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!

20/20 Hindsight

Swanton school boards of years past were unwilling to make difficult financial decisions. By their refusal to do what was right, our district kept spending more money than was being brought in, and we ended up in "fiscal caution".

An old saying states that "hindsight is always 20/20". Another old saying warns that those who refuse to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. Let's apply both of those statements to our school district, shall we?

The immediate prior board stood at a crossroad when negotiations were held with the SEA a couple years ago. It was unpleasant for both sides of the table - but the nastiness came from the SEA. No doubt that statement will annoy or anger some, and not each individual member was in that category, but the organization as a whole and its leadership at that time were downright nasty. Plain and simple. For all of their rhetoric about things being "for the kids", the reality was that the SEA didn't give a flying pig about the kids. They cared only for their personal bottom line. That is why they used the "s" word: strike.

The board offer at that time was for a 2.5% raise to the base salary, upon which their steps increases would then be added. That wasn't good enough for the SEA. Even though our surrounding schools had similar (and accepted) offers at that level (and lower) - and had been in the "Excellent" category for a while on top of it - our SEA absolutely refused that offer. They demanded MORE or else they would strike. Period.

"For the kids" indeed.

That "s" word has been used in the past by the SEA - it was not a new tactic. But before, they hadn't felt much opposition as they did two years ago. But did that sway them? Not at all. They dug in their heels and forced the board to make preparations for keeping school open should the teachers actually walk out.

If only one more board member had determined to do what was right for our district, s/he would have voted "no" on that contract along with the other 2 votes (one of which was mine). One of the "yes" vote board members commented that "there are more important things than just money". Another "yes" vote person said that a strike was "the worse thing that could ever happen to a district".

The problem is, neither of these sentiments were shared by the SEA. If they had been, that lower offer of 2.5% would have been accepted.

When I look at a decision before us, I not only look at the immediate result but also what the future result will be. It's a similar approach taken by those who are good parents: many decisions are made with an eye to the future, and not just the here and now. It is a lousy parent who lets Junior effectively rescind a "no" by giving in to his whining. The whining might end for the immediate moment - but that parent has just taught Junior that whining will win him a "yes" the next time. So guess what Junior will do??

It is no different with the SEA. If their demands had been reasonable, I would have had no problem saying "yes". But when their demands were UNreasonable, I had to say "no". And I did. But others lacking intestinal fortitude caved in, and thereby put our entire district at financial risk. They had refused to learn from the past mistakes of others, and instead repeated them. We could have saved the district around $800,000 each year with a 2.5% raise to the base, versus what was actually given (which was 3.7% the first year and 4.1%, the second year). That would have helped us to squeak by the following, lean years.

But that opportunity was tossed out with the "s" word used by the SEA. The result was deficit spending would begin again in our district, and the new board would need to make some very difficult decisions.

Well, with the most recent contract agreed to this year with the SEA, our deficit spending suddenly shot up. It now begins NEXT YEAR.

We have 3 new board members. I think one has a pretty good handle on how school finances go, but the others do not. I think they are willing to learn - but what will happen in the meantime?

If anyone out there reading this truly does not want our district to be back in "fiscal caution", I suggest you contact your board members and let them know! Be honest with them! Insist that they make these hard decisions as your elected representative!

And if you don't really care, then just do nothing and we'll be right back where we were before, only worse - because we will have also blown through an $8 million carryover as well.

It is up to YOU - the residents of Swanton School District. If you are silent, then you are just as guilty of the end result.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

April 2010 BOE Mtg

Our regularly scheduled school board meeting was held on April 27th.  All board members were present, along with the superintendent and treasurer.

Board President, Mona Dyke, passed out board commendations to the Middle School/High School Destination Imagination team, as well as to several of Mr. Kaufman's accounting students.  Band Director, Pam Kazmierczak, shared information on the high school band's trip to Washington, D.C. over spring break.  What a great trip they had!  Also, Mona shared a thank you note received from Parents' Club for help at the recently held school carnival (which was a huge success, netting over $17,000 profit!).

Mr. Ueberroth requested that the meeting minutes of March 30th be removed from the Consent Agenda, as he had not been able to attend that evening.  All other items of the Consent Agenda were passed, including items from the treasurer as well as the superintendent. 

During "New Business", treasurer Cheryl Swisher shared her most recent draft of the 5 yr. forecast.  This draft included the new administrators' contracts passed a few months ago as well as the 3% increase to the base for the teachers' contract.  Other items were also tweaked, as she attempted to forecast various revenue sources and expenses.  The Board will need to vote on this draft at our May meeting, as it needs to be filed with the state at the end of the month. 

A screen was in the room with the 5 yr. forecast draft displayed on it, but the numbers were a bit too small to see from across the room.  Property tax revenue was better than earlier forecasted, as Swanton schools only experienced a 3% decrease in collections, versus the projected 15-20% potential decrease.  The current draft forecast used actual amounts collected. 

House bill 66 (HB 66) at the state level was being phased out, and in 2010 is completely gone.  Close to $455,000 was subtracted from this revenue line. 

Some of you have probably noticed the result of our income tax levy reduction - down from 1.25% to 0.75% for collection.  It has been calculated that the current levy rate will collect approximately $1.4 million per year. 

A line for Unrestricted Grant money from the state and federal "stimulus" package also shows a reduction, projected at a loss of 6.5%.  This decrease in funding is currently not being replaced by the state in any other fashion.

A line item for "Other Revenue" shows a decrease of $33,267 in 2010. 

On the Expense side, salaries were calculated at a bare minimum from 2011-14, along with a 2% increase each year for steps payments (which teachers get by state law, regardless of whether any other raise is added to their base salaries).  While we have several retirements slated for fiscal year 2011, the draft uses these monies for replacements of current staff as well as adding some others.  In 2012, the draft shows $66,000 added for staffing and $33,000 in 2013.

Benefits were calculated using a 3-8% increase from 2011 to 2014 - however, unless so-called "Obamacare" is repealed, by 2013 all health benefits will be through the government and not through employers or the private sector. 

Purchased Services is being budgeted at an average annual increase of 6.22%.  We have saved some money here by reducing services through the ESC ($183,000) and joining the Ohio School Plan consortium for electric services.  Our attorney fees also have been reduced by switching to a local attorney in Toledo instead of using the Cincinnati guys and their expensive drive time.

All of that is to say that our 5 yr. draft forecast shows deficit spending of $410,909 in fiscal year 2011; deficit spending of over $2.3 million in 2012; and deficit spending of over $3.34 million in 2013.  By the year 2014, the entire carryover amount of over $8 MILLION dollars is GONE, and we are in the hole over $2 MILLION dollars.


How many of you still have jobs?  How many of you are on the verge of losing your homes?  How many of you received no raise in pay last year?  Many of you, I know - and all of us have had our expenses go up at the gas pump and grocery store and electric bill and heating bill . . .

All of these items on the 5 year forecast are done with YOUR MONEY, and mine.  Some of our teachers' money, too, of those who live in our district. 

Think about it.

One item in New Business from the Superintendent was to add back Department Chairs for grades K-5 (6) and grades 6-12 (4).  These are at 5% supplemental pay for the lower grade department chairs and at 11% for the others (by SEA contract language).  These positions had been eliminated back when the district was in "fiscal caution" before - and at the meeting, I said that it would be a terrible shame if we brought them back now - but only had to eliminate them again in a couple of years. . .

One of our board members has had a personal crusade for awnings at the two elementary schools, because some parents drop their kids off before the doors of the buildings are open and if it's raining, well, they get wet.  (no umbrellas, I guess . . . )  Anyway, the superintendent had done some pricing research, etc. on getting these awnings, and it's much more complicated than at first blush.  (If you want details, give Paulette a call.) One of the lowest cost estimates was around $21,000!!  To keep a handful of kids dry when they're dropped off early on a rainy day!!  

The Emperor has no clothes!!

But - our two elementary principals had other options to explore that wouldn't cost us much, if anything, and the kids would stay dry AND no teacher would need to be involved so it wouldn't interfere with their contracts.  Sounded like a win-win to me.

In addition, there are some parents who refuse to abide by the rules when dropping off or picking up their children by getting in the way of our buses!  Unbelievable - and unsafe!!  (And exactly what lessons do these parents think they are teaching their kids by these actions, I wonder?? )  So options for traffic patterns and parking at both elementary schools will be reviewed, to see what EVERYONE ELSE can do to help those little ones whose mommie or daddy refuse to do what they're supposed to do.  sheesh

Rick Kazmierczak has a Beautification Program set up for Swanton, and we are going to be involved with the area around the high school.  A work day of June 5th has been scheduled.  There were also a few things that will be completed in time for commencement this year (on May 28th).  It's a great idea, and should be a super way for all of us to pitch in together for a common cause.  I'm looking forward to it!

Phase 2 of the "Race to the Top" federal grant program is now in full swing, and the superintendent asked the Board to approve participation.  I spoke just briefly against it, before the vote was taken (I was the only "no" vote - chances are whenever there is a "no" vote, it is mine).  While I applaud all efforts to do what we can to work together with the SEA on projects, and while I would love for our district to have the money, I do NOT love the federal strings attached to this.  There has never been a federal program that improved anything.  Never.  And I prefer to keep federal fingers out of our school district whenever we can.  There may come a time when we are forced to participate - the feds carry a big stick - but we'll deal with that when the time comes.  For right now, we will not be participating in Phase 2 - not because of the BOE, but because the SEA has declined to participate unless their additional Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is approved.  This is the same MOU that our attorney advised against before.  So no Phase 2 for Swanton School District.

There were several committee reports given, including Swanton Recreation, Parents Club, Strategic Planning, the Ohio Improvement Process (OIP), and random drug testing for all extra-curricular participants. 

We also talked a bit about the request to look at laptops for Board member packets.  Apparently the district already owns several laptops so no purchase would need to be made.  Further information will be forthcoming on this issue.

Our next regular board meeting is scheduled for May 25th. 

We had an executive session at the very end of the evening.  No vote or action was taken during executive session (other than me eating that orange bread and some pretzels).