Education

BG Schools task force looks at who’s picking up tax tab

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The Bowling Green School District financial task force found out Wednesday who is footing the tax bill to support the district. The bulk, 54 percent, comes from property taxes. The next biggest chunk comes from the state, at 33 percent, followed by income taxes at 10 percent. David Conley, facilitator of the financial task force, said the “vast majority” of school districts in Ohio only have local property taxes. He estimated that out of the state’s 600 school districts, only about 40 have income taxes. However, several rural districts in this area do have some income tax revenue – including Bowling Green which passed an income tax levy renewal in 2017. The question that some task force members want answered is – are all local citizens paying their fair share of the property tax pie? Or is the agricultural community being asked to pay too large of a portion. Conley’s numbers showed the makeup of the Bowling Green City School District tax base is as follows: 58.9 percent is residential. 24.1 percent is commercial. 9.7 percent is agriculture. 5.7 percent is industrial. 1.5 percent is public utility. One task force member questioned how the agricultural community feels it is bearing the brunt of property taxes for schools – since the numbers show otherwise. Conley said that the agricultural piece of the pie is being shared by a smaller number of people. However, it was also pointed out that while agricultural values recently increased significantly, they have since come down some, and are expected to continue that decline. The valuations also sat at very low levels for years before taking the recent jump in value. Residents also asked for specifics about which residents of which political entities in the district were picking up the tax tab. So broken down by political entities, the numbers showed: Bowling Green landowners makeup 74.7 percent of the tax base. Liberty Township, 6.8 percent. Plain Township, 5.5 percent. Center Township, 5.4 percent. Milton Township, 4.2 percent. Village of Portage, 0.8 percent. Middleton Township, 0.4 percent. Village of Custar, 0.3 percent. Village of Milton Center, 0.2 percent. Jackson, Richfield and Webster townships had a combined 0.12 percent. A great deal of Wednesday’s meeting focused on a 1.7-mill permanent improvement levy originally passed by voters in 1984. The district reduced the amount to 1.2 mills in 1999 and asked voters to approve it as a continuing levy. The voters supported that effort. The permanent improvement levy generates about $516,000 a year for the district. The school board recently used a portion of the levy revenue to put an addition on the middle school. Some members of the task force felt that the board had used the funding illegally – or at least improperly – for that addition. However, Conley said permanent improvement levies can be used to pay for any capital improvements with a life of five years or greater. “The board had the legal right to do an extension to the building,” he told the task force on Wednesday. But some continued to question the wisdom of the board to use the PI levy funds rather than going to the voters again for a levy specifically for the middle school addition. Task force member Richard Strow expressed concern that…

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BG schools to get state funding to improve safety

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   More than $12 million in grants have been awarded to Ohio schools to improve safety. All of Ohio’s public, chartered nonpublic, and schools operated by county boards of developmental disabilities will receive the greater of $2,500 or $5.65 per student to spend on school safety programs and training. Bowling Green City School District will receive $16,627. Other schools in the city will receive $2,500 each, including Bowling Green Christian Academy, Montessori School, St. Aloysius, and Wood Lane School. Schools will have the flexibility to use these grants for training for school resource officers, safety and security materials, and programs to identify and help students who may be struggling with their mental health. Bowling Green Superintendent Francis Scruci said that school districts in the area haven’t received official word about the grants. However, Attorney General Mike DeWine sent out a press release on Friday listing the districts and the amount they would be receiving. “If there is money for us, we will use it,” Scruci said Monday morning. “As a board, that’s what we’re committed to.” Though the board will determine how the funding is spent, Scruci predicted it would be used either on safety training for staff or on installing more 3M film over glass doors at school buildings. The covering makes it more difficult for the glass to be broken enough to allow entry to a building. “It creates an obstacle for an intruder for two and a half or three minutes,” Scruci said. “The delay allows time to get people to safety.” The grants are funded with appropriations made by the Ohio legislature as part of House Bill 318. The law requires that participating schools and county boards work with law enforcement in their jurisdictions to determine the best use of the grant funding. School district are also being encouraged to take advantage of two new school safety efforts recently launched by the Attorney General’s Office: Active Shooter Response: An Educator’s Guide: This 25-part video series was produced by the Attorney General’s Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy to aid educators in preparing for and reacting to a potentially violent school incident, such as a school shooting. The brief videos are an update to the training offered by OPOTA beginning in 2013 that provided guidance to nearly 15,000 educators on how to intervene with students who could pose a danger and how to respond in a crisis situation. Emergency Management Plan Aerial Photographs: Special agents with the Attorney General’s Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation are available to take free aerial photographs of school buildings for inclusion in school emergency management plans. BCI currently has six drones that are used primarily to document crime scenes and assist in missing persons cases, but BCI is offering to use its drones to take aerial photos of school campuses to help law enforcement plan for and respond to an emergency.


Sleek Academy won’t have to teach to state tests

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Erica Sleek believes that kids can learn far more by doing. The proof of that is in their enthusiasm, their inquisitiveness, and their creations – not the scores on some state-ordered testing. So Sleek, who has operated All About the Kids learning center for 13 years in Bowling Green, is expanding to offer preschool through high school education at the new Sleek Academy. The academy will practice the same theory Sleek has been using for years – project-based learning. When they are learning about space, they go to the BGSU planetarium. When they are learning about plants, they go to Klotz Greenhouse. When they are learning about produce, they go to an orchard, pick apples and cook up applesauce. “It’s getting them to figure things out themselves,” Sleek said. For example, the older students are in the process of researching how to build a walipini – an underground greenhouse. All About the Kids has had a garden over the years, but a walipini would allow for year-round fruit and vegetable production. The produce would be eaten by students, and the extras would be given to local food pantries, Sleek said. The students are involved in every step of the process. They researched how the garden is built. They wrote letters for seed donations. They are creating a kickstarter video. They are applying for the necessary city permit. And they even researched child labor laws. “They are pretty deep thinkers,” said Kris Westmark, assistant principal. Sleek Academy focuses on STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics. But it takes those lessons a step further, Sleek said. “Part of STEAM is giving back to the community,” she said. “We want our students to know their community.” Recently, some of the older students did just that when they visited the Cocoon shelter for people affected by domestic violence. They learned about the services offered. “I was struggling to not cry,” Alexandra, a student, said. The students asked how they could help – and were told the Cocoon residents could use a picnic table for outside. “They had no chairs to sit on outside,” Sara said. “We started researching about abuse in general and how to build a table,” Duncan said. The students got some repurposed wood, and went to work. Isobel described how they used hammers, screwdrivers, pliers and crowbars. Once constructed, they painted the picnic table and signed their names underneath. Then they delivered the table to the Cocoon. “I just felt good about myself for making something for someone else,” Daniel said. “It was nice to give back.” “People at the Cocoon don’t have much to sit on. It felt good,” Sara said. The students took it a step further and created posters to place around Bowling Green listing items needed at the Cocoon. “Basically we fixed up flyers to put around town to get people to donate stuff,” Chloe said. Those items included diapers, toothpaste, shampoo, peanut butter, juice and more. For 13 years, Sleek and her staff have been offering care for infants through preschool age children. During the summer, kindergarten through sixth graders also attended. Over the years, parents unhappy about standardized state tests have asked Sleek to offer project-based learning year round. The project-based learning allows greater student…


Lazy days of summer are crazy days for school maintenance

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Forget spring cleaning – summer is when schools get scrubbed down. During the lazy days of summer, school maintenance workers really get busy. When classrooms are emptied of students and staff, the Bowling Green School District maintenance workers can complete projects that just can’t be done during the school year. Chuck Martin, Bowling Green’s maintenance director, reported on the summer work schedule during last week’s board of education meeting. The lockers – that store everything from stinky gym shoes to moldy lunches – are thoroughly cleaned during the summer months. The classrooms – normally crowded with desks and chairs – are all emptied of furniture, Martin said. Floors are waxed, carpets are shampooed, and light tubes are replaced. Summer cleaning not only takes a lot of time, it also takes a lot of cleaning products, Martin said. The district goes through about 400 gallons of general cleaning solutions, 55 cases of bathroom cleaner, more than 100 gallons of floor stripper, and more than 200 gallons of floor wax. Though the regular school traffic is gone, there are some obstacles for maintenance staff, Martin said. All of the school buildings have some type of summer programming to work around. The high temperatures and humidity sometime create slow drying times. And maintenance has to work around summer construction repairs – such as new flooring at Conneaut and Kenwood this summer. Plus there are staffing issues, he added. Maintenance workers wanting to take summer vacations with families can lead to days of short staffing. And teachers sometimes often want to keep working on their rooms once school is out for the summer – and some like to get back into their rooms early before the new year begins. Summer is also the time for classroom moves. This summer, there were 23 room changes in the middle school, 10 at Crim, eight at Conneaut, plus a few more in the high school and Kenwood buildings. Maintenance staff also uses the summer to complete “work order” requests. There were 42 requests during the last month of classes, followed up by 81 more in the summer, Martin said. Also at last week’s board of education meeting, Superintendent Francis Scruci further reported on the district’s state report card. Bowling Green received an overall grade of “B.” Only 28 districts in the state received an “A.” Scruci said there is a direct correlation between district affluence and the results. “We’re moving the needle in a positive direction,” he said. The district earned “A”s for student growth and graduation rates. Scruci also reported on the decisions to close school early some days due to extreme heat, and start late some days due to fog. “Our staff and students’ health, safety and well-being is our top priority,” he said. Toby Snow, the district’s transportation director, reported that the district has more bus drivers than past years, but more would be helpful. “I’ve never got enough,” he said.


BG task force studies building blocks of school funding

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News More than 50 citizens went back to school Wednesday evening to brush up on their math skills – specifically how the Bowling Green City School District can pay for building improvements. This first meeting – like all that consultant David Conley will hold – was an “open mic night.” The citizens on the task force rattled off questions they want answered as they dig into financing the school district’s future. Such as: What’s the difference between income and property taxes? What public-private partnerships are available to fund school projects, such as naming rights for private businesses? What legislation is in the works that could make a difference for BG schools? Are there public-public partnerships that could help BG schools, such as with Bowling Green State University, the city, the public library or through public health? Can different types of taxes be combined for projects? The monthly meetings of the financial task force are intended to give citizens the building blocks to help them make a decision that can then be presented to the school board. Conley explained some of the basics, such as – financing tools are the instruments used to borrow money. A funding plan is how the district can pay off that financing for a building project. “Schools only have a few financing tools available to them,” Conley said. But the funding options are far more plentiful, he added. “I want to give every opportunity a chance,” he said. That includes exploring the use of an income tax put on by the city but used to pay for school buildings. Or the sale of properties owned by the school district that are no longer occupied by buildings. Conley, of Rockmill Financial Consulting, has worked with about 125 school districts in Ohio to find funding solutions. He stressed to task force members that they are in control. “We’re in control of our own lives – especially when it comes to government. We just have forgotten that we are,” he said. The district’s request for open minds fell on a few closed ears. A handful of the citizens vehemently opposed to the last two bond issues talked about the district being deceptive in its use of permanent improvement dollars to put an addition on the middle school. Conley pointed out that permanent improvement funds can be used for projects like a building addition without going back to the voters. Some of the questions went further than just dollars and cents. One person asked if it would be possible to change the district boundaries, so that those areas outside the city can become part of another district, perhaps joining Patrick Henry or McComb. Another asked if the task force members will learn about demographics – what will sell and how they can sell it to voters. Yes, Conley said. “You will know how to look your neighbor in the face and say ‘We did our best.’” Conley cautioned that while the information about the district is “a snapshot of who you are today,” the task force’s decisions will have a lifespan of 30 to 50 years. “We’re making decisions not just about right now,” he said. These decisions will affect the citizens’ grandchildren and great-grandchildren. “We want to create the best possible options” for…


BG board advised to save money for teacher raises

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The Bowling Green Board of Education was schooled Tuesday evening to watch its spending – or when teacher negotiations roll around there won’t be enough for raises. Citizen Richard Strow warned that the $12 million in the bank right now should be maintained for teacher raises.  That $12 million, however, was the same money that some citizens criticized the board for not using on buildings earlier this year. The money in the bank was used as a reason for some voters to oppose the school levy. “You’ve got to find a way as a board to maintain what you have in the bank,” Strow said during the public comment portion of the school board meeting. Strow began his comments by thanking the board for changing the meeting times to 6 p.m., to make it easier for the public to attend. “It looks like a full house tonight,” he said. Strow also thanked the district for taking a conservative approach to delaying school due to fog. He recalled a fatal car accident on a foggy morning in 1972 that killed a fellow student. Strow suggested the board adopt that conservative approach with its budget. “You’ve got to get spending under control,” he said. “Otherwise the money is going to be gone.” After the board meeting, district treasurer Cathy Schuller said she shares Strow’s concerns. “He’s absolutely right. Those are the same concerns I have as well,” Schuller said. However, those concerns are based on the May budget numbers. The district updates its budget numbers every May and October, so new numbers will be available next month, Schuller said. Those numbers are expected to look much brighter, she said, explaining that the last district treasurer was “ultra-conservative” when forecasting the budget. Strow said the district will need that $12 million in reserves if it intends to offer pay raises of 2 to 2.5 percent. Negotiations with teachers will take place next spring. The district’s revenues appear flat for the next five years, but those raises will add another $500,000 to $750,000 to the annual expenses, he said. If the district isn’t careful, the board will have to ask voters more operating funds. And that could occur about the same time the district will be asking for more building funds. “It’s going to be a hard sell to the public,” Strow said, predicting “levy fatigue.” “They’re going to have to balance the needs of today with the realities of the voters,” he said. Also during the public comment portion of the school board meeting, citizen Frances Brent talked about the task forces established to find solutions to the district’s building issues. Brent asked that as the board members maintain their distance from the process, that they not go too far. School board member Paul Walker asked Brent if progress was made at the last meeting of the task forces. Brent replied yes, and said the decision to bring in an architectural firm to lead the facilities task force was a wise choice. “I was frankly frantic about how you were going to handle the meetings,” with all the strong personalities involved in the community, Brent said. But the firm selected kept the meeting in check. The next financial task force meeting will be held today…


Grandparents find support raising their grandchildren

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The seven strangers sat around the table, not sure where to start. They had at least one common bond – they were all grandparents who are now raising their grandchildren. The reasons varied. Some parents relinquished the rights to their children because of addictions to drugs or alcohol. But regardless of the reasons, the grandparents – who thought their days of daily parenting were done – were now raising another generation of their family. Last week was the first of monthly support group meetings being held for “Grandparents Raising Grandchildren,” at the Wood County Educational Service Center. Most of the grandparents started their stories by apologizing for feeling lost or complaining about their unexpected return to parenting. Felicia Otte, a school and community based prevention specialist liaison with the educational service center, told the grandparents to stop apologizing. “You have every right to feel that way,” Otte told them. That opened the floodgates, relieving the grandparents from guilt, and allowing them to speak freely about their struggles with those who knew exactly what they were talking about. (Because none of them wanted their grandchildren to be embarrassed, they asked that their names not be used.) One grandma talked about raising four grandchildren. One has attention deficit problems, and the specialists haven’t found the right medications to work for him yet. “I get a lot of phone calls from school,” she said. Another woman has found herself in the “sandwich” generation. At the same time she is raising three grandchildren, she is also struggling with the fact that her own mother is slipping and needs to be placed in assisted living. Then was the woman who has raised her teenage grandson since he was a toddler. She was able to offer words of encouragement and support to those just starting the journey. The only grandfather of the group just recently had two grandchildren move in with him per a court order. “It could be till next week or it could be forever,” he said. Another grandma told of taking in her two grandchildren off and on for years. It was just over two years ago that she realized the children were often home alone and taking care of themselves – so she stepped in. Her story got even more complicated, with her daughter overdosing and dying about 18 months ago, her grandson starting to wet the bed, and her not having time to properly grieve her daughter’s death. “I’m beyond my breaking point,” she said. The last to speak was a woman who took in her grand-niece after her niece was killed by a drunk driver. Initially, the father took care of the little girl, until she kept showing up with burned feet, broken bones, hungry and missing school. “This was the last thing we wanted. We don’t want to be raising a little girl,” she said. Then her voice softened. “But we love her with all our heart.” The grandparents shared stories about helping with homework – struggling especially “new math.” They talked about the financial demands that they had not planned for this time around. “She came to us with the clothes on her back – that weren’t even hers,” one woman said. They talked about not being able to retire,…