2017-11-11 / News

Analysis: Lakewood Board tries to nullify election

By Charles Prince

HEBRON - About 27 hours after polls closed and after a nearly two-hour executive session Wednesday night, Lakewood School Board members voted unanimously to nullify Tuesday’s election.

It took less than five minutes as lame duck President Judy White moved to approve a twoyear contract extension for Superintendent Mary Kay Andrews. Retiring board member Trisha Good seconded the motion. Board members Bill Gulick, Tim Phillips and Steve Thorp also voted “yes.” There was no discussion.

Andrews’ current contract expires July 31, 2018. The two-year extension means the lame duck board has tied the new board to Andrews for 31 months of their 48-month term.

White said Andrews agreed to accept a two-year contract instead of a longer contract because “community confidence” is so important to her. The audience, which had shrunk to about two dozen from nearly a hundred before the two executive sessions, walked out quietly in shock.

Tuesday, 3,357 voters - 33.7 percent of the registered voters - cast ballots to fill three expiring terms on the board and renew a five-year 4.9 mill emergency levy that accounts for about 10 percent of the district’s income.

A total of seven candidates sought three seats on the board. Challengers Tara Houdeshell, Jonathan Lunch and Bill Pollard were elected with 1,512, 1,305 and 1,007 votes respectively. Challenger Chelsea Francis was fourth with 943 votes. Incumbent Tim Phillips lost his reelection bid, garnering 892 votes. Voters turned back White’s bid for a fourth term; she received 863 votes. Challenger Doyle Pertuset came in last with 534 votes.

The renewal levy, which didn’t raise taxes, was approved by a 1,770 to 1,542 vote.

The agenda, for Wednesday evening’s board meeting, sent out to the media and other interested parties at 2:39 p.m. on Tuesday, November 7, listed just one executive or closed session for the November 8 regular board meeting. Its purpose was “to consider the purchase of land for public purposes.”

The second executive session - “for the purpose of considering the employment of an employee or official of the school district” - was added after the election results came in Tuesday night. District treasurer Glenna Plaisted announced several additions to the agenda, including the additional executive session, at the beginning of Wednesday evening’s meeting.

This was the second time board members had discussed a contract extension for Andrews in an executive session. At last month’s regular meeting on October 11, an overflow crowd urged board members not to take action on Andrews’ contract extension until the new board is seated next year. Though White didn’t provide any details about the extension, it was believed to be for five years and reportedly included a clause that if Andrews were to be terminated before the extension expired, she would still receive full compensation for the five-year term.

Last month, parent Earl Wallace presented a petition asking the board to postpone considering the superintendent’s contract renewal until next year. He garnered about 150 signatures in about four hours before the meeting. After spending about 20 minutes in executive session, White announced October 11, that, “No decisions have been made contractually.”

No one commented Wednesday evening during the first public comment opportunity. That changed at the second opportunity for public comment just before the two executive sessions.

A parent expressed concern about her second grader being listed as under-performing on reading based on a computer-based test. She said her daughter reads well at home, but is not familiar with computerized tests. Phillips told her that having difficulties with computer-based testing is a problem state-wide. Director of District Services Patti Pickering told her that the state currently requires computer-based testing for the third grade reading guarantee. She promised that the second grader will be getting much more experience with computer testing next year when she is in the third grade.

The parent also asked why a sheriff’s deputy was present for the second meeting in a row and whether the district was paying for him. Andrews said she had again asked “for an extra duty officer” - which means the district is paying the tab. “I don’t think we need to pay a sheriff out there to protect you,” the parent told Andrews. Andrews said the deputy was there to protect the public. The parent asked the board to “wait until the new board is in place” to address the contract extension. “People spoke last night on this board,” she added.

Parent Dave Lohr, with three children in the district, asked the board to expand the WATCH D.O.G.S. program at Hebron Elementary to all district schools. The program provides positive male role models for the students, demonstrating by their presence that education is important. “We need men around,” he said. Lohr also expressed concern about the presence of the deputy. He too said, “The community has spoken,” asking the board to table the contract extension until the new board takes office. “It can wait.”

Board member-elect Tara Houdeshell asked whether board members had meet with the teachers union since the last meeting to see what prompted the low vote of confidence in the superintendent. She also asked whether there had been any “relationship building” with teachers. No one responded. “If not,” Houdeshell said, “We need to pause on moving forward with a renewal contract.

Board member-elect Bill Pollard said he wanted an opportunity to get to know Andrews and the incoming board should have a chance to review her.

A parent then said there is a major drug epidemic in the district and asked if the district had formed a taskforce to address it. “We need to be proactive.”

Her comment hit a raw nerve with a number of parents and students. One parent asked that student athletes be drug-tested followed by all students. He said there has to be deterrents to drug use. He asked what the district was doing about drug testing. “We need community engagement,” Andrews told him.

Pollard added, “There is a huge problem here.” When his daughters were going to Reynoldsburg Schools, all students, even at the middle school level, were subject to random drug testing.

High school principal Stacey Stein said, “We are already getting the ball rolling...We’re doing our background research right now...A taskforce is the next step...We are very aware of the problem.”

A parent suggested having the sheriff’s office bring in a K-9 to check lockers and student vehicles to applause. “I have no problem with it,” White said.

Parent and school volunteer Andrea Lynch said, “Let’s get some action after the words...Our handbook for student athletes is pathetic.” She noted that when she was a three-sport athlete at Lakewood, there was zero tolerance for drug and alcohol use. “We must be the leader,” she added. “Put verbs behind the words.” She also asked that a contract extension for Andrews be postponed.

Student government president and senior Cameron Vayanky said, “It is totally a mess here...Bring in the dogs. This culture needs to change. We need help from adults.” He noted that drug use is open and that students reporting it are often harassed and bullied.

Kelly Cramer, a former intervention teacher at Lakewood, said her daughter who is a senior wants to go to another school. She said she was deemed a “snitch” and is now harassed. Another student said she had reported drug use and is now harassed as a “narc.”

Pollard added that he waited until his daughters had graduated before seeking a board seat. He didn’t want them harassed for decisions he might make as a board member.

Sadly, these emotional and heartfelt comments and others did not prompt any specific commitments from board members or administrators. Andrews and Stein weren’t even on the same page as to the status of vice principal Kevin Krier’s fact-finding efforts with Heath and Licking Valley.

Board members spent about 20 minutes in executive session, returning with White moving to purchase approximately 16.5 acres of farmland from Licking-Fairfield Corporation for $135,000. White said it “will enhance the current campus.” The purchase is necessary to accommodate a new onestory elementary school. The vote was 4-0, with Thorp abstaining.

In other business Wednesday night, Lakewood’s Finance Taskforce has scheduled another meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 14, in the high school library. The meeting has been set “to review feedback from the September 13 school board meeting and discuss additional funding options.” The group is expected to take another look at possibly combining an earned income tax and an additional property tax levy to fund a new elementary school and some other capital improvement projects.

Board members unanimously approved the retirements of Director of Maintenance Jerry McCune effective Dec. 31 and high school secretary Kimberly Hall effective January 31.

Coaching supplements were approved for:’

• Jonathan Griffith, varsity head softball coach;

• Christopher Pound, girls varsity assistant basketball coach;

• Ardeen Rennell, boys varsity basketball assistant coach;

• Chadwick Sellers, 7th grade boys basketball coach;

• Jeromy Searls, 8th grade boys basketball coach; and

• Craig Smart, head boys and girls volunteer bowling coach.

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