October 20, 2014

Medina
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Knight vows to restore teachers to Medina Schools

MEDINA — Interim Superintendent David Knight, a former elementary school principal, used a playful way to demonstrate a serious issue at Monday’s Medina school board meeting.

Using different clear plastic cups of M&Ms, Knight showed how elementary class sizes have changed over the years at district schools.

At Monday’s school board meeting, interim Medina Schools Superintendent Dave Knight, a former elementary school principal, holds up a drawing of a school bus to show that busing would be brought back to within a mile of all buildings if the levy is approved. In front of him are cups of M&Ms that he used to demonstrate changes in class sizes over the years. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY KIERA MANION-FISCHER)

Five years ago, Knight said, using the cups of M&Ms, there were 21 students separated into four classes. Because of years of failed levies and cuts, that same number of students now is divided into three classes of 28.

At the meeting, the board unanimously approved the final resolution to place a 5.9-mill, five-year operating levy on the Nov. 5 ballot.

If the levy passes, Knight promised, “We will bring back a reading teacher at each (elementary) building, and we are going to bring back some gifted teachers to help throughout the district.”

Knight has explained that 2.5 mills of the levy would be used to maintain the services the district provides now, and 3.4 mills would bring back programs that were cut, such as the reading intervention teachers, counselors, gifted programming, art, music and gym at the elementary level, high school and middle school electives and busing. The levy will not make class sizes smaller though, he said.

At one point, Knight ate one of the M&Ms.

“You just ate a kid!” said Andrew Shea, the student representative on the school board.

Knight took the joking in stride, saying: “This is not a parlor shell game that I have before you; it is not a cutesy illustration.

“These M&Ms represent real children.”

District Treasurer Jim Hudson explained that because the state budget, signed by Gov. John Kasich in June, eliminates the 12.5 percent property tax rollback for new school levies, the 5.9-mill tax will cost homeowners more than expected.

The school district would not receive any more money from the levy, which would bring in $6.6 million a year in operating funds, if passed.

With the rollback, the owner of a $100,000 home would have paid an additional $181 a year. Under the new law, without the rollback, that same homeowner would pay about $206 a year.

The board asked Knight to come up with a plan outlining what would be done if the levy fails, which he presented to the public at last month’s board meeting.

The plan includes eliminating neighborhood schools and moving toward a “banded elementary school concept,” and closing Heritage Elementary School.

Under the plan, two buildings would have preschoolers, kindergartners and first-graders, two buildings would house second- and third-graders and two buildings would house fourth- and fifth-graders.

Also, middle school sports and activities would be eliminated and high school electives would be reduced. Overall, the plan would save the district $1 million a year, he said.

“It was not a pleasant task, and frankly it was the lesser of all the evils of what we as administrators could come up with,” Knight said.

Terese Rawlins, a Medina resident with triplets going into third grade at Heritage, urged residents to approve the levy during the community comment section of the meeting.

“We need for the community itself to put everything aside that has gone on in the past and pass this levy,” she said. “We need to share that we love the school district and we love the community.”

Jennifer Werthmuller, another parent, said she supports the levy, but said she still sees a lack of trust in the board from the public.

“People don’t want to give their money to a board that in the past has misused their money,” she said. Werthmuller said she thought people would be more likely to vote for the levy if one more board member resigned.

The board also approved a memorandum of understanding that it would continue with Knight’s services as interim superintendent as long as both parties agree.

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.

Knight’s initial contract with the board only went through June 30.

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