school task forces

BG School Board defends openness and discusses vision

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The Bowling Green Board of Education heard the good news first Tuesday evening. The new “Lunch Bunch” program at Conneaut Elementary is making lunchtime much less hectic. The improved district report cards have resulted in recognition from the state. And safety measures in buildings and training of staff are taking place. Then came the bad news. The board was accused of stripping the Constitution from the district’s core values, and not responding to requests for public records. The board president was chided for exaggerating the poor conditions of the older school buildings. Steve Bateson, a member of the school facilities task force, said the meetings have been very informational – with people on all sides of the issue engaging together. But he cautioned that the solution to the district’s building problems will not come quickly. “This is going to be a slow process,” Bateson said. Bateson was critical of School Board President Jill Carr making a comment during a previous meeting about watching “our buildings deteriorate before our eyes.” Bateson said Conneaut and Kenwood appear to be well maintained. After Tuesday’s meeting, Carr defended her statement of concern about the two oldest elementaries which were built in the 1950s. “I said that, and I stand by that,” Carr said. Another task force member, Brenda Pike asked the board about its “vision for the future” for students – whether that vision would include traditional classrooms or more open, flexible spaces. Board member Bill Clifford said his vision is for “all of the above,” with some more conventional classrooms and some creative spaces. Pike told the board it would be helpful to know the district’s philosophy as the task force is looking at options. Board member Ginny Stewart said she had hoped the task forces would be seeking input from district curriculum specialists. “I would hope you would engage the curriculum director,” Stewart said. While there are several teachers on the task forces, no administrative staff has yet been asked for input at the task force meetings. Ann McCarthy, executive director of teaching and learning for the district, explained to Pike that flexible learning spaces furnished with flexible seating would be better for students. “If we build a building of today, we are shooting ourselves in the foot,” McCarthy said. Stewart agreed that traditional learning spaces are obsolete when it comes to today’s educational practices. Also at the meeting, parent Dallas Black criticized the board for removing commitment to the U.S. Constitution from the district’s core values. He objected to the board practice of now requiring those in attendance to sign up if they want to speak during board meetings. “Are you just going to continue to take away community rights,” Black asked. Black accused Carr of not complying with requests for open records. In an effort to practice what he called “public shaming,” Black passed out a request for board members’ public and personal emails about a board matter. After the meeting, Carr said School Treasurer Cathy Schuller has responded to requests from many citizens for board communications on certain topics. Schuller said she had complied with all the requests she has received. Also after the meeting, Black said he had received copies of previous correspondences that he had requested. However, he was denied in cases where the requests were deemed to be too broad, Black said. (A story on the other matters discussed at the board meeting will follow.)

BG school board talks about teachers, task forces & transparency

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green Board of Education heard some tough talk on Tuesday about teachers leaving the district, huge community task forces, and mysterious phone surveys asking local residents how they voted on the last school bond issue. With school starting in six weeks, Superintendent Francis Scruci noted that the district had hired 25 new teachers. During exit interviews with outgoing teachers, the two most common reasons given for leaving the district were the salaries and the perceived lack of support from the community on the last two bond issues. “We’re losing young teachers,” Scruci said. “We’re losing them to neighboring districts.” The hope is that the community support issue may be resolved with two task forces being formed to come up with solutions to the district’s building issues and financing of those buildings. David Conley, of Rockmill Financial, has been hired by the district to help find answers. Conley reported to the board Tuesday on updates in the task force effort. “This is really exciting, for a lot of people to start over and have the opportunity to be involved,” he said. Conley presented the most recent numbers of people joining the task forces, with 94 signing up for the facilities group, and 64 signing up for the finance group. “To me, that’s really, really nice,” he said. “This is intended to be an inclusive process.” School board member Bill Clifford questioned if the size of the task forces would make them difficult to manage. “You can’t have too many people,” Conley said, adding that leadership, positivity, and genuine participation make it work. However, he noted that if members of a task force aren’t working sincerely on the goals, they can be asked to leave the group. “This is the community’s task force, not the board’s task force,” he said. Members of the task force will not agree on everything, but they will at least represent the diverse feelings of the community, Conley said. The first gathering of the task forces will be a joint meeting of both groups on Aug. 28, at 7 p.m., in one of the school cafeterias. The meeting, which is expected to last an hour, will cover the ground rules of the task force process. Conley will be the facilitator of the finance task force. He is still searching for someone to lead the facilities task force. He is looking for someone from outside the district who has some knowledge of school facilities and construction. The person must be “independent.” “There’s a lot of emotion around this process,” he said. Later in the meeting, citizen Bud Henschen, an outspoken opponent of the school bond issues, suggested that the task forces have co-facilitators representing those for and against the last levies on the ballot. He also said the facilitators should not be “outsiders.” “You don’t want to see it go down again,” Henschen warned the school board. Clifford said he initially thought the same, but the board has been advised that the facilitators be unbiased. Henschen also scolded the board for not being transparent – by not telling the community about a phone survey being conducted asking citizens how they voted on the school bond issues. “Did you hire someone to do a survey,” he asked. School Board President Jill Carr informed Henschen that the board was not behind the phone survey. “This board is not involved in a survey at all,” she said. After the meeting, citizen Barb Keller told the board that she also received a school survey call. Scruci and Carr said they have received similar…