Saturday, August 25, 2012

Fresh Start

The 2012-13 school year has begun!  The first classes have been held - the first football game - the first kindergarten class has survived separation anxiety - our local Swanton Enterprise had a great photo on the front page of the newest additions to the teaching staff, as well as the coaching staff on the inside page - a new bus was purchased, and the emergency levy was renewed at the Aug. 7th special election.  A 2-year contract with our secretaries' union was ratified smoothly . . .

Looks like we're off and running!

Although the school board has met regularly each month, you can't tell from the podcast list on the district website, which only goes up to May 15, 2012.  Were no further meetings recorded after that date??  Shame on me for not physically being in attendance - I counted on being able to know what was discussed at school board meetings by listening to the digital recordings, which is mighty hard to do if they don't exist.  

I don't know about You, but if I have prior commitments on those nights that prevent me from being there, I don't want to rely on the Enterprise for information on what transpired - especially since they don't always send a reporter to cover the meetings.  And waiting for the Bulldog Bulletin means getting most of the information long after the fact - not the best option, either.  I'm going to check with some board members to see what's going on with the recordings.

At the most recent board meeting, there was an acceptance of the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC)  "Classroom Facilities Assistance Program", as listed on the agenda for that evening.  Part of the resolution that was passed to accept this proposal involves recognition that "if the districts' electors fail to pass the local proposition with (13 months), the funds reserved for (our) project will be released."  That means if our district doesn't pass a new levy to help pay for a new building, the state will pull its share of the funding and give it to someone else. 

I assume there was some discussion of this at the board meeting on Aug. 14th, but without a digital recording, there is no way for those of us who weren't there to know what was said.  Was the amount needed mentioned?  Was there talk of what type of levy was being considered??  Inquiring minds want to know - especially those who own property and/or have a job whose tax dollars will pay for this.

Well, if you go to the district website and click several times to get to the "detailed agenda" which includes attachments, you'll find the document from the state that lists some particulars (see pgs. 2&3).  The scope of the project is to build a new K-6 building - demolish Crestwood, Park, and the "Cherry Street High School" (translation: the 1904 building).  The local "share" of this project appears to be around $8 million, after some "ELPP Expenditures" are credited.  A tidy sum.

For those of you who believe that these demolitions are a requirement of the state, please know that is not the case.  There were other avenues available that would have allowed one or more of the existing buildings to remain standing for other purposes, but the direction chosen was for demolition of all 3.   As a card-carrying member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, it is personally painful for me to acknowledge that the 1904 building is to be destroyed.  I can give you many examples of similar structures that have been saved, updated for current technology, and are being used (LEED platinum, too) in Ohio and Michigan - but here in Swanton our history is not near as important as something new and shiny.  (small wonder that our downtown is so lifeless . . . )  But that is a topic for another blog!  I'm sure those who made the decision believe they made the best choice possible, given all the parameters.  Now that the decision has been made, we should all do our best to rally behind it.

So let's start this new school year with enthusiasm and expectation that it will be a good one, for students, staff, and administration - and then go out, and MAKE it happen!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

One More Thing . . .

I neglected to mention in my earlier article that, although the authority and responsibility for these difficult decisions on reductions in force (RIFs) rests on the Board of Education, the decision was not made arbitrarily nor was it made in a vacuum.  

Over the past several weeks, meetings were held with the following groups of people:
  • Building principals
  • Transportation/Custodial Supervisors
  • Building Engineers
  • SEA Leadership
  • SSSA Leadership
  • Superintendent
  • Treasurer/CFO
Each of these groups gave their input which was carefully taken into consideration by the Board.  So as you can clearly see, the Board did their due diligence appropriately before making their decision. 

RIFs are not pleasant, but are sometimes necessary.  None of the cuts made are meant to reflect anything negative on the people currently holding these jobs. 

It was a hard decision, but our current school Board did what they were elected to do.  While we may mourn the cuts that had to be made, we should also be grateful that this group of men and women were willing to do the hard thing required of them. 

Deja Vu All Over Again

Last night was a very important meeting of your Swanton Board of Education.  To accommodate an expected larger crowd, the venue was changed to Park School, where the audience sat on a section of uncomfortable bleachers to listen to the BOE conduct business and a joint presentation on the district's financial situation by treasurer Joyce Kinsman and acting superintendent Les Schultz. 

A number of folks had indicated their desire to address the Board, and were allowed to do so early.  While board president Kris Oberheim reminded everyone of the time stipulations by reading the policy covering the issue, no one was cut short in their comments - even though more than one took more than their allotted 3 minutes.

The overriding theme of the comments, in my opinion, seemed to be:  "(we) understand the financial situation of the district, but DON'T CUT my (job), (favorite class), (department), etc. because it will hurt the kids." 

Hey - ya know what??  When a budget needs to be trimmed, whether it's a school district budget or a personal budget at home, everyone connected to that budget - including the kids - is affected.  That's how life works in the real world.  What's that old adage?  "Life ain't fair." 

I'm not sure if the meeting was recorded last night, so it is unclear whether a podcast will be forthcoming (especially since the meeting recordings are woefully behind on the district website).  But the information shared jointly by Ms. Kinsman and Mr. Schultz was solid and well presented.  Questions were allowed from the audience at various points, and several people were able to ask and receive answers. 

At issue were the proposed budget cuts being considered by the Board.  In case you don't get the Swanton Enterprise, the list of items being considered included the elimination of 2 teachers and 2 secretaries, with another teacher and library aide having their time reduced.  An elementary music position and industrial arts position were being considered for elimination, and the Spanish teacher position reduced to half-time. 

Other items on the list included strength and conditioning coach, department chairs, grade level chairs, the middle school annual and newspaper, elementary student council advisors and the Spanish Club and middle school quiz team advisors.  These are all "supplemental" positions, which pay a set percentage on top of the regular teachers' regular salaries of those who hold these positions.  

Several references were made by members of the audience to what Swanton "used to have", in regard to programs and teachers, etc.  No one waxed nostalgic over the debacle in 2002 when the district was placed into "fiscal caution" by the state of Ohio for poor financial management.  No one remembered the embarrassment and angst from back then, when virtually every resident of the district swore to "never let THAT happen again!"  No one mentioned the income tax levy that took several times at the ballot before it was passed - mostly because residents were angry that the money they had already been giving wasn't being handled properly and why would the response be to throw more money at the problem?  Only one person where I was sitting remembered the income tax collecting far more than anticipated - which is how we happen to have a positive balance in the bank right now to help carry us through these difficult financial times.  One perennially angry person made the ignorant statement that the board was trying to balance the budget on the "backs of the teachers."  Puh-leez

Mr. Schultz was forthright about the ever-increasing demands of the State for graduation requirements.  Where a high school diploma used to be had for 18 credits, it now requires 24 - and these items are in core subjects like math, science, reading/literature, etc. 

Repeatedly during the PowerPoint presentation, we were reminded that - if nothing changed, at our current rate of expenditure the district will be out of money by the 2014-15 fiscal year.  That isn't just a comment on deficit spending - it also reflects the loss over time of the carryover balance that is in the bank right now, as the district would continue to dip into that fund to make up for shortfalls each year. 

Clearly cutbacks in expenses must occur.  The only question to be decided is which particular items will be on the chopping block.  If the Board decides to cut this one, these people will be angry.  If the Board decides to cut that one, those people will be angry.  It's a "no win" situation, but no one runs for school board to be popular.  (Trust me.)

It was also emphasized that the renewal of the Emergency Levy must occur.  The audience was introduced to Anne Cook, who is the new levy chairman and who shared how the committee plans to address the August ballot.  (hmmm . . . maybe she can even convince our self-nominated "Outstanding Board Member" to actually VOTE this time, since that person didn't bother to vote when the levy was on the ballot this spring . . . )

When the Board left to go into executive session to hammer out the final details, my husband and I left.  Many others stayed to hear first-hand what decisions were made.  The Board had to decide last night what to cut, because the May filing deadline to the state of the updated 5-Year Forecast is upon them.  We said a prayer for wisdom for our 5 school board members.

And this morning, the results were the same as listed on the district website.  You can read it all here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

An Agreement Is Reached

Yes - you read the title correctly - yesterday's marathon session between the Swanton Board of Education negotiation team and the teachers' union (SEA) team did finally reach an agreement on the contract.  I'm not sure when the SEA team will present the contract's particulars to its membership, but once that happens and the Temporary Agreement (TA) is ratified by them, it will then go to the full school board for a vote.  Will there be a special meeting held to do this?  Not sure - but at the very latest, the school board should have it before them at their regular April meeting.

I believe a huge "thank you" belongs to those teachers who were willing to speak up to their SEA team "representatives" for what they felt was fair.  Had those brave souls remained silent, we might still be at impasse - with an implemented contract instead.  Thank You!!

Another huge "thank you" belongs to our community for learning the facts and standing firm in their resolve to not allow our board to offer what they cannot afford.  Thanks to You All!

To the people who did the negotiating for the school board, another huge "thank you" is in order.  Being held hostage by the SEA for almost a full year on this thing was not pleasant for anyone, and being able to finally say that it is DONE is a great relief to all involved.

As details of the TA are made public, I will share them here.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Cautiously Optimistic

A few teachers have asked a building administrator about their rights as SEA union members and how to best use those rights.  This is a huge first step in the right direction - I cannot emphasize that enough.  

Those of you out there in the SEA who may believe you are all alone in your desire to make things right in our district can take heart - you are NOT alone!  Stand firm on what is right and our entire district will benefit from your courage!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Challenge to the SEA

I have just seen the most recent propaganda piece by the SEA which has charged the Board of Education with breaking Ohio law in their implementation of the contract.  Specifically, the complaint (as listed in the flyer) states that a pay freeze on steps effective Sept. 1, 2011 was implemented.

Now - all of you who have read the Swanton Enterprise Letter to the Editor by Russ Griggs know that allegation is false.  All of you who have taken the time to go to the district website and read the actual contract language know that the allegation is completely FALSE.

Yet, this is the latest tactic by the OEA rep to stir up trouble in our community, and the SEA leadership is allowing him to do it by following his directives.  In addition, he has deliberately had them LIE about the facts by filing an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) which will now require more expenditure of district money to mediate in Columbus.  While the SEA members will bear no cost in the matter, your school district is now required to use precious district funds to state their case!  It would certainly be appropriate if the charges had even a hint of truth in them, but they are patently FALSE - and what's worse is that the OEA rep know they are false! 

So here is the challenge to the SEA members in our district:  Go to the school district website, all of you, to this page  - scroll down the page to the bottom and look in the right column for this button:  Swanton Teachers Deserve a Fair Contract.  There in the center of the page, click on "2011-2012 Board Implemented Contract" and read exactly what was put into place this past December.  In other words, do not take my word for it - read it for yourself!!

Then, SEA members, read over the flyer your "leadership" just put out that charges the BOE with breaking the law.  Use that educated brain that the good Lord has given you, and decide for yourself whether the OEA rep/SEA "leadership" has told the truth in this matter. 

THEN you must do one of two things:  either stand behind what has been done, fully understanding what you're doing - OR join with the others within your membership to remove those "leaders" from their positions of authority over you, and elect new ones to take their place.  That includes your OEA rep.  You either keep them all or toss them all.

This is a watershed situation and your personal character will be revealed.  You must choose.  You either stand with the Truth, or you stand with lies.  There is no middle ground.

Which will it be??

Thursday, January 19, 2012

TV Land


The vast majority of our teaching staff at Swanton are great.  They love their job, they honestly do care for the kids in their classrooms, and they do their best on a regular basis. 

I know there are a few bad apples - there are in any district - but by and large, we have good people. 

So why is it that when contract time rolls around every couple of years, some of these same people suddenly lose their good sense?  It's as if their OEA rep is able to to hypnotize them to swallow hook, line, and sinker, any and all drivel he can concoct.  He becomes their Svengali - their own perfectly good grey matter is put on a shelf and they blindly do whatever he commands.  It is downright bizarre! 

And not only does the SEA negotiating team fall victim - they pass it onto the rank and file, who take all they are told at face value with no visible attempt at discernment whatsoever.  All those years of working with school board members as parents and friends suddenly mean nothing because the OEA rep has declared it through the SEA negotiating team!  (I hear the theme from "Twilight Zone" playing in the background . . . )

Here are just 2 examples: 

  • A teacher "unfriended" two students from Facebook because their dad serves on the F.A.C.T. Committee. 
  • Another member of the F.A.C.T. Committee had some teachers cancel their insurance coverages through his firm for the same reason - his participation with F.A.C.T.
They are bewitched.

I've Got A Secret

If it wasn't so lame, it would be laughable.  I'm talking here about the flyer put out by the SEA that speaks about the "secret" committee that lurks in dark corners, beholden to no voter, who conjures up evil intent against the teachers of our district:  the F.A.C.T. Committee!  Quick - get out your garlic necklace!!

After all those many articles in the Bulldog Bulletin and discussions at regular school board meetings, the people who put out that flyer can call it a "secret committee" with a straight face??

good grief

Now maybe the flyer creator(s) don't bother reading the Bulldog Bulletin.  It's possible.  It's also possible the board meetings where F.A.C.T. Committee members were introduced and spoke were not attended by these flyer folks. 

The F.A.C.T. Committee is made up of 5 business leaders of our community.  Four live within the community and one has his business in the village.  It was deliberately constructed to include NO school board member and NO teacher so as to avoid any undue influence from either side.  It functions as an independent advisory committee to the school board on matters of financial concern.  There is nothing "shadowy" about them and they make no decisions - decisions are the sole responsibility of the school board, who makes all of their decisions at public meetings (which you may listen to via podcast if you're unable to attend). 

Any one of the F.A.C.T. Committee members would be glad to share with you about what they have talked about in their so-called "secret meetings" !!  The current chairman of that committee is local resident Bill Pilliod.  Give him a call!  Set up a time to meet him for coffee uptown and bring a few friends along - he'd be happy to chat with you.

"Secret" committee indeed.  How ridiculous.

What that screed about the F.A.C.T. Committee tells me is that the OEA rep is grasping at straws - but the more flyers he has the SEA do, the more desperate they sound and the more people are annoyed with them. 

It's time that people ask questions instead of blindly accepting whatever nonsense is fed to them.  Ask the school board - Ask the superintendent - Ask a member of the F.A.C.T. committee - and get to the bottom of the real story instead of filling your head with rhetoric cooked up by an OEA rep.

Friday, January 13, 2012

If At First You Don't Succeed - Lie - Lie Again

apologize in advance for the title of this entry - with a journalism background, I am well aware of the power of words.  I have tried very hard to avoid provocative phrases and words in my postings, knowing that sharing the truth, even when stating it carefully, will still anger some people.  But this latest nonsense from the SEA has really frosted my cake.

Did you go to the home basketball game recently and get YOUR copy of their flyer??  They had plenty of them!  And they were passing them out to anyone and everyone they could!  Yup - these folks who look you right in the eye and claim solemnly that their biggest concern is "the children" thought nothing of trashing a home basketball game with their propaganda.  Every time I think they can't stoop any lower - they prove me wrong. 

What they might not realize is that these assaults are not winning them any friends - far from it.  As people learn the TRUTH, these ridiculous accusations by the SEA against the school Board are shown for the lies that they are.  Folks don't appreciate being lied to, ya know?  Half-truths and innuendos do not make you popular, no matter what your OEA rep tells you. . .

For those few who might not have seen this garbage from the SEA, allow me to share the highlights. 

First, the flyer whines that the Board's December implementation of the proposed contract was "not a contract" because they didn't agree to it.  It states that it is "indicative of a complete breakdown in the employee-management relationship".  Right you are!!  When you have one side of "negotiations" threatening to strike at the very first session (April 2011),  it's a safe bet to figure things are going to be a bit rocky.  When that same side refuses to present a counter proposal since June 2011, you can safely figure things are not going well.  When that same side refuses to actually talk until they see how Issue 2 fares in the November election, it's bad.  When a federal mediator is called in to help and even THAT person is unable to get them to see reason after several attempts, it's a fairly accurate statement to declare there's a "breakdown" in the "relationship". 

So that little piece in the flyer - while only a small piece of the story - is true.  They just neglected to tell you exactly which side caused the "complete breakdown".  a-hem

But then it gets completely wacko.

Next the writer(s) of the flyer reveal their mind-reading proclivity by stating that the Board's "full intention" is to "set a precedent where it will NEVER AGAIN be required to bargain in good faith." (emphasis added)  Say, what???  According to the SEA flyer, the Board will cause the teachers to lose the ability to negotiate over working conditions such as class sizes, etc.

I would not have believed it, had I not read it for myself. 

Lest we forget, here is what has their undies in a bunch:  they want a raise in the face of deficit spending, AND they don't want to pay 10% of their insurance premium.  That's it!!  That's what has them so hot and bothered!  How DARE the Board insist that they pay anything more than what they already pay - which is peanuts by any stretch of the imagination, whether you're comparing with other schools in the county or any other job in the nation that requires its employees to pay a portion toward benefits.  Please note that the benefit package itself was not changed - it's still the best one in the county.  All we had asked was for them to pay 10% of the premium - and on those months when the district took a moratorium on the premium (which means "skip a payment") the teachers would also skip that month's payment. 

How draconian!!  How UNFAIR!  How HURTFUL to our children!!


The flyer states the teachers are "doing everything within their power" to get the Board back to the table, but they need "your help".  The SEA kindly provided the contact information for each individual Board member so that You, John or Jane Q. Public could call or email to show how strongly you feel this is "unfair and unreasonable" of the Board toward the teachers, the poor dears.  Your calls, cards and letters will help "protect the integrity of education" of our kids, because - after all - the SEA only cares about "the children", right? 

Ex-cUUUUUse me, but when the very first meeting has the SEA declaring that if their demands are not met, they will STRIKE, who in their right mind could honestly view that as "doing everything within their power" to "bargain in good faith"??  How do they look at themselves in the mirror after statements made about "doing everything in their power" when they have presented NO counter proposal since last June??  As they maintained that attitude throughout the entire process, that is why the Board had to declare impasse in December and implement the contract, albeit for only 1 year (to June 30, 2012). 

Which reminds me - someone posted on Facebook in December that they were angry that former Board President Rick Ueberroth had said any strike days would be made up at the end of the year - in this person's opinion, that was a terrible thing to do to the kids.  (summer vacation, etc)  Here's the thing:  the last time the SEA went through this tired routine, the Board in office at that time made preparations to keep school open during the strike by contracting to have substitute teachers in the classrooms.  (As we all know, there are hundreds of teachers out of work who would give their right arm to have a job in NW Ohio.)  This Board preparation resulted in SEA members at Crestwood speaking in the presence of the children about the criminals that the Board was going to put into the classroom.  When a little kid tearfully asks his mom "what is a rapist?" you know something is very very wrong.  That is why if the SEA decides to strike over paying a measly 10% of their insurance premiums, school will be CLOSED until they return to the classroom with the days being made up at the end of the year.  

In their haste to get their flyer printed off, the SEA accidentally forgot to include contact information for their negotiating team members (with their OEA rep, who has a cavalier attitude toward the districts he represents - after all, his actions in those districts have no effect on him).  So in the interest of fairness, below is a list of the contact information of their team - feel free to contact them with your comments:

Josh Eppert   419-320-7935  (lives in Old West End Toledo)
Deisa Thielman   419-877-5594 (lives in Anthony Wayne school district)
Renee' Gothke   419-877-5532  (lives in Anthony Wayne school district)
JoEllen McDonnall   419-822-9035  (lives in Delta/P-D-Y school district)
and spokesman Steve Brehmer  419-825-3266  (the only one in this group who lives in the Swanton school district)

Please do not hesitate to contact your school board members with any questions you might have on this or any other issue in the district (they all are required to live in the district in which they are elected).

And I'm sure the SEA team members would also love to hear from you as well - just make sure you have fresh batteries in your B.S.-O-Meter before you call . . .

Friday, January 6, 2012

A New Year - A New Board - But Some Things Never Change

The organizational meeting of the Swanton School Board was held this past Tuesday night.  I did not attend, but was told it lasted a whopping 11 minutes - might be a new record!  The organizational meeting is primarily a housekeeping meeting, where routine matters are handled that cover the entire year ahead.  This includes electing a president and vice president of the Board.

This year, Kris Oberheim was elected to the position of President of the school board.  Having worked with Kris, I am confident she will do a great job - the board is in good hands.  The vice president slot went to Michelle Tyson.

No doubt the podcast of the meeting itself will be placed on the school website soon, but voice recordings - while great - aren't able to give you the full picture of what happens at school board meetings.

Case in point:  in attendance that evening were more than two dozen teachers, all sporting new buttons that said something like, "I don't want to strike, but I will"


I took my grandson uptown to Club Salon for his haircut yesterday, and a couple of the gals there were talking about the signs in people's yards and these buttons, and they were NOT speaking favorably about those who had either one of them.  In talking with others, too, I find little support for the stance our teachers' union is taking.

When the "strike" word is used at the very first negotiation meeting by the SEA (which it was - last April 2011), you know it's going to be an unpleasant situation.  Their peers in surrounding districts are even disgusted with them.  Yet they continue to follow the lead by their OEA rep, down the road to trouble.  It's too bad no one has the courage to tell him to take a hike - he is certainly doing them no favors. 

Most of the rank-and-file don't even know what's going on - they are trusting their leaders to do what is best for all of them.  But the reality is that when cuts have to come, the newest teachers are the ones thrown under the bus by their fellow union members.  It's a shame to lose the fresh enthusiasm and energy that come with new teachers and be left with some who are just going through the motions (every district has them).  But that's how it works, and the losers in this game are always our kids. 

It's unfortunate and it's a shame - but it's reality.  I just keep praying for a change of heart in these people.

Ya know, once we had to implement the contract in December, I had really hoped that the SEA would maybe grumble a bit about it but focus their energy on negotiating the next contract.  By implementing the contract, it can only go for 1 year - which means that it will expire at the end of June 2012.  THAT means that negotiations for the NEXT contract will need to begin in March!  But instead of the SEA regrouping to focus on the next round of negotiations, they're telling people they hope to have a particular new board member move to rescind the contract just implemented.

I am not making this up.

Look though we may, it is mighty hard to find the logic in that approach.  And in the meantime, our kids are the ones who get the short end of the stick as the teachers "work to the contract" which means that anything not specifically spelled out in writing within the contract pages is not done. 

It doesn't have to be this way, but until enough members of the SEA stand up for what is right, that's the way it will remain.