By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Bowling Green Board of Education President Jill Carr tried to wipe the slate clean Tuesday evening.
She invited all those present at the school board meeting to return Monday at 6:30 p.m., in the Performing Arts Center to get involved in the district’s future.
“We look forward to a strong turnout to this very important meeting,” Carr said.
But the slate was smudged later in the evening when a citizen accused the board of violating Ohio Sunshine Laws by hiring a consultant without any public discussion.
Early in the meeting, it was explained that after the last two failed election attempts to get new buildings in the district, the board is trying a new strategy.
Carr and Superintendent Francis Scruci said that this time around, the board and administration will take a hands-off approach. During Monday’s meeting, two committees will be created – one on finances and another on facility planning. Citizens will be able to join either or both.
Those committees will present updates at monthly board meetings. Anyone unable to attend the Monday meeting, but wanting to join a committee can sign up in the central office or email Scruci.
Six weeks have passed since the last levy failed, Scruci said.
“It’s very important for us to move forward,” he said.
Though disappointed in the results, Scruci said “we must now regroup and work together” with those who supported and those who opposed the bond issue.
“The work that is ahead will be important,” he said. “We need to identify what our community wants for facilities.”
Scruci and the board will attend meetings if asked, and will provide information if requested.
No one has been assigned to either of the committees yet. “We felt that it was important that we did not have people named,” he said.
“This is going to truly be a community-driven process,” Scruci said.
Board member Bill Clifford asked if the committees will be limited to a certain number. “Sometimes size can slow down the process,” he said. “If you have 100 people on a committee, you’re going to have a hard time.”
But Scruci said there will be no limits to committee members.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the school board voted to reaffirm the resolution hiring Rockmill Financial Consulting. The board had voted to hire the firm, led by David Conley, for $40,000 for the year, at an April 19 meeting with no public discussion.
Each member of the board said they wished the timing of hiring Conley would have been different – not just a couple weeks before the May election. But all the members also said that Conley’s expertise was valuable in the community discussions about property versus income tax support of the building project.
The board said Conley provided expertise on school finances that was very helpful.
Board member Ginny Stewart said Conley proved to be responsive to citizens and will continue to help the district through the next step. “He has fielded every single phone call, every email,” she said. “He’s going to be there every step of the way.”
But during the public portion of Tuesday’s meeting, Brian Smith read from board emails and accused the board of improperly hiring Conley before the actual board vote on April 19.
“David was hired without any public debate or discussion,” in violation of Sunshine Laws, Smith said. “Transparency is what we’re looking for. This was not a decision made with any public knowledge or debate.”
Smith asked Carr if there were any recorded minutes from the meeting when Conley was asked to attend the April 19 meeting. Carr said she did not believe there were.
“This is a matter of public business and should have been discussed in public,” Smith said.
After Tuesday’s board meeting, school treasurer Cathy Schuller said that Conley had offered a free consultation to the district with his opening presentation on April 19. The board did vote on April 19, prior to his presentation, to hire him.
Scruci defended the board’s action to hire Conley, who is recognized as an expert on school financing.
“The board was coming under fire for why property versus income tax,” he said. “They did exactly what the community wanted.”
Also during the public portion of the meeting, Richard Chamberlain asked the board about repairs needed at the school. He questioned if the repairs were going to be put off until the committee recommendations were made.
Head of school maintenance, Charles Martin, responded that quotes are being sought for some projects such as heating.
“We are looking at repairs in all the buildings,” Martin said.
Also during the meeting, Scruci reported on the need to hold a board workshop on school safety issues. Safety assessments were recently conducted at all the school buildings with the city police and fire divisions.
According to Scruci, some areas were identified as needing increased security. Cameras will be added in the schools that don’t have them already, quotes are being sought from vendors for glass protection, and evacuation procedures have been changed with the help of the police and fire divisions.
The district is looking for grants for safety expenses. The state legislature passed a bill allowing schools to levy 1 mill for safety, Scruci said. However, he was unsure if it was ongoing funding, so it could be used for safety personnel.