July 24, 2016

Mostly cloudy

No Medina levy, no traditional elementary schools

MEDINA — Failure to pass a Medina City Schools levy in November would mean drastic cutbacks, including closing Heritage Elementary School and grouping grade levels at each building.

That’s the message interim Superintendent David Knight presented the school board Monday night.

Interim Medina Schools Superintendent David Knight, left, laid out plans for what would be cut if a November levy fails, including the closure of Heritage Elementary School. Board member Bill Grenfell sits at right. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY KIERA MANION-FISCHER)

“We need to cut one million dollars if we’re going to continue to operate in the black,” Knight said.

The board agreed to a resolution to place a five-year, 5.9-mill levy on the Nov. 6 ballot. The board must still approve a second resolution at another meeting.

If passed by voters, the levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $181 a year. The levy will generate about $6.6 million a year in revenue.

Even with the $1 million cut, the district would still face a 6.2 million deficit in fiscal year 2017, Knight said, and a future levy would still be needed.

In the 2014-15 school year, the district would go from a neighborhood elementary schools concept to a “banded elementary school concept,” Knight said.
That would mean two of the district’s elementary schools would be pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade, two would be grades two and three and the remaining two schools would contain grades four and five.

The new system would allow personnel cuts in a principal, teachers, custodial and support staff, and increase costs in transportation, with an estimated savings of $605,000, Knight said.

Cindy Grice, principal of Ralph E. Waite Elementary School, said academic research has shown this is not the best model for student success.

“Increasing the number of transitions from school to school will negatively impact student achievement,” she said.

Knight said other cuts would be need.

“Middle school sports and would be eliminated,” resulting in a savings of $240,000, he said. “Pay to participate will not be an option. Children will have to wait until high school to participate in school sponsored sports and activities.”

Reducing central office staff and budgets will reduce spending by $140,000.

High School options and electives will be further reduced, saving $105,000.

Knight also laid out what would be brought back if a levy passes.

Busing would be brought back to a one-mile radius from all school buildings, if the levy is approved. Busing is now at the state minimum of two miles, and there is no high school busing.

“It’s hard to teach a child if we don’t get them here,” Knight said. The levy would also provide funding for more school resource officers.

Knight said levy revenue could pay to bring back various programs and services that were cut in the past, including a reading intervention teacher at each of the elementary buildings, gifted services, counseling services, and more art, music and gym classes at the elementary level.

The programs would be brought back in the 2014-15 school year. The levy would also allow for more choices of electives at the high school and middle school levels.

Ohio is requiring a teacher evaluation system next year, and the levy would help with that. “This is an example of an unfunded mandate,” he said.
Five levies have failed since 2008.

Knight was named interim superintendent April 23 after the board placed Superintendent Randy Stepp on paid leave pending the outcome of a special state audit into his use of district money from a carryover account held by the Medina County Schools’ Educational Service Center.

Stepp has sued the board and other school officials for violating his contract after members voted to rescind it after pressure from the public.

During the community comment portion of the meeting, Lori Berger, a special education teacher at Heritage Elementary School, urged the board members who voted for Stepp’s contract to resign.

“As a Heritage employee, on behalf of my students and on behalf of my son, I ask you to please step down and resign so we have half a chance to pass this levy,” she said.

In response, Robinson asked the community to consider how the board has responded to the controversy.

“The reason that I have stayed on the board is that I have weighed two competing issues — one of which is the need to continue the operation of this board at the highest possible level, in order to continue to serve students, and the other is the community’s dissatisfaction with some of the choices that we have made and the mistakes we have made collectively and I have made individually.”

Robinson apologized to the community.

“I am so sorry that we have had a controversy take attention away from our students. I am sorry for the decisions that I have made that have been in the wrong.”

Contact reporter Kiera Manion-Fischer at (330) 721-4049 or kfischer@medina-gazette.com.