June 28, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Trying to hold onto their Heritage

Students and parents join hands around Heritage Elementary school on Friday in a show of support for the Medina City Schools Levy on the November ballot. After the demonstration, they piled into decorated cars to tour the neighborhood with their message as part of "Hands and vans around the neighborhood" event. (LOREN GENSON / GAZETTE)

Students and parents at Heritage Elementary School in Medina sent a very literal message about how much they love their school on Friday afternoon.

They gathered around the front of the school, joined hands and shouted, “Save our heritage.”

Then, they piled into minivans decked out in green and yellow streamers to complete what organizers called “hands and vans around our neighborhood.”

“I wanted to do a parade, but through the whole neighborhood, so the idea was to meet at the school, then decorate the cars and hit the neighborhood,” said Terese Rawlins, a parent who helped organize the event.

Parents and students have voiced concerns about losing Heritage. If the five-year, 5.9-mill Medina Schools levy on the November ballot fails, the district has announced it will close Heritage in the 2014-15 school year.

With the closing, Medina would switch to a “banded elementary school concept,” meaning elementary students would be divided into schools by grade level, rather than attending the building nearest to their home.

Heritage students and parents have been among the most active in campaigning for the levy.

“I have a kindergartner and a first-grader,” Alana Bell said. “They walk together; but if the levy doesn’t pass, they’ll be in two different schools.”

On Friday, just before the hands and vans event, students and parents heard from Wes Florian, a longtime Medina teacher and principal who served as principal of Heritage Elementary for 17 years.

He said he remembered when the school was built and said the staff, parents and students at the school made it the best experience of his career.

“I think the levy is going to pass this time,” he told the crowd.

The Heritage event is one of many grassroots levy campaign activities launched by Kids First Medina, said Brigid Turrittin,

co-chairwoman of the levy organization.

“Each grade school took on their own committee to do what works for them,” Turrittin said. “The principals took the lead. They’ve taken initiative to bring in the parents and they’ve really pulled together their own teams.”

A number of schools have public events planned for the next two weekends as Election Day approaches.

Turrittin said they’ve also tried to reach out to other segments of the voting population besides those who have children in the district.

This year, the campaign has received help in reaching out to seniors and church groups in the district.

She said Florian has hosted talks with seniors at local assisted-living facilities and at a senior spaghetti dinner sponsored by the committee.

“He talks to them about how the schools are the backbone of our community and he talks about how important it is to the neighborhood to have good schools,” she said. “He does a really good job explaining it.”

Interim Superintendent Dave Knight also has reached out to local church groups to speak with them about the importance of the levy.

Voters have rejected requests for new money in each of the last five years.

The last new operating levy — a permanent 7.9-mill tax — passed in 2005. The last renewal levy was approved in 2006.

Turrittin said she’s much more optimistic about the levy’s chances this time around.

“In general, I think more people know about it this time,” he said.

Since the last levy attempt, there have been a number of changes in response to public outcry over Superintendent Randy Stepp’s new contract, approved by the school board in January, which provided for an $83,000 “retention” signing bonus.

Stepp was placed on paid leave in April pending the outcome of a special state audit into his spending of district money held in a “carryover” fund held by the Medina County Schools’ Educational Service Center.

The school board has implemented reforms aimed at keeping a better eye on spending and adding more transparency.

The board also has two new members, appointed to fill vacancies left by resignations, and three seats on the five-member board are up for election in November.

The two board members not up for election, Susan Vlcek and Karla Robinson, have promised to resign sometime in 2014 and allow the new school board members to appoint replacements.

Turrittin said voters have told her they are optimistic about the changes.

“People wanted Randy out, they wanted the board replaced and they wanted new financial constraints,” she said. “We had these three stumbling blocks, and for the most part, they’ve been addressed.”

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.

Loren Genson About Loren Genson

Loren Genson was The Gazette's senior reporter. From August 2012 through September 2015, she covered Brunswick city and state and national government. To contact The Gazette, call the managing editor at (330) 721-4065.