MILLERSPORT – Walnut Township Local School District has lost nine teachers since six lost their jobs for next school year as the district made significant cuts to eliminate a projected June 30, 2016, deficit. The cuts were required to keep the district from being forced into fiscal emergency which turns financial operations over to a five-member Financial Planning and Supervision Commission.
In all, the district cut six teaching positions, several non-teaching staff positions, and imposed salary reductions for administrators and a one-year wage freeze for everybody else. Since then, as the district struggles to pass a 7-mill, five-year levy, which would place the district on solid financial footing, staff members are leaving the district. “It’s the fear of the levy continuing not to pass and we may have to cut more jobs,” said Superintendent Randy Cotner.
“We’re bleeding staff. Every day I’ve been appalled,” said parent and school volunteer Dina Reasoner during Monday night’s school board meeting.
“We’re losing so many teachers,” said Millersport Elementary Principal Angie Harrison. “We don’t have enough teachers to watch the children. It’s one of the most frustrating situations right now.”
Cotner said the levy will be on the August ballot, and on the November ballot if it is rejected in August. As long as it continues to fail, the situation will not improve. “We’ll continue down the spiral,” he said. It’s going to get more and more difficult.” Cotner said the district’s financial woes will turn around fairly quickly if the levy passes in August. “The August election will be here before you know it,” he said.
Reasoner said in her opinion things need to “fundamentally change” in the district before the levy will be approved. “We need to have a shift in decisions,” she said. “We can’t make decisions, then change policy so it’s okay to make them. We can’t expect to do things without transparency and honesty and expect good outcomes.” Reasoner said she’s been “lied to, talked about, and misrepresented,” and her husband and sister-in-law lost positions with the district. “We need transparency and honesty in policy,” she said. “Fundamentally, things are faulty here. We shouldn’t be in this (financial) position. It’s our taxpayer money; they need to know we’re doing things differently.”
Reasoner said change begins with the school board. “It’s going to start with you all,” she said. Reasoner said the board and administration need to be open to new ideas.
Bus driver Christina Petit said the district needs to find out why people are voting against the levy, which has now been rejected three times. She believes voters see tension between the teachers and administration. “These are things people in the community see,” Petit said. “There’s no accountability in this school district. Everybody puts it on everybody else. Everybody in this district needs to give.” She said some teachers are leaving the district. “They don’t trust that we can fix this,” Petit said. “What we’re doing is not working. Things have to change in order to have community support.”
Reasoner said the district needs to evaluate its employees, which she said the district hasn’t done. “Every contract in this district needs to be reviewed,” she said.
Board President Tom Cumbow said the district continues to cut staff to balance its books, yet everyone expects the same amount of work to be completed.
Petit said people are just telling the board what they hear about the district from community members.
“Ninety percent of what we do is what the state tells us to do,” Cumbow said.
Board member Vince Popo said in the eight years he’s served on the board, the board has only approved purchase of two “big ticket” items – a bus and a chiller. He said not as many people voted in the May ballot.
Resident Beth Warner said “yes” votes were lost between the last two levy defeats. In fact, if there as many “yes” votes on the May ballot as there were last November, the levy would’ve passed. “It’s apathy; that’s where our problem is,” she said.
Popo said many of the people who live in the community don’t have children in the district or historic ties to the community. “We have to adapt to the 21st Century,” he said.
Dr. Glen Keller, husband of board member Karen Keller, said, “I’ve never seen (the board) more unified. There’s no hidden agenda.”
Cotner said while he appreciates the folks who regularly attend board meetings, he was told he’s “preaching to the choir” about the levy and wishes more people would attend board meetings. “There should be 100 new faces in here seeing this,” Cotner said. “We need a bigger choir.”
Wednesday, Cotner said, “Every organization can make improvements.” He said the district made $1 million worth of cuts from a $7 million budget. The cuts were tough for everyone, including board members, and he understands people are upset about those cuts. Cotner said the district does strive to be transparent, and if people have questions about the district he said he wished people would contact him directly, instead of allowing the rumor mill to churn.
In other business Monday night:
• Reasoner asked if substitute teachers and bus drivers who drove special routes missed a pay period because an accounting person was on vacation from the district office. “Are there people not being paid on time?”
Treasurer Kirk Grandy said the people receiving checks later than usual were informed ahead of time their checks would be late. “It wasn’t a shock to anyone,” he said. Cotner confirmed they were informed ahead of time.
“That’s unacceptable,” Reasoner said. “That is not okay.” She said someone else in the department should’ve signed for the checks.
• Grandy confirmed the 7-mill levy would appear on the November ballot if it fails in August. “I left the figured the same,” he said. Grandy said if the levy continues to fail, the district will only be $300,000 in the black next year. “That’s two payrolls; that’s really close,” he said. Grandy said if the levy passes, the district would be $3 million in the black and wouldn’t have to return to the voters for a long time.
• Cotner said most of the nine teachers who recently left the district would be replaced. He said a dean of students position would not be replaced.
Board members accepted resignations from:
• Noelle Harkabus as Instrumental Music Director/Teacher;
• Tasha Holbert as High School Intervention Specialist;
• Caitlin McClurg as High School Math Teacher; and
• Tom Laird as Head Softball Coach.
Supplemental contracts were approved for:
• Shawn Ziegler and Larry Dermer as football assistants;
• Kenny Hardy as Head Junior High Football ; and
• Tyler Van Horn as assistant Junior High Football.
Dave Sherrer and Chris Butts were recognized as volunteer football coaches.
• Kim Miller-Smith, regional manager for the Ohio School Boards Association, recognized board member Carol King for 10 years of service on an Ohio school board.