Commentary: West Clermont Levy Failure A Failure of Leadership?

(Editor’s Note: This is a commentary on West Clermont Schools by community member Stuart Kennedy. The piece is unedited except for two small spelling changes and has been published in its entirety. If you have an article you wish to publish, send an email to scschools@yahoo.com.)

 

The West Clermont School Levy failed to pass by a 60/40 vote.  This was no surprise since the prior two 7.9 mill levies also failed by a 60/40 vote.  The school board met the day after the election to discuss their options to handle the over $2,000,000 deficit this school year and the projected $6,000,000 deficit next year. Continue reading

New Richmond Is Shrinking

The latest release of the 2012 School Report Cards is not the end of the road, but there are some interesting bits of information to gather from them. There has been debate about the accuracy and overall validity of these measuring sticks at this site, but also from the entity that puts them out. That’s not the focus of this article, as it will be brought up in the near future. Instead it’s the enormous drop in enrollment in New Richmond Schools. Continue reading

West Clermont Listening Sessions Begin

For those that reside in the largest district in this county, you are welcome to embark on a one hour tour of how your tax dollars are spent on three separate occasions this week. The first is tonight, Monday April 30 at 6:30pm at the new Union Twp Library. To give you an idea of what to expect and what you need to know before showing up, I’ve prepared a guide to assist you. Continue reading

Goshen SB 3/12/2012

At the Goshen School Board meeting on March 12th, 2012, it was announced that a play will be held at the high school, and all proceeds will go toward purchasing a new wheelchair for Austin, a well- liked student who has worn out his old one. Goshen High School’s humble wrestling superstar ” Chaz”  was in attendance, and his exceptional accomplishments were duly noted and applauded. Also it was stated that twice as many students now are taking the AP course so that they can get better ACT scores when testing for college. Union leader Barbara announced a STRS seminar was scheduled for March 15th for those needing more info on it. The school board attended a seminar hosted by Live Oaks,and it addressed many things, and there was a lecture on “Bridges for a Just Community”  given by a Live Oaks employee during that day. I don’t know what a “just community” is .  Teacher testing and report cards are starting up to try to insure teacher quality. My thoughts after this meeting were that curriculums are being pushed to lower grades at a time when the students are not being given time to excel in the basics. Also why would students have to practice ACT and SAT testing? Are we not doing a good job of informing students that if the want to go to college they must take the necessary courses and make the necessary proficiencies in those courses? I also asked if, because of accepting STRS, is the school totaling handing over control of student curriculum to the federal goverment. I was assured that is not the case. My summary, after a few meetings, is that too many tests are being taken at great expense of time and money. We are using testing and extra classes to help students, who didn’t get the compacted info in class, to get caught up. Are we giving ourselves a pass on making sure that every student can and do get the basic courses successfully in grade schools during class time in grade school and  jr. high ? And why do all teachers need to have a Master’s degree to teach grades one thru 12? Can we afford that, along with the extra testing and paperwork logistics that go along with that? Just asking.

Batavia Public Meeting Feb 21st

FYI, there will be an in depth public meeting regarding the direction of Batavia SD this coming Monday at 7pm. Please see the following links for details.

http://communitypress.cincinnati.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/C2/20120214/NEWS/302140026/

http://www.bataviaschools.org/districtNewsArticle.aspx?artID=832

My Visions of West Clermont For Free (no really!)

A follower of this site (4Free) was kind enough to reply to a number of my posts and request that I give some type of manifesto in what I think should happen in the district. Perhaps because I do focus on lot on the negative on this particular district. Anyone who followed my campaign should note that I ran on some rather simple ideas, such as:

  1. Work with the public transparently
  2. Have a vision for where the district is going
  3. Don’t spend what you don’t have or can’t count on
  4. Having people on a board or committee with all the same views is neither a board or committee (It’s a districtatorship) and will not provide the best outcomes for the public.

The rest is open to what I will call the process, because in running an organization like a school board, the collection of people should debate the merits and vote according to what their head and their constituents tell them. I have witnessed a lot of the opposite in this district to date and will give you examples. The latest being the hiring of two new coaches in the district. I’m sure they are great people, and wish them the best in whatever they do. But they were announced as the coaches before ever getting brought before the school board. Cart, meet horse. How much egg would be applied to the collective face of the district if for some reason the board chooses otherwise? Not saying they will or should, but only they may approve the hiring of said individuals per the recommendation by the superintendent. It makes the board look weak or an afterthought, rather than the representation of the public.

In a similar display in the district a few years ago, a school PTO raised a boatload of money and had to vote on how to spend for the benefit of the school. A measure was brought before the parents in the form of a technology purchase in the $10,000 range. However, it was already explained that the technology was already purchased and our vote was moot even if the measure was voted down. Now the district was not involved, but it’s the mentality that is pervasive throughout. Give us your money and children, and you get what we give you in return, don’t question the Great and Powerful Oz or look behind the curtain!

 I am serious about education, but I also understand my limitations in my knowledge of the district. I lean on many parents, life long residents, current and former teachers, staff and administrators to understand the history, successes and failures. I will be wrong from time to time, but without your feedback, there is no change here or in the district. I may push the envelope from time to time, but these issues need to be out in the public and discussed! Not just me spoon-feeding, but some give and take to arrive to a realistic conclusion.

To answer some of the questions posed directly, I’ll provide the following:

What should a teacher make? It takes good people to make any organization work, regardless of pay, education level or ethnicity, etc. Teachers can have their salaries at the current level, but the district cannot afford to pay it. The union and district chose those levels, supported by the board, and they are responsible for staffing the district and we’re watching the staff levels plummet accordingly. Other districts pay $10K more and others 10K less regardless of achievement level, so read into it what you will. I love reading the articles that come from the following site, but perhaps this will explain what I’m talking about through the eyes of another district.

Everyone thinks they are worth more money, but given the numbers by Mr. Wilson, he’s correct the average in WC is around $40-50 an hour, 7.5 hours a day, 183 days a year. Perhaps someone can tell me how the pay translates to performance though, because it’s not in the contract, nor are summer work hours. Whatever I think of the amount is meaningless, because it’s up to the parties involved to fit it into the budget, instead of making the budget fit the salaries. The article I linked above does a great job of explaining that, and how the cost grows so quickly when there are multiple components of salary: Years worked, Education levels, and Raises. When an employee gets multiple increases a year, it makes it difficult to manage the budget without layoffs, tax increases or both.

The benefits are extremely generous by any standard. Mr. Wilson says the average is $350 a month for the US. West Clermont is at most a fraction of that for the most expensive plans. I don’t think moving a greater portion of that (85/15 split) to the worker is asking much considering what the general public pays in comparison. Add the same to Dental as well. Again, budget, and it’s still far less than  the average in the US.

The levy amount is moot until there is a distinct vision for the district. A working group from the general public, private business, the admin, staff and board should be working on this year round. Not some myopic levy committee. It doesn’t make sense, but then again, it’s up to the people to demand it and take part. As I stated last year, I think that revenue will be needed, but it should come from all sides. Whether it’s wage cuts/freezes, school consolidation, more technology/less staff, more aides/fewer teachers, shared services, a levy for a specified purpose (i.e. busing, specials, capital improvement) or what’s currently proposed . People want to see vision, and unless that vision has public support, I don’t see any amount passing.

How do you attract quality staff and community support? Don’t alienate them. Don’t play the victim. Don’t play games with the families and staff members. Be consistent in your hiring practices and also post openings outside the district walls. Open the work meetings to the public and promote innovation and reinvest savings with those that do the most to conserve. Invite staff and the public to attend board and PTO meetings and involve them besides just to receive some award or grant. Let teachers teach versus the top down heavy hand of the administration. If they fail, support them and mentor them, and if that doesn’t work, show them the door as it’s not fair to the other employees. Bring in outside work experience to connect life outside of the classroom and real world knowledge to what kids are learning. The job market is tight, so work environment/stability is just as important as wages.

What should the community do? The community’s responsibility is to act like responsible citizens, although that’s harder than it sounds. Parents should and must act like parents. Discipline your kids and admit to yourself that yes, your kid isn’t perfect and should be responsible for their actions on school grounds, as well as at home. Not every kid should get a trophy. We need to learn from failure in order to work on the weaknesses. Attend SB meetings and PTO meetings. Talk to the teachers, know the curriculum, be involved in some way as it’s your child’s education. People without kids, business owners and other community members should also stay involved. Either as a check on the district’s power, a booster for the district programs, voting in elections or by volunteering their time however they see fit, whether for the district or any other community organization.

Should the millage be repealed and then put up for a vote? The inside millage should not be repealed, but  kept as an albatross around the district’s neck as a reminder. There were district needs for that money, because none (or not enough) was budgeted for those capital improvements. In my opinion, it should have been included in the prior levy, but perhaps conventional wisdom at the time thought passage may not have occurred. They got what they wanted, but the price paid has since cost the district much more than a few million bucks. The wound is still open , and will ultimately cause much more drastic measures in the future. I was one of those who stood against it for the simple reason that the district never said “Please.” However, all the items they requested did not get funded (less money came in the door as well), so I am concerned that it has not been as focused as presented.

Perhaps there would be no SCS had the board had a different response than that I hate children for thinking that way, and reached out to listen rather than lash out at those with criticism. It is a public relations issue that can be solved by a simple mea culpa, the community taking an active role, and both groups moving on with the premise that working together means accepting success and failure together. Saying the money was needed and taking it is not playing Robin Hood for our kids, it’s plain robbing.

Who should be the superintendent? I can’t answer that. What are my choices? I think the current super can be an engaging person to talk to. Many of my friends and neighbors know him and speak well of him personally. At times, he makes perfect sense and other times I am completely befuddled by him. I’m interested to see how he works with the new board, especially after the retire-rehire nonsense blew up in their face (In poker, they call that a tell). It’s not an easy job, especially given the size of the district. However, given our current situation, playing it straight is the only way to go because I’m not hearing much in the way of support these days.

What tools can he be given by the board? I don’t think he wants anything from them other than 5 votes on every motion, which is typically what has happened in the past. I think he’ll get more opposition going forward, especially when the real cutting begins later this year. Since the position is highly political, I would assume the whole lotta this in the coming months. I do think the board will take a more proactive role and I fully support that. In fact, I would almost turn the question around.

To be honest with you, I didn’t start this to pick a fight with anyone or to poke fun at public figures. I felt that not only was my intelligence being insulted, but that government in this area has a funny way of doing business at the expense of the common citizen. My background in international business and technology taught me how little I really understood about the world and interpersonal relationships. I traveled the country and the globe working with companies to find solutions for businesses, and expand the company’s reach across many diverse markets. The only way to learn was to ask, do, and repeat. A two-year old learns by asking why a thousand times over, until it really sinks in, WHY? All I’m asking for all of you is, why? Tell me why these things are happening, what am I missing, is anyone focused on improving what we have? More money helps, but how do we prevent setting it on fire for a few minutes warmth, when buying a heater and paying the electric bill can heat us all winter.

I am a self-described newbie in this district and rely on so many people inside and outside this area to fill in the blanks to how to improve on what we have. I don’t worry about my kids, because I am their teacher 365 days a year. How do we multiply that by 8500 kids, and a whole lot of parents, grandparents and neighbors?

We can consolidate schools, sell property, change contracts, hire people, fire people, spend money, raise money, whatever. It’s meaningless, unless the vast majority of us are on the same page and working towards common purpose. That doesn’t happen until enough people are willing to say, why? Then what about this? How does this work? Why does district A do this, but B do that, or why does B do the same thing for vastly less money? Why does District A show contempt for individuals for showing up to meetings (yes, this has occurred in our County many times), but District B want input and constant contact? Why are interest groups put ahead of kids and education, and districts fighting other districts for the same resources?

That’s all I’m asking for. The district will be asking for it too shortly, and I’m curious to see how it turns out. If it focuses on the levy only, it will fail. If the focus is on the community and collaboration then we’ll have a shot at turning it around. Keep asking questions and providing feedback. Otherwise, we’re just wasting our time.

West Clermont places levy on the ballot for November 2011

The recap of this meeting is short as there wasn’t much covered. The vote was unanimous and the amount is 7.9mills for 10 years. If it doesn’t pass, the board stated that an additional $5 million in cuts will occur next year or the district will be headed down the road of Little Miami. It will have to borrow from future state income to balance the budget.  The people in the community understand the need for funding, but are also upset that the district has not planned for the future as well as other districts in Clermont County.  The changes the state is looking to make will not come soon enough to make a difference in the 2011 school year. There may be a small amount of relief if SB5 stays on the books, but there is no guarantee of that.

The district also mentioned to those affected by the changes in transportation to contact lbsbusing.com to see if they will have routes available for West Clermont. The provided incorrect information at the meeting, but a quick internet search later, and the information on this page should be enough to get you in contact with them. They do not have any West Clermont or local parochial schools listed, but the district has only recently been in contact with them.

Quick Recap New Richmond 7-29 meeting

Thanks to EN for covering this meeting.

The board approved a 3 year contract with OPSE for the bus drivers, aids etc.  The contract calls for no hourly increase for 3 years, and the union doesn’t seem to be happy with the arrangement.  Continue reading

West Clermont Board Meeting Monday July 25

This meeting has been listed on the agenda like any other board meeting. It was supposed to be a Q & A session regarding the levy, so who knows what direction it will go after the regular agenda items are settled.

I may be in the minority, but I hope that time isn’t wasted with the Q & A session. In the author’s opinion, the request for questions regarding the finances of the district is a moot point due to the fact it was discussed to the point of disgust throughout the winter and spring of this year. The administration does not seem to want to hear anything other than A) It’s made all the proper decisions or B) If the levy is passed, the finances are restored and there will be no further criticism for the cuts.

Money doesn’t solve the decision-making process that brought us to this point or the many issues that divide the district into factions: Glen Este versus Amelia, Sports versus Academics, Small Schools versus no Small Schools, Fixed Income versus Families with Students, etc. Life is not fair, so many or all of these groups will not get what they want out of the school district. The added revenue only treats the patient’s symptoms, not the obvious illness: the inability of the district to control its spending.

At some point revenue will be required, but unless the true spending issues of the district are resolved, we’ll be return to these same issues again in the near future. Here are some questions to think about:

Can we as a district afford the current benefits policy for the staff, with 92% of health premiums and 100% dental paid by the district?

Can we afford to pay 14% of each staff members retirement benefits while each staff member pays only 10%, almost unheard of in the private sector?

If Small Schools is highly successful, is there a way to offer the program with slight modifications and without the added expense?

If there isn’t busing, why aren’t there sidewalks for families to use to get their children to school to cut down on traffic?

If the budget is tight and we are laying off staff, why do we still provide salary increases to district staff and continue step raises for those that remain?

These are rhetorical questions as the school district is only concerned with continuing on without any changes to how they do business. Otherwise, the changes would have been implemented well before getting to this point. Since the state will not change a union contract through any type of fiscal situation, the district is locked into a contract until 2013 that it cannot afford. The only way to bail itself out of this mess, is to follow Little Miami and keep increasing the levy amount and cuts until Financial Emergency sets in or the voters capitulate.