Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November Meeting

The Board of Education met on Tuesday, November 16th at 7 o'clock.  After the Pledge of Allegiance was recited and a moment of silence observed, we moved into our business meeting.

Under Board Commendations, special notice was given to our Band for their qualifying in state competition.  Tom Krupitzer was recognized as "Coach of the Year", and the boys soccer team was congratulated on being league champions.  Other fall sports athletes were also commended.

No one from the public indicated a desire to address the Board, so we moved into the Consent Agenda.  The Treasurer's section included October's meeting minutes and several financial reports and the check register.  I have asked several times for more back-up information to be included with the check register - how can we know what we're approving on a huge Visa bill when we can't see what the money was spent on?  To date, no report has been created that includes a "memo" column where an explanation might be held.

The Superintendent's section was for Personnel items, such as volunteers and supplemental contracts.

The Consent Agenda was passed as presented.

The first new business item under the Treasurer was the Athletic Budget for 2010-11 (the current school year).   At this point, board member Kris Oberheim asked about basketball shoes - she had received a phone call from a parent thanking her (as a board member) for paying for basketball shoes.  Kris questioned what this was about?  Treasurer Cheryl Swisher and Superintendent Paulette Baz shared that the district had purchased shoes from Team Sports for both boys and girls basketball, 7th grade through the Varsity teams.  No exact figures were available, but the estimate given that evening was that close to $9,000 was spent on shoes - an expense that the district has never before incurred.  (Since then, I was told that we will learn the exact cost when we are asked to approve a Then and Now PO at our December meeting.) Some discussion was held on the matter, which you may listen to by going here to download the podcast

As the basketball shoes were not an item on the athletic budget, I voted "yes" to approve it.  The vote was split 3 to 2, with Kris Oberheim and Michelle Tyson voting "no".

Also approved were the amended certificates, an emergency purchase of a bus to replace #20,  and continued payments to bus driver Kelly Hartlet who was injured in the bus accident.

Under new business for the Superintendent, Stacey Parrish  (NwOESC education consultant) gave a presentation on our district report card.  Ms. Parrish also works with our district on the Ohio Improvement Process.

A VarTek change order was approved (at no additional cost to the district), and then we had a discussion on fund raising activity in the district.  It is the intent of the Superintendent to consolidate fund raising efforts in the community so that residents and businesses are not being "hit" for donations or raffle tickets etc. over and over and over again.  The Superintendent requested permission to form a committee to meet with booster groups, athletic groups and extra-curricular organizations to determine how to minimize the number of fund raisers.  The Board gave its permission for the committee to be formed.

Next, a resolution was passed to approve the ranking of the top 3 architect firms who had interviewed earlier that day as part of the process through OSFC.   The top 3 are:  Munger & Munger (a local firm which includes Swanton resident Kevin Young on its staff of architects),  Bielharz and Buehrer.    The resolution passed.

A short discussion on board development was held, and then reports on various items:  Swanton Rec, Ohio Improvement Process (OIP), OSBA Capital Conference, Athletics, Building reports from each principal, and Drug Testing. 

Our final order of business was an executive session, after which the meeting was adjourned.

Building "Green" and Adaptive Re-Use

On Tuesday, November 16th, I was one member of an interview team that heard the presentations of firms interested in being involved in a possible cooperative building project with OSFC in our district.  We were supposed to have had time between each group to discuss among ourselves our impressions of pros and cons of each firm relative to our situation.  Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way and it was a "rush job" at the end to bring a recommended top 3 to the board meeting scheduled that same night.  It was not the best way to do business, frankly, although it was simply a matter of circumstances.

Anyway, each one of the teams included a short mention of their experience with re-using existing school structures as well as building something new.  A couple of them incorporated pieces of historic buildings into new structures built, as a way of compromise between the past and future. 

Back when the Swanton Enterprise headline read "Buy One - Get One" over the article concerning the building proposal for a new high school, one item discussed by the school board in office at that time was to save the 1904 structure and use it for district offices and possibly a senior center, etc.  The 1904 section was a huge undertaking for the small community of Swanton way back when it was built in a field.  It stood for decades as a tribute to the importance residents had for the education of their children.  People of that time made huge personal sacrifices to build the structure that was a crowning jewel in the community.  It was the legacy of many whose family names remain part of the Swanton community to this day, and possibly this fact contributed to the thought process of saving it at the time discussion took place on the new high school.

Possibly those who remember these discussions assume that saving the 1904 building remains part of the district overall goal.  But all I have heard is talk of plans to save architectural pieces of it for possible inclusion in a new structure.  That is not what the community was promised. 

I had been under the mistaken notion that the OSFC program required old structures to be bulldozed if the school district expected to receive any state funding assistance.  That impression was WRONG!

Here is an excerpt taken from "Renovate Ohio's Historic Schools" dated Feb. 2010:

During the initial years of the OSFC, a “2/3rd’s Rule” was created to determine if a building was to be renovated or replaced with a new school. If the cost to renovate an existing school was over two-thirds the cost to build an equally sized new building, then the OSFC would say the facility was to be replaced. The OSFC has since changed the “rule” to be more of a “guideline” and will now co-fund the cost of renovation up to 100% of the cost of an equally sized new building. The OSFC staff and consultants will not actively promote this option and it is up to those interested in renovation, within the local community, to advocate for a more in depth cost analysis for historic schools. If the local district’s facility assessment for renovation costs are greater than 2/3rd’s the cost of an equally sized new building and the district chooses to renovate the existing building, then a waiver needs to be submitted to the OSFC for approval.

Twenty-first Century Education

While not all facilities are candidates for continued educational use, many schools could be remodeled and upgraded. The National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities (NCEF) published document, Historic Neighborhood Schools Deliver 21st Century Educations, provides the proof that “well-renovated, well-maintained historic schools can support a first-class twenty-first century education”.

Feasibility Study

The only accurate method to determine the condition and future usability of an older or historic school is to conduct a feasibility study by an architect, engineer or design professional that has experience with this type of facility. The document Renovation vs. Replacement & the Role of A Feasibility Study provides more details. After completing the proper studies, many school districts even find it less expensive and a better overall value to renovate existing buildings than build new schools. In most cases, schools constructed prior to the 1950′s were built to last indefinitely. These buildings did not have projected lifespans, while newly constructed schools are built to only last an estimated 35-40 years. By reusing an existing building envelope (foundation, walls, roof), total project costs can also be between 25%-40% less than building new.

Schools located in the center of town provide students with a tangible connection to the greater community. Across the country, the trend has been to abandon older, walkable schools in favor of a consolidated “educational campus,” usually closer to the edge of town. This practice has been shown to be detrimental to children’s health and welfare. Schools are not isolated from the communities that they serve. Now more than ever, children need to feel connected to the social continuum of past and future generations.

The recently published report from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Renee Kuhlman (Director, Special Projects; Center for State and Local Policy), “Helping Johnny Walk to School“, outlines the many consequences of abandoning/demolishing existing neighborhood schools for new “mega” schools located on the outskirts of a community. State-level policies enforcing minimum site requirements and negative biases toward renovation within funding formulas are some of the main reasons why established historic schools are being lost. Ohio is a prime example of one state that invokes educational facility policies. Most importantly, the report provides conclusive evidence that “neighborhood schools” are more beneficial than the alternative for both the students and the community.


The “greenest” building is the one already built. Renovation of existing buildings can be considered one of the single most important contributors towards sustainable architecture and building design. Every building has something called “embodied energy”, which is the total amount of energy used to produce the materials and construct the structure. The embodied energy unit of measurement, the British Thermal Unit (BTU), is not very telling, but it can be converted into a more understandable format; like number of recycled aluminum cans, gallons of gasoline or barrels of oil.

The amount of embodied energy within an existing 100,000 sq./ft. school, the energy used for the demolition of the existing school and the energy used to construct a new equally sized facility would be equivalent to the misuse of one or a combination of the following items:

- 2,427,826 gallons of gasoline

- 224,476,800,000 recycled aluminum cans

- 34,900,000 barrels of oil

* environmental costs were calculated at TheGreenestBuilding and are only estimates

Given the chance to utilize existing buildings is about doing what’s right for our communities, our children and their future. It’s part of what students are being taught in school everyday, for them, it has become a way of life.

“The truth is that in numerous cases, older school buildings can be renovated to 21st century standards with everything we’d expect in a new school.”

- Royce Yeater, school facilities architect and head of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Midwest office

The Pennsylvania Department of Education in cooperation with the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Institute of Architects has put out a 28-page brochure outlining the benefits of saving historic school buildings.

Lest anyone think that re-using historic school buildings might not qualify under Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), I direct your attention to this example in Lansing, Michigan where you may learn about the 1928 building that is the world's first to achieve "double platinum". 

So what is the point of my article today?  That IF the Swanton community wants to save and re-use its historic school buildings, it can be done - but you cannot assume it will be done.  Those to whom this is important need to speak up and let the school district know their opinion on the matter.  I have never heard of a community anywhere in the USA that has torn down an historic structure and then felt "good" about it afterwards.  Never.  But it takes vision and work to make it happen.

I just pray that Swanton is not one of those places that allows their iconic structure to be bulldozed down and then regrets it forever afterwards.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Regular October Meeting

Did you know that all of our agendas are available to the public via the district website?  Agendas for upcoming meetings are posted several days in advance, so that you may see what will be discussed ahead of time.  To find them, go to the district website here and then click on the "Board of Education" tab at the top left.  This takes you to the BOE "page".  To find the agendas and other meeting information, click on the "BOE Meetings" link, which is one of the purple links immediately under the tab section, at the top of the white part of the page.  (this link is the one on the far right)  This pulls up a page with meeting summaries, as well as meeting agendas.  The link you'll need is the first one:  "Board Docs", with a picture of a little tree beside it.  This will open a new screen, and you'll be able to see the available agendas listed on the left.  Give it a try and let us know what you think!

Our regular October meeting was attended by four board members, as Kris Oberheim was sick that night.  After the standard procedures, the meeting opened with a presentation by Jake Brehmer on his attendance at the Hugh O'Brien Youth Leadership conference held in UCLA this past July.  Jake had a PowerPoint presentation which he had recently shared at Rotary, and Superintendent Paulette Baz had requested that he share it with us as well.  Jake did a fine job, and we're all very proud of him and his accomplishments (as are his VERY proud parents!). 

As no one from the public desired to speak, we moved on to the consent agenda, which included two sets of meeting minutes, various reports of the Treasurer, and personnel recommendations of the Superintendent.  Included in the personnel recommendations were stipends for three Swanton Rec positions, which continues to be a personal irritant to me, but I did not request that they be pulled out - I recognize that I am in the minority on this, and grandstanding serves no useful purpose.

By having all of this information available to us several days in advance, the board is able to look over the detailed supporting documentation for the consent agenda and ask questions or clarification well ahead of the meeting itself.  Not only do we save paper and printing costs by using Board Docs this way, we also are able to save time.  If you see something on the agenda and have questions on it, please contact a board member or the Superintendent or Treasurer and any one of us will be happy to answer it or pull the particular item in question out of the consent agenda for further public discussion. 

The consent agenda was passed unanimously.  

Our first item under "New Business" was the 5 year forecast, which was discussed in detail at our special meeting of Oct. 12th.  The board passed the forecast as presented, and it will be filed with the state of Ohio no later than Oct. 30th as per state requirements.  This concluded the new business for the treasurer.

Under the superintendent's new business, we first approved a change order to our contract with VARtek, the company that handles our computer-related needs.  This change order was an update to the number of computers that VARtek maintains in our district.

The Ohio School Board Association puts out a newsletter called "CommunicationPlus" that has a lot of helpful information.  Mona Dyke had checked into seeing whether we could get this online, or via email, but was told it is a print publication only.  The board therefore approved our standing annual subscription for $325.

Our choir has the opportunity to go to Orlando for a national competition, and Mrs. Judy Zedlitz presented her desire and plan for them to make the trip.  Our choir does not take a trip every year and this trip is scheduled during spring break 2011, which means no school days would be missed.  It is a great opportunity for our choir kids, in grades 9-12, and the board approved it unanimously.

We then had short reports on:
*Swanton Rec (which is working to collaborate with the Village in some fashion);
*the Ohio Improvement Process, which is moving forward well;
*the NWOhioESC 21st Century Grant which is a HUGE success thus far - we even have a waiting list for kids who want to participate in the after-school lessons and activities;
*and the Drug Testing committee, which I reported on.  We received the results of our survey from last May of 8-11 grade students, and the good news is that certain substance abuse has gone down.  Of course, until we have 0% of our kids involved in substance abuse, we need to keep working - but it was nice to have an encouraging word to share.  The committee will re-convene on Nov. 3rd to discuss our next steps.

We also had a short discussion on the building reports submitted by our administrators: 
*Crestwood principal, Angie Lutz, has created a schedule to be in each classroom on a regular basis - not as an evaluator, but as an extra pair of hands to assist the teaching staff. 
*Park principal Jane Myers is planning to do the same.  Both she and Mrs. Lutz are very pleased with how well the 21st Century Grant "Dawg Pound" is going.  They even have short field trips planned for the after-school kids, e.g. to Sadowski's Corn Maze and similar things. 
*Middle School principal Ted Haselman has instituted a "Caught You Doing Something Good!" program, to recognize and reinforce positive behaviour by his students.  What a great idea!  Also, he is extremely pleased with how well the 21st Century Grant program is working at his building.  Along with the homework help, the fun things are creating excitement among the students and the after-school program is growing.
*High School principal Steve Gfell has created a Facebook page for the high school.  He is able to post schedules of upcoming events, pictures, and links for people to keep abreast of all that's happening at the high school, and has received a lot of positive feedback on it already.  In addition, the high school has instituted a new thing this year:  the 5th Quarter, where the high school is opened up on Friday nights to students for fun social activities and food.  Donations from community businesses and Parents' Club pay for the drinks and food, and thus far this has been a resounding success!  Kudos to Mr. Gfell and his staff for these great ideas for our kids.

The board had hoped to discuss a self-evaluation that night, but decided to wait until all 5 members are present.

We had a short executive session, and then our meeting was adjourned. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Special Meeting and 5 yr. Forecast

Last night was a special meeting of the school board.  We had five items on our agenda for the evening.  After the initial preliminaries of opening the meeting, roll call, etc., our first item of consideration was personnel recommendations by the Superintendent.  One was a resignation; the others were all related to the Swanton Rec program and included payments for three positions:  $10/hr as needed for a Recreation Coordinator 2010-11; $1,200 stipend for a 2011 Baseball Director; and $700 for a 2010-11 Basketball Cheerleading Director.  

A short discussion was held before a motion was made.  I asked Kris Oberheim, fellow board member, what progress was being made by Swanton Recreation toward becoming its own entity, and thus be removed from under the school district umbrella?  She said that meetings with the Village, the Sylvania Rec group and the Anthony Wayne group were scheduled to discuss options, but that no change was imminent.  

I continue to be concerned that the original intent and plan for the Swanton Recreation program is not moving forward.  That intent and plan was to assist with a transition for the new program to become self-funded and out from the control of the school district.  While no new tax dollars are being collected and spent on rec programs, and we no longer have a levy undercutting our education funding from the state of Ohio, we continue to have people spending their time administering this program that could be spent, instead, on things related to the education we provide to our kids.  

Maybe I am just incredibly naive here, but I honestly believe that we have people in our district who are willing and able to volunteer their time for the rec programs.  Why do we continue to pay people?  Hopefully our rec personnel will have good discussions with Sylvania (whose successful rec program is funded by a levy) and Anthony Wayne (whose successful rec program does NOT use tax dollars) and will do what it takes to move the Swanton Recreation program away from the school district so that we can focus on education.

Mrs. Floyd and Middle School principal Mr. Haselman gave a presentation on the proposed 8th grade trip to Washington, D.C.  Their informational meeting was well attended, and they asked the board to approve moving forward with plans for this trip, which is scheduled for next Spring.  Materials were passed out to board members, that gave information on trip specifics as well as funding options available to the kids.  As Mr. Ueberroth mentioned, it is important to us that every child be able to attend this field trip.  With the planned fund raisers and other suggestions, no child should have to be left behind because of finances.  Mrs. Floyd reminded everyone that it would take effort by each 8th grade student to reach their trip funding total, but as long as they got busy and didn't wait until the last minute, it would work out fine.  The Board approved the 8th grade trip to Washington, D.C.

Back in the dark ages, when I was still in school, it was the Seniors in high school who had opportunities to take amazing field trips like this.  What a blessing for our kids today that they have these options available to them!

A short presentation from the F.A.C.T. was given by Mr. Bill Pilliod.  Members of this group are Mr. Pilliod, Larry Herrick, Steve Trudel, Rick Lederman, and Dick Perkins.  During their organizational meeting this past August, FACT examined our 5 yr forecast from May 2010, and discussed district deficit spending beginning in 2011 and our negative fund balance by 2015.  They reviewed per pupil expenditures of our district as well as those of other area districts, and noted our 18% increase over the past 3 years.  They also adopted a mission statement: "Provide our students with the highest quality education at the lowest cost to the taxpayers of the School District." and suggested that the Board adopt a similar mission statement.

Sounds good to me.

Following Mr. Pilliod's presentation, we then moved on to our discussion of the updated 5 yr. forecast which is required to be filed with the state by the end of October.  Treasurer Cheryl Swisher went over the forecast line by line, and our audience was able to follow along by watching the large screen that held the various spreadsheets and formulas involved in the forecast.  Mrs. Swisher reminded everyone that many pieces of this forecast are her "best guess", given the uncertainty of state funding - especially with a gubernatorial election looming on the horizon. 

The good news is that property tax revenues have been coming in better than had been projected.  But with unemployment numbers increasing, our income tax revenue is suffering.  

Although no one mentioned it last night, we also have union negotiations coming up in a few short months.  In this forecast, Mrs. Swisher has included a 1% wage increase for the next five years.  Only time will tell if the district is able to keep this large expense under control.

There was general discussion about various pieces of the forecast, and Mrs. Swisher reminded the Board that we will vote on it at our next regular meeting, scheduled for next Tuesday evening, Oct. 19th.  The 5 yr. forecast must be submitted to the state of Ohio no later than October 30th, although we may revise it at any time it is deemed appropriate, and the state will accept those revisions.

Last on our agenda was an executive session for Employee Employment.  Following that, we were adjourned just before 9 o'clock.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

September Board Meeting

The school board convened last night for our regular monthly meeting.  All five board members were in attendance.

After the usual preliminaries, board president Mona Dyke presented commendations to several staff members and teachers, to recognize either commendable action in an emergency or years of service.  I have to say that the long list of teachers with 15 and 20 years at Swanton certainly don't look old enough to have that much time in here!

We also presented a special commendation to the staff of our Middle School for their school having obtained an "Excellent" rating on the most recent state report card.  Good job, everyone!

We approved the list of "transportation in lieu" under New Business of the treasurer.  This refers to our responsibility under state law to provide transportation of all school age children if we use buses.  Parents who transport their children to private schools are eligible to receive money toward that transportation, and once they complete the appropriate request form and meet all eligibility criteria, we issue them a check.  Some districts have a bus run to particular parochial schools in their area, so they are not required to reimburse parents.  My grandson attends Monclova Christian Academy, and there is a bus from Sylvania that brings kids.  Swanton does not provide bus service to private schools, and thus we must reimburse those who qualify for, and request it. 

A short discussion was held on the upcoming deadline for the October filing of our 5 year forecast.  Treasurer Cheryl Swisher will prepare all necessary spreadsheets and accompanying notes and we will have a chance to examine them in detail at a special meeting scheduled for October 12th.  Our vote on the forecast will be taken at our regular October meeting on the 19th. 

The treasurer then asked our approval to change our method of accounting/reporting from GAAP to OCBOA, which is estimated to save us between $5,000 and $7,000 this year and possibly $10,000 in future years.  The same information is reported, but by a different format - essentially placing us into a Cash Accounting method.  A lot of our neighboring districts have moved to this format to save costs as well.  It was a simple decision for this to pass unanimously.

At this point, the board went into executive session to discuss employee employment.  Upon our return, we approved the Lucas Co. ESC Agreement for this school year, as well as a slight revision to Board Policy 1320.  In addition, we approved a job description for the position of Recreation Coordinator that had been prepared by members of the Swanton Rec Program, and a revision to the job description of Bus Mechanic.

The next item on the agenda was a recommendation by the Superintendent to approve the administrator contracts for Steve Gfell and then Steve Smith.  Here we had an unusual situation.  Some board members wanted additional time to consider the contracts.  To table the item would require that the vote be taken at the next board meeting, and these board members weren't certain that would be enough time.  Instead, an obscure procedure in Roberts' Rules was used to "postpone" the motion no later than January 2011.  That allows the motion to be visited any time between now and then, but does not require a vote at a particular meeting. 

This was done once for each contract presented.  For the first roll call, I voted "yes" to postpone - but not because I felt it necessary to have more time to consider the contract.  Having served on the board for almost 3 years now, I trusted the Superintendent's recommendation as it was presented, and I have also been able to observe Mr. Gfell and Mr. Smith and their positive momentum at the high school.   Extending their contracts now made perfect sense to me.  However, I knew that other board members - although apologetic over causing the delay - were insistent that a postponement was important to them.  All other board members also voted "yes" to postpone, except for Mona Dyke.  Her "no" vote was intended to show her desire to extend their contracts now - and it made me think that my "yes" vote had given the wrong impression.  When the vote came on the contract for Mr. Smith, I hesitated  - at this point, I was afraid if I voted "no" it would appear that I held differing opinions on each of the contracts or men, which was not the case.  So I again voted "yes" to postpone, as did everyone except Mona.  Our votes on both contracts were thus consistent, but I still feel that I gave the wrong impression and that bothers me.

Therefore, I state here for all to see that I have the utmost confidence and respect for Mr. Gfell and Mr. Smith, and that extending their contracts at Swanton is appropriate and an important, positive thing for our kids.  When the contracts come up for a vote again, we will have no further delays.

Our next item on the agenda was yet another legal mandate that came with no funding to implement it.  They do that a lot, frankly:  make laws that require school districts to do various things but make no provision to provide the funding required to comply.  We voted to request a waiver on this one at this time, as have other districts.

A proposal from the Middle School was presented on taking the 8th grade class to Washington D.C. on a weekend in May 2011.  All we were asked to do was grant permission to them to convene a parents' meeting to see if there is sufficient interest from them to take this trip.  This we did, unanimously.

Committee reports came next on the agenda.  A short report on the Swanton Rec program was given, along with a quick update on Strategic Planning.  No official report from those of us working on the drug policy could be given, as we are waiting for the results of last May's survey to be tabulated and sent over by SACC  Heather Wegener.  Her husband (Deacon Dzierzawski, Village Council ) happened to stop by the Board Office on another matter earlier that day, and said that the results had just come in.  Hopefully that means the results will be provided to us soon, so that we may move forward. 

A time for board member comments was allowed, and after another - short - executive session, we were adjourned at 10:10 p.m.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Bus Accident

As many of you know, a bus was involved in a serious accident recently.  Not everyone receives the Swanton Enterprise, so here is a link to their story on what happened:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Duties of a School Board Member

The following was taken from the Ohio School Board Association website:

What Does a School Board Member Do?

A school board sets educational goals and establishes policy for the school system based upon state laws and community values. Perhaps the most important responsibility of a school board is to employ a superintendent and treasurer and hold them responsible for managing the schools in accordance with the school board’s policies.

Board members make decisions on a wide range of issues, such as hiring and evaluating a superintendent and treasurer; setting district policy; planning student services; goal-setting and long-range planning; adopting curriculum; establishing budgets; engaging parents; being good fiscal stewards; acting in the best interest of the school district and within the scope of their legal authority; and creating community relations programs. A board member should be a skilled decision-maker; however, decisions are only made by the board as a whole at a public meeting.

Another important part of the board’s work is its public relations role. School board members help build public support and understanding of public education, and lead the public in demanding quality education. The school board serves as a link between schools and the public.

What a school board member doesn’t do

The role and function of board members often are misinterpreted by the public, and in some cases, by board members themselves. The board is a policymaking body and members are the chief advisors to the superintendent on community attitudes. Board members do not manage the day-to-day operations of a school district; they see to it that the system is managed well by professionals.

Board members are not education professionals. They do not evaluate staff, other than the superintendent and treasurer, nor do they become involved in employment interviews, other than those of the superintendent, business manager and treasurer. Board members may be consulted during the hiring process for other positions, such as assistant superintendent.

A good board member

We often hear that one person is a good board member or another is a bad board member, and yet we seldom hear a clear definition of what constitutes a “good” board member.

In reality, there are about as many philosophical theories about boardmanship as there are board members. However, there are some acceptable guidelines. Members must recognize that seldom do two persons react to the same problem in an identical manner, so flexibility is necessary.

As a start, the following guidelines are offered. A good board member:

• Knows that he or she can legally act as a board member only when the board of education is in session. No one person, unless authorized, should speak on behalf of the board.

• Avoids administrative decisions or attempts to second-guess the administration. The superintendent is the chief administrator and the board has no administrative function.

• Is well acquainted with school policies.

• Should vote at all times in the best interests of the children of the school district.

• Is flexible and realizes there are times when changes must be made, when tradition cannot be honored and when pressure must be ignored.

• Remembers that board business often requires confidentiality, especially in processes involving students, personnel, land acquisition, negotiations and security.

• Is interested in obtaining facts, but also remembers that the administration has responsibility for operating the schools, rather than spending all its time making reports to an individual board member.

• Is a good listener at board meetings, on the street corner, in the church or anywhere else approached, but never commits himself or herself, the board or the administration.

• Knows that the reputation of the entire school district is reflected in his or her behavior and attitude.

• Supports a board majority decision when it is made.

(emphasis added)

August Meeting

We had a busy evening last night at the Board Office.  At five o'clock, we held a special meeting that consisted of an executive session with our attorney on a pending legal matter.  After that had finished up, we were able to meet and greet the men and women who have joined the team at Swanton Local School District.

Over cake and punch, we were introduced to new teachers and staff who were able to attend last night's gathering, and during the first part of our regular meeting, Superintendent Paulette Baz introduced them by name and asked each person to stand and give a short statement about prior experience or relation to our district.  It is a loss for some of our surrounding districts that good teachers were RIFed due to budget problems, but a great gain for Swanton. 

As our regular meeting continued, we employed our new paperless system, BoardDocs.  For the audience, our agenda was made available on a large screen (as well as some printed copies for those with difficulty seeing).  We board members had the same agenda on laptops in front of us, and could also view associated documentation with a quick 'click' on the links provided.  It is a smooth system, and is also made available online through the district website.  Please take a look!

Mr. Ueberroth requested that meeting minutes be removed from the Consent Agenda as he had not been able to attend several meetings.  This was done, and then the agenda was passed as revised.  The Hearing of the Public was next, and no one indicated a desire to address the Board.

Items on the consent agenda were then passed, including  reports of the Treasurer, one Now and Then Purchase Order to cover an invoice from the NwOESC for Special Ed costs, and also the Personnel items from the Superintendent which were for the upcoming school year.

New business began with approval of the nine-page Permanent Appropriations for the 2010-11 school year, as required by law, which authorized the Treasurer to submit the amended certificate to the county auditor.  At this point, we then addressed the passage of the minutes for our July regular meeting and our August 3rd special meeting. 

Under the Superintendent's section for new business, we first learned that our district had been awarded a 21st Century grant with the NwOESC as the grant fiscal agent.  Mr. Rupp from the NwOESC (who had written on our behalf) was present to explain a few details of the process, and gave us each a brochure that spoke of the enrichment programs we will be able to provide to our kids before and after school, for those interested.  In conjunction with this, we will also provide a latch-key program for parents who desire that service.  The grant money is for the next five years, and totals $625,812.00.  Neighboring districts who have also participated in the 21st Century grant program are Archbold, Edgerton, Evergreen, Fayette, Liberty Center, Stryker, and Wauseon, among others.  Our program has been named "the DAWG Pound", and will officially begin on October 5th. 

Steve Gfell, high school principal, then presented information on the High School Flex Credit program that is a response to Senate Bill 311, which mandates that districts adopt a policy allowing a credit flex program by the 2010-11 school year.  Mr. Gfell explained how a flex credit program might work for a student and mentioned how it could allow inclusion of home-schooled and virtual academy students, credit recovery students, and charter school kids as well as parochial students and others.  This program has great positive potential for our kids, and interested parents of high school students should contact Mr. Gfell at the high school for more details.

Paulette then shared that a scant two weeks ago, the district received a notification letter from the Ohio School Facilities Commission - Classroom Facilities Assistance Program (OSFC-CFAP) that stated our district must notify them by August 31 whether or not we wish to pursue moving forward with a new building.  This is a multi-faceted process, with a myriad of steps and hoops through which a district must jump, but this fast-approaching deadline required us to begin the process.  This does NOT bind us to anything - it is not a decision that we WILL build anything, only that we will investigate the issue according to OSFC-CFAP guidelines so that IF (and that's a big IF) the community decides that it wants a new building, then we will have access to funding through the OSFC.  Cheryl Swisher indicated that our funding share with the high school was slightly over 60%, and would likely be the same with any other building the community might decide to build.  If the district goes through this process and obtains significant community input that indicates a new building is warranted, the district would then need a bond issue on the ballot to pay for it.  There was some discussion on enrollment requirements, and our existing buildings. 

Most of you remember the statements made years ago, that we were going to get "two for one" when the new high school was built.  Obviously, those statements were false, whether by error or intent, and we did NOT get two buildings out of that one bond issue.  People have been understandably confused over this issue, although the high level of anticipation has waned as the years have passed.  It is imperative that residents of our district make their voices heard on this matter!  As the process of gathering community input moves forward, don't be shy about what - if anything - you want done.  This will be a time of speaking up or allowing silence to speak for you, so please do not squander this opportunity to make your voices heard.

Part one of the process is to obtain an architect, who will work with the district AND the community on questions of usage, and other related matters.  An announcement in local trade journals will be placed.

The Board approved an agreement with the Wood Co. Juvenile Detention Education Program.

A few changes to the student handbook were presented, and approved.

Kris Oberheim shared that she had attended the most recent Village Council meeting to discuss a joint committee for the Swanton Recreation Program.  She was encouraged by the interaction at that meeting. 

Mona Dyke spoke about the Ohio Improvement Process moving forward, with a presentation to all staff planned for Aug. 23rd.  Attention is already being given to the three main goals of the program, and with all of us working together this has great potential to improve our curriculum approach and, thus, the education of our kids. 

During the portion of time set aside for Board comments, Mr. Ueberroth declared that he wanted a motion for a particular teacher to have a SmartBoard in her classroom.   Some discussion followed, as you can never be quite certain when the man is trying to be "funny" or not.  I prefer not to write about the discussion here, as it would be quite difficult to do so in a completely neutral manner - not that I have never shared my opinion on things in this blog, but I just think it would be better for you to hear what was said by listening to the recording of our meeting, and form your own opinion.  In addition, I will put information on this blog from the Ohio School Board Association that relates to the discussion.

We then went into executive session for the purpose of the superintendent's evaluation.  Once that portion of our meeting was complete, we came out and adjourned.  It was 10 o'clock.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

How Facts Backfire

I ran across this editorial the other day - and the information it shares is sobering, especially to someone like me who has always firmly believed that people will usually do what is right if they know the facts of an issue.  That was (and remains) the basis for the existence of this blog - to share information with those interested in a manner easily understood, so that our residents could be informed as to what their elected school board members were doing with everyone's hard-earned tax dollars.

I may be wasting everyone's time.

Read this and see what you think.

posted originally at this site:  The Boston Globe

It’s one of the great assumptions underlying modern democracy that an informed citizenry is preferable to an uninformed one. “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1789. This notion, carried down through the years, underlies everything from humble political pamphlets to presidential debates to the very notion of a free press. Mankind may be crooked timber, as Kant put it, uniquely susceptible to ignorance and misinformation, but it’s an article of faith that knowledge is the best remedy. If people are furnished with the facts, they will be clearer thinkers and better citizens. If they are ignorant, facts will enlighten them. If they are mistaken, facts will set them straight.

In the end, truth will out. Won’t it?

Maybe not. Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite.

This bodes ill for a democracy, because most voters — the people making decisions about how the country runs — aren’t blank slates. They already have beliefs, and a set of facts lodged in their minds. The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false. And in the presence of the correct information, such people react very, very differently than the merely uninformed. Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper.

“The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong,” says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. The phenomenon — known as “backfire” — is “a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.”

These findings open a long-running argument about the political ignorance of American citizens to broader questions about the interplay between the nature of human intelligence and our democratic ideals. Most of us like to believe that our opinions have been formed over time by careful, rational consideration of facts and ideas, and that the decisions based on those opinions, therefore, have the ring of soundness and intelligence. In reality, we often base our opinions on our beliefs, which can have an uneasy relationship with facts. And rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions. Worst of all, they can lead us to uncritically accept bad information just because it reinforces our beliefs. This reinforcement makes us more confident we’re right, and even less likely to listen to any new information. And then we vote.

“The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong,” says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. The phenomenon — known as “backfire” — is “a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.”

This effect is only heightened by the information glut, which offers — alongside an unprecedented amount of good information — endless rumors, misinformation, and questionable variations on the truth. In other words, it’s never been easier for people to be wrong, and at the same time feel more certain that they’re right.

“Area Man Passionate Defender Of What He Imagines Constitution To Be,” read a recent Onion headline. Like the best satire, this nasty little gem elicits a laugh, which is then promptly muffled by the queasy feeling of recognition. The last five decades of political science have definitively established that most modern-day Americans lack even a basic understanding of how their country works. In 1996, Princeton University’s Larry M. Bartels argued, “the political ignorance of the American voter is one of the best documented data in political science.”

On its own, this might not be a problem: People ignorant of the facts could simply choose not to vote. But instead, it appears that misinformed people often have some of the strongest political opinions. A striking recent example was a study done in the year 2000, led by James Kuklinski of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He led an influential experiment in which more than 1,000 Illinois residents were asked questions about welfare — the percentage of the federal budget spent on welfare, the number of people enrolled in the program, the percentage of enrollees who are black, and the average payout. More than half indicated that they were confident that their answers were correct — but in fact only 3 percent of the people got more than half of the questions right. Perhaps more disturbingly, the ones who were the most confident they were right were by and large the ones who knew the least about the topic. (Most of these participants expressed views that suggested a strong antiwelfare bias.)

Kuklinski calls this sort of response the “I know I’m right” syndrome, and considers it a “potentially formidable problem” in a democratic system. “It implies not only that most people will resist correcting their factual beliefs,” he wrote, “but also that the very people who most need to correct them will be least likely to do so.”

Studies by other researchers have observed similar phenomena when addressing education, health care reform, immigration, affirmative action, gun control, and other issues that tend to attract strong partisan opinion. Kuklinski calls this sort of response the “I know I’m right” syndrome, and considers it a “potentially formidable problem” in a democratic system. “It implies not only that most people will resist correcting their factual beliefs,” he wrote, “but also that the very people who most need to correct them will be least likely to do so.”

What’s going on? How can we have things so wrong, and be so sure that we’re right? Part of the answer lies in the way our brains are wired. Generally, people tend to seek consistency. There is a substantial body of psychological research showing that people tend to interpret information with an eye toward reinforcing their preexisting views. If we believe something about the world, we are more likely to passively accept as truth any information that confirms our beliefs, and actively dismiss information that doesn’t. This is known as “motivated reasoning.” Whether or not the consistent information is accurate, we might accept it as fact, as confirmation of our beliefs. This makes us more confident in said beliefs, and even less likely to entertain facts that contradict them.

New research, published in the journal Political Behavior last month, suggests that once those facts — or “facts” — are internalized, they are very difficult to budge. In 2005, amid the strident calls for better media fact-checking in the wake of the Iraq war, Michigan’s Nyhan and a colleague devised an experiment in which participants were given mock news stories, each of which contained a provably false, though nonetheless widespread, claim made by a political figure: that there were WMDs found in Iraq (there weren’t), that the Bush tax cuts increased government revenues (revenues actually fell), and that the Bush administration imposed a total ban on stem cell research (only certain federal funding was restricted). Nyhan inserted a clear, direct correction after each piece of misinformation, and then measured the study participants to see if the correction took.

For the most part, it didn’t. The participants who self-identified as conservative believed the misinformation on WMD and taxes even more strongly after being given the correction. With those two issues, the more strongly the participant cared about the topic — a factor known as salience — the stronger the backfire. The effect was slightly different on self-identified liberals: When they read corrected stories about stem cells, the corrections didn’t backfire, but the readers did still ignore the inconvenient fact that the Bush administration’s restrictions weren’t total.

It’s unclear what is driving the behavior — it could range from simple defensiveness, to people working harder to defend their initial beliefs — but as Nyhan dryly put it, “It’s hard to be optimistic about the effectiveness of fact-checking.”

It would be reassuring to think that political scientists and psychologists have come up with a way to counter this problem, but that would be getting ahead of ourselves. The persistence of political misperceptions remains a young field of inquiry. “It’s very much up in the air,” says Nyhan.

It would be reassuring to think that political scientists and psychologists have come up with a way to counter this problem, but that would be getting ahead of ourselves. The persistence of political misperceptions remains a young field of inquiry.

But researchers are working on it. One avenue may involve self-esteem. Nyhan worked on one study in which he showed that people who were given a self-affirmation exercise were more likely to consider new information than people who had not. In other words, if you feel good about yourself, you’ll listen — and if you feel insecure or threatened, you won’t. This would also explain why demagogues benefit from keeping people agitated. The more threatened people feel, the less likely they are to listen to dissenting opinions, and the more easily controlled they are.(we certainly have our share of demagogues in the Swanton community, unfortunately)

There are also some cases where directness works. Kuklinski’s welfare study suggested that people will actually update their beliefs if you hit them “between the eyes” with bluntly presented, objective facts that contradict their preconceived ideas. He asked one group of participants what percentage of its budget they believed the federal government spent on welfare, and what percentage they believed the government should spend. Another group was given the same questions, but the second group was immediately told the correct percentage the government spends on welfare (1 percent). They were then asked, with that in mind, what the government should spend. Regardless of how wrong they had been before receiving the information, the second group indeed adjusted their answer to reflect the correct fact.

Kuklinski’s study, however, involved people getting information directly from researchers in a highly interactive way. When Nyhan attempted to deliver the correction in a more real-world fashion, via a news article, it backfired. Even if people do accept the new information, it might not stick over the long term, or it may just have no effect on their opinions. In 2007 John Sides of George Washington University and Jack Citrin of the University of California at Berkeley studied whether providing misled people with correct information about the proportion of immigrants in the US population would affect their views on immigration. It did not.

In an ideal world, citizens would be able to maintain constant vigilance, monitoring both the information they receive and the way their brains are processing it. But keeping atop the news takes time and effort.

And if you harbor the notion — popular on both sides of the aisle — that the solution is more education and a higher level of political sophistication in voters overall, well, that’s a start, but not the solution. A 2006 study by Charles Taber and Milton Lodge at Stony Brook University showed that politically sophisticated thinkers were even less open to new information than less sophisticated types. These people may be factually right about 90 percent of things, but their confidence makes it nearly impossible to correct the 10 percent on which they’re totally wrong. Taber and Lodge found this alarming, because engaged, sophisticated thinkers are “the very folks on whom democratic theory relies most heavily.”

In an ideal world, citizens would be able to maintain constant vigilance, monitoring both the information they receive and the way their brains are processing it. But keeping atop the news takes time and effort. And relentless self-questioning, as centuries of philosophers have shown, can be exhausting. Our brains are designed to create cognitive shortcuts — inference, intuition, and so forth — to avoid precisely that sort of discomfort while coping with the rush of information we receive on a daily basis. Without those shortcuts, few things would ever get done. Unfortunately, with them, we’re easily suckered by political falsehoods.

Nyhan ultimately recommends a supply-side approach. Instead of focusing on citizens and consumers of misinformation, he suggests looking at the sources. If you increase the “reputational costs” of peddling bad info, he suggests, you might discourage people from doing it so often. “So if you go on ‘Meet the Press’ and you get hammered for saying something misleading,” he says, “you’d think twice before you go and do it again.”

Unfortunately, this shame-based solution may be as implausible as it is sensible. Fast-talking political pundits have ascended to the realm of highly lucrative popular entertainment, while professional fact-checking operations languish in the dungeons of wonkery. Getting a politician or pundit to argue straight-faced that George W. Bush ordered 9/11, or that Barack Obama is the culmination of a five-decade plot by the government of Kenya to destroy the United States — that’s easy. Getting him to register shame? That isn’t.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Local Boy Makes Good

If you get the Swanton Enterprise, you already know the outcome of our special board meeting last night where we voted unanimously to accept the resignation of Ben Ohlemacher as Middle School principal and head football coach, and hired Ted Haselman as our new Middle School principal. 

If you are among those who do not get the Enterprise, you still know the news!

Mr. Haselman grew up in Swanton, and built a new house here a few years ago.  His children are in the Swanton school system.  He had been employed in the Perrysburg school district and now will be bringing his experience and talents to the Swanton Middle School. 

At last night's special meeting, we also hired an interim head football coach (Shawn Kinnee) and a part-time fiscal secretary (Brooke Butler). 

Some shuffling of teachers' positions at the Middle School was done a bit earlier, and we're now ready for a new school year!

Monday, August 2, 2010

July Board Mtg

On the third Tuesday evening in July, the Swanton Board of Education met for our regular meeting.  Only 4 board members were in attendance, as Mr. Ueberroth was again unable to be there.

After the routine matters of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, observing a moment of silence, and adopting the  revised agenda, we heard from BettyJo Sadowski on the Middle School yearbook, and also from the 8th grade team on the Tikatok Project.  We had one member of the public who addressed the Board, and then we went into Executive Session to discuss employee employment.

Upon our return, the items included in the Consent Agenda were passed.  These items included minutes of our past meetings in June, various reports from the Treasurer, and personnel recommendations from the Superintendent.

New business items included a discussion on a proposed panel of 5 residents from our district with aptitude in finance, who are willing to serve in an advisory capacity to the Board.  Other districts have used similar ideas and found that such a panel can be a great liaison to the community as well.  No vote was taken on this matter.  The proposed name for then group is: Financial Activities Communication Team (FACT).  I like it!

The contractural agreements with Chartwell's (our food service vendor) and Stapleton Insurance  for 2010-11 were accepted as presented.

New business under the Superintendent section included agreements with the Northwest Ohio Computer Association (NWOCA) and the NW Ohio Juvenile Detention Center.  Both items passed unanimously. 

A few minor changes to the job description for Prom Advisor were accepted as presented.  Boy, how times have changed since my high school days, back in the Dark Ages.  We never had a "prom advisor" - our Student Council worked on the details and got them approved through the proper channels without needing to have a contractural agreement with the union.  That was over 30 years ago - guess things are done differently now!

A job description for Class Advisors was also presented for our approval.  There was a short discussion on the matter - I asked when we last had these jobs filled?  The answer was back before the district went into fiscal caution and had to RIF the positions (among others).  The pay scale for these positions is 11% of the base salary.  The vote to accept the job descriptions and place people into the jobs was 4 to 1, as I voted "no" on this one.

Student Handbooks for the 2010-11 school year were presented and accepted as presented.

Delayed from our June meeting was a decision on the date for graduation in 2011.  At that meeting, Kris Oberheim shared some concerns she had been told by parents about the timing of this year's ceremonies.  Steve Gfell, high school principal, put out a survey to parents of 2010-11 seniors and asked their preference among a couple of options.  The clear favorite was Saturday, June 4th, which would allow us to avoid the Memorial Day weekend holiday.  We voted to approve Saturday, June 4th at 2 p.m. for graduation in 2011. 

Committee reports were next on the agenda.  On the subject of the Swanton Recreation program, Kris Oberheim stated that she had been in conversation with several community members about the possibility of creating another joint recreation program between the School District and the Village.  Kris is looking into all the ramifications of such a venture, and said she is scheduled on the agenda for the Village Council meeting in August.  There was some discussion on the matter, which you may hear on the recording provided on the school district website here.  (scroll down the page to the Podcast list for the July 20th meeting)

Mona Dyke reported on the strategic planning discussions with which she has been involved, and also spoke about the upcoming training on BoardDocs which is a software system designed to minimize paper and printing for meeting agendas and associated documentation.

The committee on drug testing is waiting for the survery results to be tablulated before we move forward.

The Board then went into Executive Session for the purpose of the Superintendent evaluation.  As the hour was late, we did not finish that evening and will need to do so at a later date.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Paws for the Cause

Just a quick note:  have any of you noticed the painted bulldog paws on the high school access road?  Principal Steve Gfell is leading the effort on this cool idea, and several folks have helped.  More paws to come - stay tuned!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Two for June

The school board had two meetings in June.  Our regular meeting was held June 15th, and a special meeting was held the next evening, on June 16th.  Rick Ueberroth was not in attendance at either meeting.

At our regular meeting, we had several guests in attendance but no one spoke during the "Hearing of the Public" portion.  Board President Mona Dyke presented Melinda Albring with a commendation for her EMIS Professional Award.

We went into executive session before any other official business that night, to discuss employee employment.  Upon our return, all items in the consent agenda were passed with the exception of two things that the board had only received that evening and wanted more time to review before taking a vote.  These were the final appropriations for fiscal year 09/10 and the temporary appropriations for 10/11, required by law.

Under the recommendations of the treasurer, the board voted to keep student fees and cafe' charges at the same level as last year.  A job description for "Fiscal Secretary" was submitted for our consideration, but since we had only received it that evening, we decided to address it at the Wednesday meeting. 

The board approved agreements with the WGTE Educational Resource Center at the 'standard level' of fees for next school year.  We also approved the agreement with Healthcare Process Consulting, Inc. for next year as well as the maintenance agreement with SimplexGrinnell for the fire alarm systems at all buildings.

The board also approved a resolution for collaboration between the district, NWOESC and the Family First Council for a Family and Civic Engagement team in keeping with board policy.

A discussion on setting the graduation date for next year was held.  We talked about holding graduation on a Friday evening (like this year) versus on a Saturday afternoon, and the pros and cons of each option.  Kris Oberheim suggested taking a look at setting it on the weekend following Memorial Day weekend, and we decided to have the seniors' parents take a quick survey to learn their preference.  The survey taken for the 2010 graduation date had ended up being almost evenly divided between holding it on Friday night versus Saturday, because of the holiday.  Mr. Gfell will send out the survey by email, and we will make a decision at our July meeting on the matter.

A short discussion was held with principal Angie Lutz concerning Extended Day services proposed for before and after school care of children.  We have the space in our current buildings and would incur no additional cost for preparing them for use by such a program.  The board does not find it appropriate to have these services unless they are completely paid for by a grant or can be completely self-funded through fees collected.  If we can begin with at least a "break-even" financial situation, it could work.  Mrs. Lutz has visited similar operations in our area, and many are able to turn a tidy profit.  We will find out in July whether 21st Century grant money will be available to us for this purpose, and will decide whether to move forward at that time.

Next, we talked about whether or not to bring back class advisors in the high school.  Currently, we have a Student Council Advisor, but the district has not had class advisors for many years.  These positions are outlined in the SEA contract and include a 4% supplemental salary to those who hold the positions.  It was presented as a positive method with which to raise morale and school spirit, should we implement them.  The board decided that a more detailed list of job responsibilities should be prepared by high school administration with the SEA for our July meeting, so that all are on the same page and level of understanding of exactly what these advisors would be expected to do.

Committee reports were given on strategic planning, Board Docs, and random drug testing for extracurricular activity participants. 

Superintendent Paulette Baz told everyone that the problem at the new track continues - there is water leaking underneath and causing the problem, but we haven't been able to discover where the water is coming from.  We won't repair the track until the underlying issue can be determined and addressed first.

This meeting adjourned around 9 o'clock.  

Our Wednesday night special meeting was called to discuss Mona's idea about forming a financial advisory committee, and we also addressed the two appropriation items that were moved from Tuesday night's  meeting.  We had only one guest that evening. (and she wasn't taking anybody's picture with her phone . . . )

In preparation for our discussion, other school districts were asked whether they had a community-based financial advisory group and a handful provided written material on the particulars of their group. 

In general, what we agreed was that this group would be a Superintendent's committee, made up of community members with financial aptitude and interest in working in an advisory capacity to the Board.  It would not be a decision-making unit, but would offer recommendations and suggestions on financial matters with impact on our district.  We wanted its members to be 5, and a few people have already expressed an interest in participating.  Contact will be made with them soon, to verify whether they remain interested.   

The team would also be advantageous in community support of things related to our school district.  Sometimes people get upset about things that they honestly just don't understand or have limited knowledge about.  This advisory team could help the community gain further knowledge about school finances, and that is always a good thing.

The final appropriations for 2009/10 were approved, as were the temporary appropriations for 2010/11.

The job description for a Fiscal Secretary was presented for our consideration.  Treasurer Cheryl Swisher explained in greater detail some of the scope of her vision for the position.  The board made a modification to the job description, to have it be a "4 to 8 hours per day" position and then gave our approval.  Cheryl asked permission to post the job, and a majority of members granted it (no formal vote was taken).

The board then went into executive session for the treasurer's evaluation.  When we returned, the board voted to grant the treasurer a 3% increase to her salary and added 5 vacation days, to bring her in line with other administrative positions of our district.

This special meeting ended shortly after 9 o'clock.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Thanks, Rick!

Many are aware that a beautification process for Swanton is being headed up by Rick Kazmierczak, and that part of it includes school grounds.

I was not able to help on June 5th when Phase I was implemented as I had family issues to deal with - but I hope you have time to take a drive by the high school to see what was done that morning (before the rain hit!).  Volunteers did a lot of work that day, and the results look great!

Phase II and III will come later - no doubt just as good as the first!  Many thanks to Rick Kaz for his vision and hard work in helping to bring this together, as well as to all the men and women who volunteered their time to make it happen. 

Thursday, May 27, 2010

May 2010 regular meeting

The regular meeting of the Board of Education was on Tuesday evening, May 25th.  As we have been digitally recording our meetings with equipment and software at the Board office, I didn't bother to bring my own, little recorder.  Unfortunately, I found out today that a problem had occured with the system and thus we only have 45 minutes of our entire meeting recorded.  Bummer!!  Not that our meetings are all that entertaining, really, but to help inform those who are interested in what's going on at the Board level.

This particular meeting was slightly different, in that we had asked Treasurer Cheryl Swisher to give a public update and explanation of the 5 yr. forecast before the Board that evening.  There are two versions required by the state, one is due Oct. 31st each year and the other is due May 31st.  We thought it would be a good idea for the May version to be explained to the public prior to our vote on its submission.

Cheryl spoke about a half hour on the forecast, with large screens that showed her spreadsheets.  She was very clear about how federal and state funding is less and less (the "bad news") while our property tax revenue is not nearly as low as originally predicted (the "good news").  As part of the summary at the end of her presentation, she reminded all present that we have very little control over what comes into the district - our revenue - and there is simply no clear path to predict what the state of Ohio is going to do for schools.  The only category over which we have any control is expenses, and many items in that category are also out of our control, such as gas and electricity prices, etc.  She reminded the crowd that fully 82% of our entire budget goes to salaries and benefits.  While the district is constantly looking for ways to save money here and there (such as purchasing through consortiums for lower costs, reducing building budgets where possible, etc.) the bottom line is that salaries and benefits are where we spend the lion's share of our money.

As President of the BOE, Mona Dyke presented several retiring teachers with our traditional purple marble apples and certificates of appreciation.  A presentation was made by Rob Upham on the desire to establish a travel soccer league in Swanton, separate from Swanton Rec. 

The board went into executive session to discuss a student concern, and following that we discussed items relative to negotiations. 

Based on my review of past history in our district, and reinforced by Cheryl's presentation, I suggested that certain numbers be revised in the 5 yr. forecast.  However, the vote on the 5 yr. forecast was to accept it as presented - I was the only "no" vote on that issue.

We amended our policy on graduation requirements to allow a student who is waiting for his/her scores on a second OGT test to process across the stage.  We have had a case in the past where former policy did not allow a student to do so, and when the re-score arrived it was shown that the test had been passed - which meant the student missed out on walking across the graduation stage because the state was tardy with providing pertinent information.  No other change was made to the policy (#5460).  

All items on the Consent Agenda were passed as presented.  We also talked about Mona's idea of creating a financial advisory committee, made up of community members with an interest and affinity for finance to look over our books with the Treasurer and advise the Board of their recommendations for our district.  A special meeting was set for June 16th to talk details of this proposed committee, such as suggested members, clarify its role, etc.

The tentative agreement with our secretaries' union (SSSA) was approved unanimously.  It is a 2-year contract that grants a 3% raise in year one and a 2.5% raise in year two.  Plus, it gets this union off the same timeframe as the teachers' union, which should be better for everybody.

One thing discussed under New Business was the Ohio Improvement Process, which I have talked about in an earlier blog posting.  The Superintendent asked that the Board approve the goals established by the leadership team, which we did. 

There was no report given on Swanton Rec, as the meeting was cancelled because its Director was unable to attend.  A report on Parents Club was given by Kris Oberheim and Cheryl Swisher.  Purchases for the elementary buildings were decided upon by the Club. 

Mona is moving forward with looking at everything involved with the Ohio School Facilities Commission, who will soon be telling our district when it is our "turn" for state money to build a new - something.  Deciding exactly "what" is part of the process she is investigating.  A walk through the 3 older buildings will be set in June, and we would like community members to also be involved.  If you have an interest in this, please contact the Superintendent so that you may also participate in the walk-through of any and all buildings you wish. 

I am a card-carrying member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and thus I am VERY interested in the original, 1904 building.  I have a big problem with the state criteria that insists their money only comes if old buildings are demolished.  There are, in fact, other options - and I will be contacting our local history groups and genealogical society members to get them involved in saving our community's historical heritage embodied in that building. 

A short report on "Board Docs" was given - this is the system whereby the board could go paperless instead of needing to print off 80 to 120 pages per person each meeting. 

I gave a quick update on the committee that is handling our district's drug policy.  In cooperation with the SACC, a survey is being given to kids in grades 8 to 11 this week.  Data obtained from that survey will be used to help us consider our strategy.  Parent meetings will be scheduled, and Great Lakes Biomedical was chosen as the vendor to help us with random drug testing of kids involved in extra-curricular activities.  We are also looking into other areas where random testing might be appropriate, and will discuss those ideas with parents at those meetings.  Community involvement is crucial in protecting our kids from the evil of substance abuse. 

The meeting adjourned at 9:50 p.m. - wow!   Out before ten o'clock!! 

Thursday, May 20, 2010


If you have been reading this blog for very long, you might notice that I often do not refer to other people directly by name.  Actually, that is my normal method - it is rare that I name someone within my writings.

That is because I want anyone happening to read this to know that I am commenting on an action or statement, and not on the person

I am perfectly comfortable agreeing or disagreeing with another person's actions or words - I can like a person and have absolutely no agreement with him or her on an issue. Conversely, it has also happened that I found myself agreeing with someone on an issue who would never be found in my circle of friends.

I realize that some folks operate on the "hate who I hate, or I'll hate you, too!" method - but I do not. That has angered some folks, but that is how I choose to do business. If that puts me in the minority, then so be it.

So if you read something here and think you recognize who I'm referencing, that is from your own sleuthing and not from me naming them or picking on an individual - unless there is good reason to do so.  That - as I said before - is rare.

Recently someone said they had been told, "well - looks like you're 'safe' this time!" in a conversation about this blog.  But I had not mentioned ANYONE's name.  Matter of fact, I haven't done that for several months now. . . 

Anyway, it is a deliberate choice on my part on when to name someone, and it is also a deliberate choice when NOT to name someone.   I hope that helps to clear up any misunderstanding out there!

After the vote . . .

A friend brought to my attention that I really hadn't stated on this blog that, once a vote is taken by the Board of Education members on an item, that vote stands and must be followed by everyone district-wide - even those board members whose personal vote might not have been one of the majority cast.

So to use myself as an example, if I vote differently than the majority of the BOE, I must still follow the final vote - whatever it is. 

Majority rules on the BOE, just like most everywhere else.

Ohio Improvement Process

I was privileged to be in attendance at a couple of our district's meetings for the Ohio Improvement Process, held in Archbold. 

Our district had each building principal and several teachers from each building as well as the Superintendent involved in this process.  They used hard data obtained directly from our own district to identify where we do well and where we need to work harder.  Once this data was analyzed, teams were made to come up with strategies and an action plan to address the areas needing improvement.

This was a GREAT process.  Administration and teaching staff worked together toward a common goal.  All were able to see the data together and reason together on how best to address it. 

There was a group to focus on reading, another for math skills, and also a group for, what could be called, PR for the district, where perceptions of our district need to be improved in our buildings and community.

Having these thoughtful, talented individuals working together for the kids in our district was downright awesome.  THIS is how it's supposed to work!!

The next step in the process is for these teams to take back their findings to the buildings and engage the rest of the staff in the plans forged by their peers.  With everyone working together on the plan, we should be able to truly do a great job in educating our kids. 

I am excited!!

A comment was made to me that some of the items discussed will cost money - and my response was that THIS is the type of thing where we SHOULD be putting our district funds:  educating our kids!

I wish I could put every detail of the process on the blog so that all of you could appreciate what has happened, but that's just not possible.  However, if you'd like more information please feel free to give a call to the Superintendent or a building principal to ask them about it.  They can also give you the names of the teachers who were involved, so that you can talk with them if you want.  I really think you'll be pleased with what they have to share with you.

I don't mean to give the impression that it's all "hearts and flowers" - some serious thought and effort went into the decisions made by the groups.  And implementing their strategies will take time and effort as well.  But the result will be that our kids will read better and also do better at math - and everyone can rejoice in that!