Park & Rec system, the Village responsibililty was for the physical "half" of the partnership: the parks, the concession stand buildings, etc. (The Village has a tax levy on village residents for the physical upkeep of the parks). The old Park & Rec half under the school district had the responsibility of the sports programs, plus did the concessions at the games and also performed minor maintenance in the parks related to the sports programs. This is how the joint Park & Rec had operated since 1986. In addition, for some reason a tax levy had been instituted for the sports programs of Park & Rec through the school district, and therefore had taxed residents in the entire district. I still cannot answer how this came to be, when no other recreation district in the state has a tax on its residents for sports programs. . . but, regardless, this School Board unanimously decided to stop this tax and, instead, structure the program as our peer groups locally and other groups in Ohio had structured theirs.)

The meetings of this Superintendent's Committee were serious attempts by those present to see, first of all, if the existing Park & Rec program could somehow be 'fixed', and if not, then to investigate what other avenues were open to us. Attorneys looked over our documents, and those of other sports/rec programs in the state and offered suggestions. Information from other local rec programs (Anthony Wayne, Sylvania, etc.) was obtained and studied. Our varsity coaches were asked for their input. No stone was left unturned.

The overriding goals by all involved were to keep these sports/rec programs going for our kids and community; to keep the cost to participants as close to the former rates as possible; and to have all programs be self-funded. In addition, the Village would continue their responsibility for the physical parks and buildings and the school district would continue responsibility for the programs along with its long standing agreement with the Village on minor field maintenance, etc.

It quickly became obvious that the former Park & Rec had to go. No amount of effort would be able to "fix" it.

We then looked at three options that were suggested by the attorney. There were pros and cons to each one. (anyone interested in seeing exactly what those options were may ask Paulette for a copy of them) Hours were spent by each of us in research. More hours were then spent together in our meetings, as we shared information. Each option was discussed and debated, with the former stated goals in mind.

At the end of that meeting December 3rd, I was elated! All of us in that room - Mike Rochelle and Pam Moore from Village Council, Mike Wiederman, Paulette, and myself - had hammered out a plan, and it was a good one. The decision had been made to dissolve the existing Park & Rec at a joint meeting of Council and School Board, and we would then immediately create a new entity: the Swanton Rec Program. A new board would be put together (with members of the existing board welcome to apply, if interested). The Village would continue to do as they had in the past and Paulette would get our varsity coaches directly involved (on a volunteer basis). The new board would need to be formed quickly, as Spring sports were almost upon us and we wanted the transition to be seamless, if possible. Mike and Pam were going to share with the other Village Council members and their Administrator what we had agreed upon so that a joint meeting could be scheduled quickly. The plan was to hold this joint meeting ASAP - hopefully before Christmas, so that the new board could be in place and actively working on Spring programs immediately.

I can honestly say that the mood at this meeting was positive all around. These Committee members had come together - hashed out every detail and option possible - and had jointly decided on a course of action. There was no arm twisting by anyone. This was truly a cooperative venture in all respects. I went home that night and told my husband how GREAT it had all been! I was almost giddy, I was so encouraged by the shared vision in that room! The next day, I wrote an email to the other BOE members to summarize that meeting. Here is what it said:


As you know, last night was a meeting with Mike, myself, Paulette, Pam Moore and Mike Rochelle. Our purpose was to take a look at the options available that would allow a recreation system to exist in Swanton but would NOT be a continuance of the same old mess we've had for the past 20+ years. Along with that, we all wanted a workable solution that would be agreeable to both the Village and the School District - even though we all recognize that any change will have some detractors.

Paulette had received some written guidance from our athletics guru from Ennis Roberts Fisher about the various legal options and their ramifications. She had also been busy delegating some investigative work to Tim Zieroff and others, so that we could make an informed decision.

All things considered, it appears our best choice will be to dissolve the existing Park & Rec and create a new Swanton Recreation Program.

. . . The thought last night was to have Pam and Mike R report back to Village Council members . . . and for us to do the same to you. Then, any questions could be fielded by Paulette over the next week or so. She is also going to speak with Jon Gochenour about it, as Mike R indicated Jon would support this IF he was informed early in the game.

Village Council will have their next meeting and discuss it in a bit more depth in executive session (as it relates to employee/employment issues). Our (regular) meeting for December would include a time set aside for a joint session with Village Council to dissolve the existing P&R and immediately create the new entity, with no gap of time elapsed. We could have an early executive session that evening as well, to talk among ourselves prior to the joint meeting.

It is clear that we need a transition plan for the next couple of months, given that parents have already signed kids up for a few things that will be occurring shortly. Paulette and Cheryl will work on that transition plan, including the finance end of things.

One thing was made clear last night: the new entity will be fee based for operations. Various specifics were mentioned on how to save costs to keep fees reasonable. We all agreed that a huge amount of waste has been happening for many years and that must STOP. Once we're able to work a bit more in depth with the numbers, we'll be in a better position to see just what those fees might be.

There are several local districts that are operating successful recreation programs, and Tim Zieroff has been speaking with them about specifics in their systems. . . . .

Another thing that will need to be done is to advertise for 5 people to sit on the new board that will be established. Three will be required to live in the Village - two will be required to be residents of our school district. All current board members will be encouraged to re-apply for a position, if interested. Village Council will choose 3 board members, and we will choose 2.

In addition, it was determined that a clerk/treasurer would be required to handle ALL paperwork and financial issues of the new program, with Cheryl providing only some guidance when necessary. Paulette is uncomfortable having only a volunteer handle all that money - she prefers the position be paid in some fashion. Mike W and I were very clear that if it was decided to pay someone to do this job, it would have to be on a sub-contractor basis of some type, as we were NOT going to place someone on the school district payroll. Paulette is going to check into how exactly we would handle this question legally - whether with 1099s or whatever.

There were many other aspects touched on last night, and if you have questions please give Paulette a call. All in all, it was a pretty productive meeting. Everyone agreed that we must all be on the same page for this to succeed, as it will be different from what folks have been used to doing and change always makes people nervous. Yet, the potential here is awesome!

I am excited to see the Village coming together with us on this, and it was also gratifying to see them grasp the magnitude of the financial mess the current system has been. While they are slightly more hesitant to immediately give up the idea of taxes somehow subsidizing the participant fees, they are willing to do everything possible to make it work as a fee-based system. How the remaining $40K+ in the P&R coffers will be handled remains to be determined - but we'll figure it out, or rather CHERYL will figure it out !! :-)

So give any of us a call if you have any other questions!

I received an email on Dec. 17th from Paulette, who was trying to coordinate a meeting with Mike Rochelle and Pam Moore to over the proposed documents for the new program before Christmas, and also schedule our joint meeting. I gave her my availability, but told her not to hold up the works if I was not able to attend but to go ahead as soon as she could get things together with the others.

Time passed. I began to get antsy. What was the holdup?? Well, the holidays can make it difficult to schedule such mundane things as meetings, so the next plan was to schedule as quickly as possible after New Year's.

Yet - on January 15 I was sending an email to Paulette asking what was going on? Why did we still not have a meeting scheduled with the Village? Village Administrator Jon Gochenour was involved and had been refusing to schedule anything. However, Paulette's email reply to me stated that a Jan. 27th meeting had been scheduled to go over program budgets and Spring sports programs. This was clearly far beyond the timing discussed at our Dec. 3rd joint meeting, and had the potential of adversely affecting the Spring programs under a new entity.

And then Mr. Gochenour deigned to attend the meeting.

Mr. Gochenour, Mike Rochelle, and Pam Moore attended, as did Mike Wiederman and Paulette. (I was unable to be there) Suddenly - the consensus between us had evaporated. Gochenour insisted that our carefully forged, joint plan of action was not in the best interest of anyone (translation: the Village). He demanded that a different approach be taken: that a new joint entity be created that would - again - levy taxes based on school district boundaries. He referred to the Sylvania model as an example; however, he was - shall we say - a bit disingenuous to give the impression that the Sylvania tax was for programs. (It isn't. It is for physical fields and maintenance of those fields outside of the town proper)

More amazing and distressing to me was that Mike Rochelle and Pam Moore now were at odds with the very plan they had helped to create! What had happened??

The School Board then scheduled a special meeting for Feb. 5, and the sole agenda item was to discuss the recreation program. Although it was advertised as per the O.R.C., no one from Village Council, the current Park & Rec board, nor any member of the public came. The full Board was brought up to speed with the details of what had happened at the most recent meeting of the Superintendent's Committee, and the current status of the Spring sports programs. Paulette provided a press release to Drew Stambaugh for the Swanton Enterprise. He printed it in its entirety - and also included comments on the subject that were apparently made anonymously, as he "neglected" to give the name(s) of whoever made those comments.

A special email invitation was then sent to members of the existing Park & Rec board, as well as Mike Rochelle and Pam Moore to attend our regularly scheduled Board meeting on Feb. 17th. This email indicated that Park & Rec was on our agenda for that evening. No one from Village Council came to that Board meeting.

I have already written about what happened at that February Board meeting. In short, the Board decided to move ahead with what had originally been agreed upon by Village Council representatives and Board representatives on the Superintendent's Committee. Our involvement with the existing Park & Rec was dissolved, which effectively ended that program. We then created the Swanton Recreation Program to serve our kids and community.

So - why am I sharing all of this historical detail with you now? Because Mr. Gochenour is not finished with us yet.

Last Wednesday, April 15th, a proposed lease from the Village was delivered by Mr. Gochenour to the Board office. That same afternoon, Marcy Zaner went to get the keys from the Village to the concession stand so that the Boosters could access the facilities for the scheduled event that evening. Mr. Gochenour refused to give her the keys - he stated he would not give the keys to anyone until the lease was signed and returned to him.

The lease prepared by Mr. Gochenour was obviously not reviewed by the Village attorney of record, as several items contained therein make it unsign-able by anyone. Here is a link to a pdf copy of this proposed lease, so that you may see it for yourselves.

As Paulette was out of town, Cheryl Swisher placed a call to Mike Rochelle to try and understand what was happening. She told him that certain stipulations in the proposed lease had the potential to have a terribly detrimental effect on the Rec programs - to which Mr. Rochelle replied that "the Board should have thought of that before (they voted to dissolve Park & Rec)."

Say, what??

In addition, Mr. Rochelle said that the Village required control of all concessions (which is mentioned in the proposed lease). He said that Council felt a non-profit group should handle concessions (hmmmm . . . ya suppose he was talking about Deacon's baby, the SACC, which is running through its grant money a bit too quickly these days??).

So Mr. Gochenour's statement to Ms. Zaner was false. The signing of the proposed lease would NOT release keys to the Booster clubs to run concessions. (After the exchange with Mr. Gochenour, the Booster Club returned all of the food items they had purchased for concessions.)

You will see that the proposed lease includes a clause for a 50% discount to be given on participant fees to Village residents. Where did that come from? As Mr. Rochelle and Ms. Moore know from our meetings together, the Rec program can be self-sufficient at the same fee levels as last year. Cutting a group of participants' required fees in half would require hiking the fees on everyone else - which would obviously jeopardize the entire program. Besides that - does the Village have any such agreement with any other group that uses their fields? No - so why propose to do that to the Swanton Rec program??

But wait - there's more. Someone at the Village found and dusted off an ancient ordinance that states concession sales may not begin prior to May 15th. Now obviously that ordinance has been waived for decades, without any adverse affects to anyone. Why pull it out now?

In addition, the school district has several items of equipment etc. used for Rec programs stored in Village buildings. The locks on these buildings have been changed - we are being denied access to our stuff at this time. Why is that?

Please note: Nothing has been done by the school district or Board to adversely affect the Village. We were planning to continue our field maintenance for our sports programs as we have done for over 20 years. We were planning to have our various booster clubs handle concessions. We planned on an amicable and mutually beneficial relationship with the Village. We worked very closely with two members of Village Council to put together a joint plan for the good of our kids and community.

I am absolutely flabbergasted as to why the Village is now setting road blocks before us. However, Paulette is trying to set up a meeting with Mr. Rochelle and Ms. Moore for this coming Saturday morning, so that we may again try to reach an agreement in the best interest of our community. Mr. Gochenour has also been invited to attend.

If you are a village resident, perhaps you could call a Council member to ask about these curious events.

It is a puzzler.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Recreation Program for Swanton Kids!

Several months ago, our Superintendent, Paulette Baz, put together a committee made up of herself, Mike Wiederman, myself, and Pam Moore and Mike Rochelle from Village Council. The purpose of this committee was to evaluate our existing Park & Rec program, top to bottom, to see how it could be tightened up and improved for the benefit of our kids and our community. Several meetings were held, and all of us did our level best to look at every angle and opportunity that had potential.

The net result of these meetings is this: there is a new Swanton Recreation Program!

At our school board meeting this past Tuesday night, the Board of Education voted unanimously to rescind the resolution of 1986, which had created the existing joint Park & Rec entity with the Village of Swanton. In its place, we have instituted a new program that has great potential for our kids. I am really excited about it!

Here is a press release prepared by Paulette:
February 18, 2009
108 N. Main St.
Swanton, OH 43558

Last night the Swanton Board of Education voted in favor of a resolution to withdraw from the joint parks and recreation department, which will dissolve the Park and Recreation Board that was created by the Swanton Board of Education and the Village of Swanton in 1986. Superintendent Baz said, "We want to assure residents of the Swanton Local School district that we will continue to provide recreational activities and programs for the children of our community. The board is confident that the programs can be self-sufficient,
and our goal is to keep fees as close to the current rates as possible. The board does not intend to ask voters for another levy." A.4 mil levy for these programs was allowed to lapse December 31,2008 and the remaining funds collected from this levy will only be used for recreation programs.

The spring and summer Park and Recreation programs will continue with soccer, baseball and softball. The current fees for the Park and Rec. programs will remain the same, but travel soccer will see a slight increase to cover tournament expenses.

For the fall and beyond, which includes football, basketball, cheerleading, and soccer, a board
committee will be set up to oversee the recreation programs. The new committee, which will be appointed by the superintendent, will make recommendations to the Swanton Board of Education for programs and budgets. Swanton varsity coaches will be a part of the committee because the recreation programs are a feeder program for sports at the middle school and high school. The varsity coaches are examining fundamentals, sportsmanship and competition as a part of the complete recreation program.

As this transition moves forward, it is hoped that all programs will continue. Decisions will be made based on interest in a program and the willingness of volunteers from the community to assist. If you are interested in volunteering for any of these programs, please contact Paulette Baz, Superintendent, at 419.826.7085 or via email at
The fact that this new program will be completely fee-based is good news for taxpayers. Plus, these fees will remain very close to current rates, with the exception of travel teams which will have slighly higher fees. While the Village needs to assess taxes for the physical maintenance of the parks themselves, no tax dollars will be used for these sports programs. Our new recreation program will look more like that of Anthony Wayne and other local recreation programs, with volunteer staffing and direct involvement of our coaching staff (also on a volunteer basis).
Our coaches are excited about getting involved. Plus, we have many members in our community with the skills and desire to help coach as well, and we plan to use them to their fullest potential. Our kids have never had it so good!
The former Park & Rec program had a few adult programs as well, which we hope to continue also. We haven't forgotten about the adults!
The new Swanton Recreation Program will be an great opportunity for our kids to really develop the skills and knowledge of their chosen sports. We fully expect to see this new focus show dividends in our regular school sports as well.
It is an exciting time to be a kid in Swanton right now!
As Paulette's press release said, if you are interested in being part of the new Swanton Recreation Program, please contact her. We need dedicated, energetic adults to train and mentor our kids, and we would love to have You involved!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Financial Clarification

Several months ago, our Treasurer held a mini-seminar on our school district finances. As she spoke to those gathered to listen (Board members and a few members of the community), she displayed on a large screen financial spreadsheets and the updated 5-year forecast which included the newly passed teachers' contract amounts as well as the passage of the levy at a reduced rate.

Those residents who attended that evening appeared to pay close attention to what was said and shown, taking notes and asking some questions. It occurred to me that they might wonder how that presentation correlates to the recent Blade article which talked about our district finances.

The article was a positive piece on the fact that we made the last payment on our operating debt in December. This debt was the result of energy bonds and income tax anticipation notes (translation: $1.6 million loan). Paying off debt is always a good thing.

The article began by reminding readers that five years ago, our district faced a $1.1 million deficit that remained after eliminating bus service and some mid-term personnel cuts. Mention was made of the emergency levy that was passed and the income tax levy that also passed (although the article did not mention how squeaky close that vote was, even on the fourth try).

Don't miss this part: the district was in the red $1.1 million dollars AFTER cutting busing and staff. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the district had been over-spending for quite a while to get into such a fix.

If you read through the article carefully, and also read between-the-lines, you will note that those two levies that passed back then built up a surplus of $6 million by 2008. According to my Funk & Wagnall's, a "surplus" is "the amount that remains when need is satisfied." In other words, those levies collected from our resident taxpayers $6 million MORE than was needed to restore busing and and other items.

Doing the math shows how badly we overpaid in taxes in this district over the past five years. Makes my head hurt.

Now, to be fair, the excess was a bit more than the levies were expected to collect. So it was somewhat of a surprise to both sides of the table just how much that surplus turned out to be.

It was this surplus that allowed the current Board to reduce the income tax levy percentage on the ballot last November. It was also this surplus that prompted the teachers' union to demand such a high wage increase for the next two years.

The article ends by observing that state educational funding is our biggest threat. That might be. I would guess that the ever-increasing levels of unemployment (which affects tax collection) along with the continuous increases in energy and other costs are also significant factors.

Anyway . . .

At the financial presentation by our Treasurer last fall, all in attendance were shown that this district - with minimal increases in spending - will face a $4 million deficit in the year 2013.

You read that right: $4 MILLION in the hole by 2013.

During her financial presentation, the Treasurer stated, "So as you can see, because of this (situation), I will be instructing the Board to cut $2 million in expenses in 2011, and I will be instructing them to cut another $2 million in 2012, just so we can stay afloat in 2013".

If that doesn't scare the stuffin' out of you, you must be planning to move out of our district in the next couple of years.

While the retirement of our debt this past December is a very good thing, that doesn't mean all is rosy in Swantopia. There is still a lot of very hard work to be done - by all of us.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It's A New Year!

Well, 2009 has arrived ! Somehow I managed to forget to post anything about our December board meeting. Time just got away from me!

Our organizational meeting was held on January 13th. The president this year is Jeff Michael, and Dennis Heban is our Vice President. I was glad to have both of these gentlemen in these 2 leadership roles again for the coming year. They work well together and complement one another nicely.

Most of the meeting was routine stuff, like authorizing the Superintendent to do certain things as part of her job and authorizing the Treasurer to pay certain things, etc. The schedule for the year was also set. Our meetings in 2009 will be held on the 3rd Tuesday of each month. There might be one meeting that has to be moved in March, but we'll look at that again next month.

A resident was at this meeting to ask about busing restrictions. It seems for the past 40+ years, a bus would go to a particular house - back into the driveway (a commercial driveway) - the children would get on the bus - and the bus would continue back down the road to pick up the other kids. This year, a new bus driver was on the route and brought to our attention that this was happening.

You see - there are regulations in the Ohio Administrative Code that prohibit a bus from backing into a driveway UNLESS the children are already on the bus. In order to be in compliance with this rule, the new bus driver was having the kids cross the road to board the bus, and then would back into the driveway to turn around and head back the way it had come.

The resident was upset that these children now had to cross the road to get on the bus, and wondered why the old system had worked so well for so many years and now had to be changed.

Of course, we cannot knowingly operate in violation of OAC guidelines. Since this had been brought to our attention, the bus driver had been operating in compliance with the OAC ruling, which is quite clear that what had been done in the past (for umpteen years) was NOT allowable.

But - this isn't rocket science. A simple solution is for the bus route to be changed so that the turnaround is accomplished first - the bus then picks up these children on their own side of the road, there is no backing up required, and the bus continues its merry way on down the road to pick up the rest of the kids. I believe that is what is going to happen now. Problem solved.

The Treasurer was glad to report that our operating debt is finally paid off. Back when the district was in "fiscal caution", members of the school board in office at that time took out a huge loan against anticipated income tax receipts. The income tax levy passed on its fourth time around in March of 2004, and the money collected was used to pay off that loan (plus interest, don't forget) along with normal operating expenses. The Blade ran an article on it - you can read it here.

One clarification should be made, however. In the article, there is a small mention of our recent teachers' union contract terms that is incorrect. (Hey - it's the Blade! What do you expect?) The contract that was passed was for $200 added to their salary PLUS 3% on top the first year of the contract; the second contract year calls for $300 added to their salary PLUS 3% on top of that. Those dollar amounts have been called "signing bonus" amounts, which is false. A true "bonus" is given independently of the salary itself - meaning, it does not go forward but is a one time deal. What our teachers' contract did was add the first year of $200 onto the salary itself prior to adding the 3% on top. In other words, that $200 became part of the regular salary, and will go on forever. It works the same way for the second year of the contract, and that $300 was added onto the regular salary and will also continue on forever. By adding these amounts to the salary itself, the effective raise for our teachers was 3.7% in the first year and 4.1% the second year. If I remember correctly, that was either the highest or second highest teacher salary increase in the state of Ohio last year.

I just think it is important to be truthful in these matters, and deliberately misleading people by using incorrect terminology is just wrong.

The Superintendent mentioned that a Park and Rec meeting is scheduled for Jan. 27th, to talk about the budget and upcoming Spring sports. Of course, the public is welcome, too!

I still feel bad that our principals have to sit there through our board meetings. Mona and I tried to change that last year, so their reports could be given early in the meeting and they could leave early, but we were unsuccessful. Of course, if there is something on the agenda that would require input from the appropriate administrator, that person would need to stay. But I think requiring them ALL to hang around is cruel and unusual punishment! <grin> This opinion no doubt reflects my still-wet-behind-the-ears status. Another (seasoned) board member has told me that it is important that all administrators are in attendance at each of our meetings in their entirety, for a variety of reasons.

We had one quick executive session. But we were out of there early - probably before 9 o'clock, which was nice since the weather outside was frightful.

Our next meeting is scheduled for February 17th.

I would strongly encourage you to attend as many school board meetings as you can. A strong financial background would be helpful to comprehend the financial statements we get each month. These statements are public information, and copies may be made for anyone interested. I don't mean to suggest you need a Master's Degree in Accounting like my daughter, to understand these financial statements - but you should be able to handle your home finances well and balance your checkbook, so that you can get a handle on the school district finances. We are all in this together!