Saturday, July 23, 2011

Hot Time in the Summer

As mentioned in an earlier post, we are currently in contract negotiations with the bus drivers' union (OAPSE) and the teachers' union (SEA). All hope to have things settled and in place before the beginning of the new school year.

Our regular July meeting began with the usual formalities, and we also included mention during our moment of silence for the family of senior student Justin Herzig who had been killed in a terrible accident.

We then moved on to Board Commendations, and thanked former-Park Elementary principal Jane Myers for her 15 years with our district. Mrs. Myers has taken a job with another district.

Next, Mr. Steve Pereus gave a short presentation on Enlit (pronounced: "enlight"). He was able to share a lot of information and also provided handouts to each board member.

Kathy LaSota from the Ohio School Board Assoc. then gave a presentation on the strategic plan process through OSBA. We were very interested in all that was involved through OSBA, as their pricing seemed high (in this tight economy). Ms. LaSota gave a thorough presentation and answered several questions from board members. In the end, we agreed to move forward with OSBA to prepare and implement a strategic plan for our district. If we fail to plan - we ultimately plan to fail, which is NOT what we want! This process will greatly assist the district in our move to Excellence.

During the Hearing of the Public, a statement in favor of the library tax was read aloud.

Reports and other items from the Treasurer were approved as presented. In addition, Treasurer Cheryl Swisher presented a proposed policy on student fees, fines and charges that would incorporate use of a collection agency for delinquent payments or bounced checks. The policy was approved as presented. No collection agency has been chosen yet as the treasurer is still in the process of checking references.

The Athletic Budget was presented, and it showed a reduction from last month of $30,000. This was accepted by the Board.

At our last meeting, the treasurer had been asked to check into the fees charged by other schools in our area to see where Swanton stood. She sent out a request for information to all districts in Ohio, and received 41 responses. Her report to the Board included graphs showing the fee level of each responding district in relation to our fees. We appear to be pretty much in the middle, with several other schools showing a lower fee schedule and some that are significantly higher. During our discussion on the subject, board president Rick Ueberroth questioned whether we should be charging anything. I said we could maybe look at an adjustment if we thought it was warranted - it didn't need to be all or nothing, necessarily. Further discussion ensued - at one point, board president Rick Ueberroth deliberately misquoted what I had just said . . . *sigh*  I did not comment. After considering all angles of the situation, the Board decided to keep fees where they are. We already have mechanisms in place to assist those who are in financial straits and that will continue as well.

A new draft of our 5 year forecast was prepared because of the new state funding formula information that was obtained recently. The draft was prepared for our information only, and did not require board approval.

The Swanton School District is the funding agent of the Swanton Library, and as such is required to place items on the ballot on behalf of the library - even though we don't "touch" any of the library money. At our meeting, the library asked for a five-year, 1.0 mill levy to be placed on the ballot for current expenses. The Board approved this request. You will see it on the ballot in November, but just remember that it is a levy for the Swanton Library only, and not for anything directly related to the school district.

We entered into executive session at that point to discuss employee employment and negotiations. Upon our return to open meeting, we moved into the Superintendent's portion.

All personnel recommendations were approved, including Dean of Students Doug Westrick at the middle school and a new Athletic Director, as Mr. Zieroff has taken a position with another district. Wade Haselman is our new AD. We're looking forward to a great start!

Other recommendations of the superintendent were also approved as presented.

We were given copies of building handbooks, and board president Rick Ueberroth expressed his concern that the dress codes were not the same in all of our buildings. There was a lengthy discussion on the matter. Frankly, having had kids of my own in schools where uniforms were a requirement, I would rather that we do that in Swanton as well: it is far less expensive to have uniforms! Been there - done that!! I have proven the theory with personal experience. Plus, it helps with student attitudes and other things to have all of them wear uniforms. But I've been told by several people that a number of vocal parents have always shot down any suggestion of going to uniforms. Oh well!

We were awarded a grant for $5,964.26 from the Ohio EPA to retrofit 7 buses with pollution control technology. Thanks to Jason Divoll, our bus mechanic, who applied for this grant!

We then discussed the upcoming OSBA Capital Conference which is held each November in Columbus.

Reports from various committees were given. The Drug Testing Policy has had some suggested revisions from our attorney, and we decided to hold a special meeting on Aug. 9th to finalize some things. We'd like to get the policy in place soon, but only after we have dotted all of our " i's " and crossed all of our " t's ". Plus, our new AD Wade Haselman

Next we had a lengthy discussion about the proposed security camera systems for the 2 elementary schools. The cameras at the high school have been extremely helpful, but as everyone in attendance that night stated: the cameras there and those on our buses do not prevent bullying of one student by another. The quote from Guardian Alarm was for a 16-channel DVR unit and 8 cameras, plus other related hardware at a cost of $3,995.00 for each school, plus an annual fee of $700 for maintenance (again, at each school).

We have experience with the cameras at the high school, and it was noted that a camera at the end of a hallway can't capture sufficient detail of action at the opposite end. The proposal was for cameras at Park and Crestwood with 1 at each front door, 1 at each playground, and the balance inside the hallways. Board member Michelle Tyson stated her opinion that the cameras would be for the safety and security of our students and that certainly the well being of even one child was worth the expense.

I should mention here for those who don't know that NO camera would be placed in any restroom areas, which happens to be the spot where a couple of kids have been hurt. In addition, none of the cameras would move - their field of view would be limited to one angle only. Anything outside of that view would not be captured, whether inside or outside of the building.

Anyway, after much discussion of the pros and cons of the proposed system, it was approved by a majority of the board. I voted "no", based on the statements of our principals and other staff.

We then talked about how best to use those gift cards obtained through points earned on our district Visa card. It was determined that each principal could best decide how to use the cards for staff or students within their own building - e.g., gas card for kids at the high school as an incentive or Subway cards for elementary kids, etc. A fair distribution would be made among the buildings of the gift cards, and each principal would determine how to reward teachers and students with their cards.

And THEN the meeting took a sad turn . . .

At the regular May meeting, board president Rick Ueberroth had passed out OSBA nomination forms to those present (not me - I wasn't there that night) and asked that board members consider serving on a state committee. That is what is on the recording for that night and what is recorded in the written minutes of the meeting.

So at our July meeting, we were presented with an OSBA committee nomination form prepared by Michelle Tyson which nominated herself. (this was done at the direction of the board president) I did not take part in the discussion. Others noted that parts of the form's completion were in error. We also learned that the form had already been submitted. (?!)  When it was time to vote, I voted "no" because I could not, in good conscience, approve a nomination form where the "nominee's areas of expertise" listed "public relations and law" from a person with no experience in either. The majority of the board approved the nomination.

Next the board was presented with an OSBA nomination form for Outstanding Board Member. Again at the direction of board president Rick Ueberroth, Michelle Tyson had completed a nomination form for herself. Again, others noted that some sections of the form were in error. This particular nomination was a sticky wicket in that board discussion was to take place prior to the nomination being made, and the board president had already signed the statement on the back that declared the Board had approved the nomination on June 28th - AND the form had already been submitted to the OSBA!!

Oh wait - it gets worse.

More discussion followed - again, I did not say anything. Personally I was angry with our board president for what appeared to be putting an inexperienced board member on the spot. We get publications from the OSBA that include paragraphs about others who have been nominated for Outstanding Board Member, and the things accomplished by these folks are truly outstanding. You read them and wonder how they had time to sleep and eat, for all that they do in their districts.

Anyway, several times it was mentioned that Michelle is a good board member but just hadn't done anything (yet) that would qualify as "outstanding". Board president Rick Ueberroth stated several times that this would be a positive mark for Swanton, yada yada. At no time did he or Michelle declare exactly "what" she had done that was "outstanding". Over and over it was stated that no disrespect was meant toward Shelley - that she was doing a good job - but that you really should have something "outstanding" under your belt to submit this nomination.

The nomination went nowhere.

Next on the agenda we voted 5-0 to go into executive session. As we gathered up our stuff, Michelle walked out the front door. The rest of us looked at each other - then Kris Oberheim went after her. She returned empty handed - Shelley had not responded to her calls, and had driven away. Kris, Mona and myself went back into the conference room to wait for our board president to wheel himself back to join us.

Time passed. Next thing we hear is that HE had left! So, here we were - our meeting was still in session - and two of our members had left the premises. Well, with 3 board members in attendance, we still had a quorum and so we continued the board meeting.

We also decided to call a special meeting for Friday morning at 7:30 a.m. to discuss employee employment (which was the purpose of the executive session that all 5 of us had just voted to enter), and kept our fingers crossed that all 5 members would attend. Our meeting adjourned that night at just before midnight.


Late the next day, email came from our board president that castigated us 3 for our actions, as though WE were the ones that had done something improper! You wanna talk about ticked?! I was hot, and I replied to his email with one of my own.  I tried to be polite.

At our Friday morning meeting, all 5 board members were in attendance for the entire meeting. Michelle Tyson read a prepared statement (it will be on the podcast, so you can hear it for yourself if you're so inclined) in which she said, among other things (including a charge that she had "been attacked" at the last meeting, which made me wonder what she heard that no one else heard), that she "deserved" this (Outstanding Board Member) nomination because she WAS an outstanding board member and she was an outstanding person, etc. etc.

At this point I still believed that her inexperience was the problem and that the man who should have been her mentor was not helping her at all. Later I learned that she was making a Public Record Request for emails between me and another board member with the idea that a Sunshine Law violation had maybe occurred. I said, "no problem - she can pull all she wants - no violation has ever taken place". And it hasn't. But she's more than welcome to read as much of my stuff as she likes. 

I have said it before: I think Michelle has good intentions, and she tries to be a good board member. Whoever our district elects to replace Mona and myself on this school board should be aware of what lies in store.

June 2011

I keep writing these blog entries about what happens at our school board meetings even though many people are using the podcast option to listen in for themselves.  For one thing, this blog includes my personal opinion and is not solely a reporting device - plus, not everyone is going to want to listen to an entire board meeting that runs several hours.   So I'll keep plugging away.

We started the June meeting earlier than usual as we held an executive session on the Superintendent's Evaluation right off the bat.  The balance of our regular meeting then began at 6:30 p.m. and it was a good thing we got an early start as we didn't get out of there until 11 p.m.

After handling routine treasurer business, like approving past meeting minutes and various financial reports etc., one item brought before us was a proposed contract with a company called "Enlit" - pronounced "enlight".  Their services are described on their website.  Here are a few descriptive sentences taken from the site:

   Enlit is a web-based district evaluation system that leverages the power of measurement, analysis, benchmarking and scorecards. 
  Enlit users do not require new hardware, data bases, or staff.   Within one hour of gaining access to your personal web site, you will see and  understand strengths, weaknesses, and a full range of improvement and cost saving opportunities.
 Enlit has helped discover cost savings in the range of $200 – $675/student in administration and operations and well over that in education. Our Lean based approach has helped districts find department savings in the range of 8% – 30%, unwind complex technology issues, and streamline operations.

The idea is to check all systems within the district to see where we may be able to work smarter instead of harder, and possibly save some money in the process.  The Board voted to accept a contract for their services and also included a request that a representative give a presentation at our next board meeting. 

The Athletic Budget was presented, but we asked that it be tabled until our next meeting to give the Athletic Director more time to see where we might cut some costs while not sacrificing quality in our sports programs.

We also discussed the fact that our district currently does not use a collection agency for past due payments - some of which are a couple of years old!  The treasurer was asked to investigate collection agencies to see how we might remedy the situation.

We went into executive session at 7:30 to discuss employee employment, and returned to open meeting at 7:58 - a quick one!  (although someone reading the minutes of that meeting might notice that board president Dick Ueberroth voted "no" to enter into executive session, he was just trying to be funny. . . )

Other agreements and contracts were also approved, as was a trip to Washington, D.C. for the 8th graders next year.  Fund-raising options will be made available to the students so that their out-of-pocket expense may be minimized.

Several reports were given: 
  • TimWalborn reported on the water issues at Crestwood
  • Rec baseball/softball had a Home Run Derby and McNeill Chevrolet/Buick presented a check to the Swanton Rec Program.
  • The need for a mission and vision statement was discussed.
  • The need for a district-wide strategic plan was discussed, and it was decided to invite Kathy LaSota from the Ohio School Board Assoc. to attend our next meeting to discuss their services.
  • The proposed drug testing policy was tabled to the next meeting.
We were given information on a security camera proposal for the 2 elementary schools to look over and be prepared to discuss at our next meeting.  Board member Michelle Tyson is pushing for security cameras for the purpose of preventing bullying on school property, which is a noble cause.

The district uses a Visa card which grants us "points" that may be redeemed for various types of gift cards.  Currently we have 40+ cards in various denominations for places like Subway, an office supply store, and a couple of gas stations.  We want to make the best use of this program for our staff and kids, and tabled discussion to our next meeting.

Another executive session was called at 8:45 p.m. (all 5 members voted "aye" this time . . . ) and we were out and adjourned our meeting at 10:54 p.m. 

Like I said before:  sure was glad we started early that evening!