Commentary: Building A Sense Of Community In West Clermont

(Editor’s Note: This is a commentary on West Clermont Schools by community member John McGraw. The piece is published in its entirety, with only two small spelling and formatting changes. If you have an article you wish to publish, please send to

On November 6th, West Clermont voters overwhelmingly voted down the operating levy placed on the ballot by the West Clermont School Board.  Einstein’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. The definition of foolishness is not knowing the definition of insanity. I am very disappointed for the children of the district and for my own kids who attend West Clermont Schools. 

We have lost our sense of community and the school board has lost touch with the citizens of West Clermont. I am a member of the Willowville PTO. We have to meet at restaurants because the board won’t open the school in the evening despite the fact that the PTO funds many programs the school board won’t. The school board has failed to put together a financial package that voters will support and they keep rolling out the same stale solutions. We now face a 2.3 million dollar deficit this year alone.

When you have a losing team it’s time to fire the coach.  Superintendent Brooks and Treasurer Alana Cropper should resign. Collectively they earn nearly $300,000 per year in salary yet they have failed to put together a winning strategy for our schools. We are now on the path to fiscal emergency.

We need a comprehensive “all of the above” approach to repairing ties with the community and coming up with an affordable dollar amount the community will support. We need open and good faith discussions with the community to come up with a solution. Some voters’ ideas include:

  • Have round table discussions with those who did not support the levy and incorporate their concerns into solvable action.
  • Enlist the help of State Legislators starting with newly elected Representative John Becker. Our school funding method is broken and the state needs to address this.
  • Repeal the inside millage the board moved without consent of the voters. This move angered voters and has been a large reason the last 2 Tax Levies have been voted down.
  • 73 percent of the budget goes to salaries and benefits. Ask all administrators to take a 2-3 percent wage cut to show they are serious about putting the children first.
  •  Ask for a voluntary pay concession from the teachers. They may agree to less pay rather than see more teachers lose their jobs.
  • Follow the lead of private schools like McNicholas and start fund-raising plans to get additional funds for athletics, music and art programs. Enlist corporate funds and sponsorships to help with fund-raising. The Willowville PTO raises thousands of dollars to fund special programs. We need more of this.
  •  Close and consolidate older buildings.

The most important thing we need to do is build a sense of community. Our residents need to be recognized as stake holders in the schools. After all, we owe it to our children as well as our community to come together and solve this issue. Please attend your next school board meeting and let your voice be heard.


15 comments on “Commentary: Building A Sense Of Community In West Clermont

  1. Interesting info. WC doesn’t even support the PTO, holding them hostage just like the bussing issue. Sad. Now, since this has gone down to defeat, again, what can we do to get the attention of elected officials, Brooks and Cropper (btw, $300,000 salaries/yr)? Until the top hears the electorate, we will fight them to the end. Anyone listening? Willing to help IF they are willing to admit they are FAILING.

  2. The community is failing not the schools or teachers. At the last board meeting it was clearly stated that the State is now looking at our books monthly. The State reported that no other school district has cut as much as we have to stay afloat. We have a REVENUE problem not a spending problem. Like her or not we have one of the top rated Treasurers in the state leading a very large district. She is very accessible. You will fight to the end of what ? YOUR kid’s education and opportunities? Does that even make sense? The State has no interest in changing the funding it would make them very unpopular. This is the funding you have in Ohio, live with it. I would take a temporary pay freeze but I would not agree to a pay cut that would take more out my salary than the 20$/month that it would cost most of you to support your schools. The teachers just doubled their contribution to health care so the district would not have to pay more, that is a pay cut more than the 20$ a month for a levy. The WV PTO raises thousands of dollars? Seriously? We spent 4 million last month. Do they raise even $30,000 on a single fundraiser? A school does in a neighboring district does with a single walk a thon and they passed their levy. What about the BR PTO or the HH PTO, or the AE PTO? Finally Repeal the inside millage, I don’t think that can even be done. That millage has paid for materials like an actual reading series, current science books and math books. Are you so miserly that you begrudge materials for these students? Have the round table discussions… a great idea we did have other sessions did anyone attend those? When I have a question I call the treasurer and she talks to me! Imagine that? Try it. Finally close and consolidate buildings. Maybe, which ones? Redistrict the the whole district. Move BR to CL, Some CL to AE some AE to MW. That would be a hornet’s nest but it may need to be done. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink. The facts are there you simply do not want to really see them. Go to the board meetings, listen, talk to the board members you elected them. I find most of them easy to talk to and willing to listen.

    • HTTWC,

      I appreciate your input, but I don’t think the community at large agrees with your sentiments. You say that the community is failing, I say the public education system as a whole is a failure. It has replaced logic with feelings. Honest questioning to political correctness. Achievement with Groupthink. Etc. I don’t think teachers are necessarily bad at their jobs, I just think the system is setup to fail. Society in general is failing, all you have to do is look around or turn on the TV.

      So what if the state is looking at our books. Ohio is considered a “Death Spiral” state, which means we are going the way of Illinois, California, and those European countries that are now rioting. It may be a few years off, but the books don’t look good so I wouldn’t put too much faith in our state’s ability to judge sound money regardless of political party control. Not to mention, the state only looks at basis spending tenets, and does not scrutinize things like the labor contract which happens to be the vast majority of the expense of public ed. SB5 would have changed that, but it is no longer in force. The state also let its former Superintendent of Schools resign rather than face a trial for his ethics violations, and then laud his work as reform (which was the violation). Nice to know the state has the interests of the kids at heart.

      The Treasurer is very accessible and will provide any materials that people request, as required by law. I think she bears some responsibility in this for not standing up to those in leadership when they spend money they do not have, but then again, that is more up to the super and board. I don’t think she’s incompetent by any means, I just think that she is very loyal to the cause and does her job as prescribed by her boss.

      You are correct the state has no interest in changing the funding model, because it’s a redistributionist model and governments and candidates get votes that way. It takes from the haves and gives to the have nots, whether or not it is well spent. I will assume Doug Young was talking about Princeton in the Nov 7th meeting when he said a cincy school spends over $13K per student. It’s true, but if WC only got the same $4900 per student they did from the state, WC would have over $12 million additional dollars per year additional (based on 8500 kids). Split the difference, and the funding gap disappears immediately. Heck, if WC had the same as Milford (about $200 more), the almost $2 million additional would fill in the majority of what would return if the levy would pass (minus the deficit). Recall the levy before the millage passed 60-40 so not every levy has been a fight, but the millage move was a PR disaster that will last until those who made that decision leave. That’s just my take on it, but so far it’s been proved correct.

      Please explain what you pay then for your healthcare costs in dollar terms if the cost went up. I know approximately what the cost of your plans are, and it is extremely generous to the employee and expensive to the public which pays 92%. I know someone in the biz that can give an idea of whether or not its a good deal.

      The millage has almost run its course, but it was not all what you say it is. There was supposed to be purchases of science and history books for 7-8th grades, but that was scrapped when they purchased Reading Street. A program that focuses on mediocrity, and not excellence in reading. As the current school model, teach the bottom and top to the middle. The money could very well have paid for employees, it just depends on whether or not the Board took money from the left or right pocket. Dr. Brook’s daughter could very well have been paid from the millage money if the board chose to do that, as she was hired as a computer tech last Dec. and payment of this sort was discussed. The computer upgrades were a major component of the millage, and yet many admins received new equipment before many of the children did. In my mind, that’s uncool and shows how the kids take a back seat.

      The board members are approachable, yet, I hear from many parents and people that are active in the schools that they are not very responsive. Many answers are political and they are hesitant to put anything in writing, due to the fact of FB and sites like this one. Case and point, Denise Smith said that teachers have received no increase in 4 years (Dr. Brooks said a 1% raise in one of them), and she is only telling half the truth. The other half is that for those in the first 15 years of the contract, there is a minimum of 4.6% built in to the steps, and an additional bump for columns. I will assume that you are beyond those 15 years, so you are toward the top of the payscale and do not receive yearly increases.

      If the people that come here don’t go to the meetings, there are many that do on our behalf. I find it pointless most of the time, because I found they only really want your input when you agree with them. Board members may duke it out behind closed doors, but the meetings leave little for the public to do other than groan. The listening sessions were a joke, for the reason that the majority of those that attended are the same that attend the board meetings. I went myself with 6 other people, including Mark, and it was nothing but a wish list without any discussion of how it can be achieved (other than multiple levies).

      What David said below is correct. The district has to reorg itself, and I think Kline may do that if Brooks lets him.

      Have a good one.

  3. I often think WC has reached the point of diminishing returns by voting down school levies. I look at the school district I live in and see some drastic differences.
    A tale of two school districts…
    The taxes I pay to my school district are extremely high. I estimate that I pay at least twice as much in taxes than if my house was located in WC. I don’t like paying these high taxes, but I see their value. The taxes help the community I live in. They provide a school system that offers services that people want. People want to move to my community. My property value has increased the past 5 years. People will buy perfectly good houses in my community, tear them down, and then build the house they want, just to be able to live in the area of the community they want to. The school system pays a relatively good salary to its teachers. Teachers want to work for the school district for the higher pay and to work in a strong community that supports their school system. The school district has the pick of cream of the crop of new teacher hires. The community continually steps up to support the school district and will reach into their wallets to donate money when it is needed. There are certainly problems with the school district (all school districts have them) but the community rallies around the schools to solve them. My community is just as (if not more so) politically conservative as Clermont County. Our elections are dominated by republicans. But the citizens get it. School systems are important to a community and a quality school system is expensive to run.
    In WC the taxes are low. People move to the school district because the taxes and property values are low. The district has cut many services that people want so fewer people want to move to the district. This causes property values to decrease. WC’s reputation is more about lower taxes, cuts in services and the unwillingness of its citizenry to step up for their school system than the education it provides. This was evident when I over heard two comments the past few weeks:
    Comment 1 (Starbucks in Anderson Township, before election): “West Clermont has another levy. It will fail. Why would anyone ever want to move there?”
    Comment 2 (Downtown Cincinnati, day after election) “West Clermont’s vote failed again. Those people are not helping themselves.”
    Many people have asked if teachers and administrators in WC get paid too much and if their benefits are too costly. I think it is a fair question. A question that should be civilly discussed.
    However, I have never heard the question: Are the taxes in WC too low? Would higher taxes actually benefit the community? (Maybe these questions have been asked. I just have never heard them.) I believe taxes in WC are too low and the area pays a price greater than what they save in lower taxes. I believe that property values would go up if there would be an increase in taxes. I believe that people who move to a community with higher taxes are more willing to support their school system.
    A question that maybe you can help answer. How does the tax rate in WC compare to other areas? Do home owners pay less/more/about the same in taxes than other areas of clermont county? South west ohio? Greater Cincinnati?

    • WCT,

      I agree with a lot of what you said about the two districts.

      As far as the pay for teachers, I’ve always said you have to afford it. They can’t and having a 4.6% increase per step may be standard for all I know. However, the 7% projected increase per year they had been working on doesn’t work in a down economy. The bloated staff Brooks inherited has been whittled down with the money drying up, but that will probably only change with some new blood and different thinking. Especially when the feds have blown up the budget and our governor, well, I don’t have much trust in him or the legislature to fix anything in education. Even if the budget only increases at the rate of inflation, the steps/columns and increases in healthcare make it impossible without layoffs/cuts. A levy would only hold that off for a few years, especially if/when the old services come back. $100 Million not buying a whole lot says a lot, in both directions.

      Let’s look at Anderson though, and notice you said people move there and even tear down houses. Those people are successful enough to do so, and at this point Forest Hills outpaces WC in median income by $14K and avg home value per pupil is almost $30K more.

      That being said, I think you must live in a really nice house. I spot checked the auditor’s websites for both Hamilton and Clermont county. I looked for a house that was similar in value to mine in Forest Hills. The one I found first that matched approximately my house’s lasted appraised value on the same year, I actually paid more in taxes to WC. Honestly, I was shocked at the amount, but not surprised the fact that my decade and half old home compared to a 1960’s model in value in Anderson. Granted, the home I compared to was in Hamilton County so there were a lot of other nickel/dime taxes that we don’t have in Clermont. The property tax amounts paid yearly overall for mine and the other were almost identical within a $100. Now this is probably before the latest levy kicks in, but I suggest you try the same. It would depend on each area of the district and the different millage rates in each. But I picked a house right off a main road like mine within a couple miles of a school.

      As far as if WC’s taxes are too low? I guess you could argue that, but as my earlier comment regarding Princeton, perhaps WC is just in a blind spot. It gets less money than Milford from the state per pupil. A ton less than Princeton, which has a home value per pupil nearer to New Richmond than WC. So why is WC so far down the list? How is it considered along the same lines as Clermont NE and Forest Hills (three totally different situations for sure), yet Princeton has had it’s state funding almost triple since 2006? Of course their local revenue from taxes is down $15-20 million from it’s peak, but I’m curious to the reasoning behind all of it.

      Now that you have seen some prelim. info., what are your thoughts? I’ll ask some folks in other districts what they pay, or I’ll call Linda Fraley’s office and see if there is an easier way to display other than the stuff on her site that lists every “tax district” of the county.

  4. During the most recent tax levy request for Foresthills SD they had a flyer that asked the question ” Do you want to end up like WC?” Their answer was no as they did vote in a small levy. I guess WC is just circling the drain.

  5. Hey Happy, what does that tell you about your Forest Hills people? I don’t think you are smart enough to know what I just asked you. BTW we WC people couldn’t care less about what Forest Hills people think. Keep collecting your WC paycheck and go home and think how great you think you are. I see the comments you want to share are never from WC people, are they? I also call total BS on you property value increasing over the last 5 yrs. You keep talking down your nose at the community, but you always take that WC paycheck. I wonder how many NO votes you cause?

  6. Anon,

    Honestly, I don’t know what moves voters and I don’t think Happy does either. Everyone has their frame of reference. I do think that Krueger cost the district a lot of yes votes, and the election of 2011 seemed pretty clear that his thinking was off base. What did it say about my thinking? I have no idea. I admit that running on transparency isn’t going to get many votes, especially when people don’t necessarily know who I was or why they should believe me. Plenty of people visit here, some comment, but I wonder what the takeaway is? I may have my opinion (bias or whatever you want to call it), but I try to present factual information, and also the “other side of the coin”. I’m for educating people, but not everyone agrees on what education should be.

    I don’t think Happy causes any no votes, as she provided an interesting tidbit. West Clermont used the exact same tagline, but with Little Miami as the foil. I think WC is circling the drain either way, because the kids are not put first. They are not being realistic, and neither is the state in its efforts to educate kids.

    Notice how the education associations are all fighting the implementation of the new report cards, as it will show that schools are failing at an alarming rate. The standards Ohio initially set with the report cards was so low, and parents should have questioned those excellent ratings. Did you know only 8% of districts get less than effective? And yet 40% of ohio College kids need remedial classes. Plus the cost of college is out of whack, due to the massive student loan industry that treats kids like NINJA loans. It really is a bad scenario, and unless people figure it out, it will ruin a generation supposedly responsible for our gov’t spending problem, with their own generational debt issue. No one can pay one of them, let alone both.

  7. If you reread my post, at no time did I say I live in Forest Hills. I can understand the confusion, but there are other areas around Cincinnati that have a strong community and school system.
    My family lives in what I consider a very modest house, less than 1000 square feet. I have lived in the house for greater than 10 years. It was built before 1960. My house is near the lowest valued house on my street. As far as I know, there has not been a house foreclosed on. Some houses have sold on my street in the past five years, but not many. Most people that live on my street are retired/older. When a house on my street does go on the market it sells relatively quickly. I have refinanced my house twice in the past 5 years, getting a appraisal each time. I have checked out zillow. I know what my tax assessment was 5 years ago and what it is now. All of which show my property value higher now than what it was 5 years ago.
    For many reasons, I love teaching in WC. Anyone who knows me in WC would attest to my dedication. I work extremely hard for WC students and families. I don’t need any pats on the back (I hear plenty of positive things from parents and students), but Anonymous you are far from correct about my motives for teaching in WC. If I was only there for a check, I would have been gone a long time ago.
    I live where I do for one major reason, family. My parents and siblings are close. Friends that I have known since kindergarten are near. I value this very much and the community that I live in is only a secondary reason.
    I doubt if I have caused any no votes by what I have written on here, but who knows maybe I have. In my opinion people come here to reinforce their already solidified beliefs. I could be wrong about that, but regardless Save Clermont Schools deserves a thanks. There are things posted on here that I disagree with, but disagreement is good. Disagreement with respect is even better.
    It is important what people outside your community think about it. The demand (or lack there of) of people wanting to move into a community drastically affects home values. If people don’t want to go to a community and spend their money it can have sever consequences. We all know of communities that are avoided because of negative perceptions. It is easy to see why the perception of a community is important.
    Save Clermont Schools – The state funding disparity between districts is interesting. Like you I don’t have much confidence in the funding system changing. This is just a guess, but WC lower funding may be caused by a now defunct tax on inventories. I believe WC use to get a significant amount of revenue from this inventory tax. WC may have gotten less funding from the state because of this and pieces of this funding model may still affect what there is today. But that is just a guess.

  8. WCT, I think Anon was responding to the other teacher and his/her comments just so you know.

    My mistake for thinking Forest Hills, and their levy earlier in the year. It is a surprising thing, as many kids that attended the same elem as mine did, have moved there. Their houses were just a neighborhood over and sold quickly. Too many foreclosures last year for mine, but all have sold minus one. Plus open homes have also sold, so things are getting better. Zillow is not that reliable, as I too have refinanced often, and it’s way different than my bank or the County.

    WC did get money in the PPT area, but the stimulus money was double that. I think that funding masked the true money issues and got a double whammy when Kasich ended that PPT. Otherwise, the whole would have only been $3Million, not the $6Million.

    The reason the state gets it wrong, is because it tries to please everyone, and that is not possible. One reason I think that if money follows the kid, it may be a better deal. However, even without funding, the social problems crush education more than any funding, school board, or union. It’s not wealth that creates high achievers, it is stability and safety.

    I see your point when it comes to solidifying beliefs. If you saw my FB comments from my friend Tricia, you would understand where I am coming from. I think people expect too much and put in too little to their education, and that’s why I think there is a problem. Watch any politician from either party and the crap they try to pass off as a reality, and it’s easy to see why they cannot legislate success. Bread and circus.

    Always appreciate your input.

  9. The Thing I like about Save WC Schools is it does make you look at another side. I understand some posters will be negative or nasty because that is what these forums unfortunately engender. Where I live really makes no difference and I struggle to understand why you feel the need to comment negatively on it. I chose where I bought my first house carefully. I grew up in a blighted neighborhood. I looked at how often levies passed and how easily even 30 years ago WC never easily supported their schools. I chose Foresthills because of their community commitment to education. I have not been disappointed. I attend board meetings and speak with the treasurer and superintendent about thier use of tax payer dollars, which at times I have considered wasteful. You can call BS what you want on property values but my tax assessment valuation just rose and the comps on the homes surrounding mine have risen. Why I take my WC paycheck, is that a question or a sneer. I take it because I love my job and the kids, I do it well. I take it because I get paid to do a job. Would I recommend my children to buy homes in WC with my grandchildern? Ten years, maybe even five years ago yes. Now no way. Each no vote has diminished the education my grandchildren would get there. No Fine Arts? Less opportunity for languages and advanced placement classes? No Thank You. Does that diminish in any way my committment to teaching there NO! How do you turn around the negativity? I do not have that answer. I feel I made two good choices first in the community I chose to raise my kids and the community I chose to educate kids. The community of teachers I work with is excellent. I believe that eventually the community will choose children over politics.

  10. Comments I hear from parents at the WC school I work at : ” I give up, we are moving.” “I am sorry we are leaving, we were accepted as an open enrollment transfer to New Richmond.” ” Just enrolled at the nearby Catholic School.” ” I am disappointed in this community.” ” I love this school I do not understand.” “How do we get people more involved?” ” I attended the meetings and learned alot.” ” I know people are hurting, how can we help.” ” Why don’t more people volunteer?” “My child deserves better.” ” I love my house and neighborhood, how will this affect my child going to college.” ” I wish I had known this when I moved here.” “I grew up here and got a great education I just want the same for my kids.”

    • I think we all have heard or spoken those ourselves. Except for the meetings part, as I find them for the most part misleading. If they attend one I can see that reaction though. Attend enough, and you get frustrated.

      However, your reasoning why people say these things seems to leave out a couple of items. Knowing that commenting on the admins here could get you into trouble, I can understand why many steer clear of that avenue. I think the design of public ed is a detriment to it. The state and feds are poor stewards and honestly should be out of the mix. Localities should determine their educational choices, and those choices should be embraced by the community and not diminished. Why does public ed leadership look down on private and homeschooling? If they desire educated citizens, why not embrace all of it? There is plenty of room. A super outside of WC has stated (in private of course) that it’s offensive that private schools take the best students and athletes and take them to schools outside of the district. This super feels those children “belong” to him, and is hurt when those kids come back and “crush his school in sports”. In fact, they belong to their family and shouldn’t they make the decisions based on what’s best for the child and not the superintendent?

      I can understand how a teacher invests their time in the students in their classroom. There is an emotional attachment, as the bonds between classmates are also formed in the same manner of experience. I volunteered in my children’s classrooms and the classrooms in the same grades as my kids if needed. That doesn’t give me any right to the children in those classrooms, anymore than any staff member. As much as I cared for the kids, and the number of thank you’s, pictures, hugs, etc. their educational choices are not mine to claim. These districts are confused in their jobs, as it should be the best education possible regardless of where it happens. Instead, the rules, regs, and feelings stifle public schools. Logic is thrown out the window for political correctness, and communities are tired of being taken advantage of through nepotism, no bid contracts to friends, and financial manipulation. Forest Hills does have a better run system than WC ,however, the entire Ohio ed system has shown to have let down the public for its dumbed down education, and the sham that the report cards have been. It’s unfortunate that all these districts that tout their rankings will be let down when the real performance of their kids are measured against federal standards. I liked the teachers my kids had at WC, but they couldn’t give my kids what I can. A chance to break free of the charade, and to really develop the critical thinking that is disappearing from public ed.

      People should be moving on, and it is sad, because there are good teachers in this district. It is too bad that the economics and leadership get in the way.

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