Thursday, May 22, 2008


The Board of Education of Olentangy Local Schools makes it a practice to post on their website audio recordings of their meetings. This post on Jim Fedako's blog, Anti-Positivist, caused me to listen to the first few minutes of their April 8, 2008 meeting.

One of the first things on a School Board's agenda is the approval of the agenda itself. At this meeting, Board member Jennifer Smith asked that an item to approve the contracts for certain administrators be removed from the agenda until the Board had a chance to review the actual contracts.

Superintendent Scott Davis answered her request by saying that it has been the practice of the Board to approve employment contract terms in advance of the preparation of the actual contracts, basing that approval on knowing only the name of the employee, proposed compensation, and term of the contract. Mr. Davis went on to say that he had sought advice from their attorney, and was told that it would be inappropriate to ignore approved Board policy to accomodate Ms. Smith's request. He went on to say that if Ms. Smith wanted to initiate the process of changing Board policy, she could do so - a process which includes drafting the new policies, and having readings of the proposed new policies at three separate Board meetings before a vote can be taken. Sounds like a daunting task for someone in the minority.

Furthermore, Mr. Davis recommended to the Board President that there was full agenda that night, and that the vote to approve the agenda be taken and that they move on. The President did so, and the agenda was passed unanimously. Too bad Ms. Smith caved - it would have been good to see a dissenting vote.

This whole exchange was eye-opening to me. School Boards around the state tend to operate in much the same way, taking guidance from the Ohio School Boards Association and the State Board of Education. I now understand that there is a whole body of policies which govern the way our School Board does its business, and those policies carry much more weight than the intentions of a new Board member seeking to reform things.

I wonder how often it is the case that our Board members read contracts before voting to authorize the Superintendent and Board President to sign the agreements. Did the Board members understand all the implications of the easement agreement with Homewood Homes for example?

How about the agreement to sell 90 acres of land on Cosgray Rd to real estate developers SC Interests, LLC? At the May 12, 2008 Board meeting where the vote was taken to authorize the signing of the contract, one of the Board members - Doug Maggied I believe - said that this contract gives the School District some say into how the property is developed. I requested a copy of the actual contract, and found it to say this (section 4.2.4):

Buyer shall deliver the Master Plan to Seller on or before the date on which it is required to deliver the Survey as provided above, and Seller and Seller’s board members shall have such time as may be necessary in order to review, comment and approve or disapprove of the Master Plan; provided, however that Seller shall have no right to terminate this Agreement on the basis that Seller does not approve the Master Plan.

I'm not an attorney, but doesn't this say that it doesn't matter whether or not the Board likes what SC Interests intends to do with the land, the sale must take place anyway? Further, it seems like it could be argued that once the sale takes place, the Board has no further right to "review, comment and approve or disapprove of the Master Plan." If there any attorneys out there who would like to comment, here is the full text of the agreement.

So little discussion takes place at our Board meetings that I'm not sure how much of this stuff the Board digs into and tries to understand before taking their votes.

One thing that is clear is that the voice of a reformer can be effectively squelched by rules, procedures and policies which are the legacy of all the Boards which have come before. True change can happen only when the reformers have a majority on the Board. In the next election (Nov 09), three of the five seats are up for grabs - that opportunity cannot be allowed to slip by.


  1. Paul, some interesting information
    and which is why we have lost control of our school spending.
    You are correct that 3 new people need to be elected who will question all of this stuff but two or one is better than none.

    Perhaps I will take some detailed time to really look at this and then inquire legally what the deal really is.

  2. One of the Board member works in the Office Of Real Estate for ODOT and should have fully understood the language written into the easement agreement with Homewood.

  3. RMT: Thanks for the comments. Hope you get a chance to analyze the contract.

    Anon: Yes, that's Andy Teater. My question is whether they actually read (and understood) the agreement before authorizing the Superintendent to execute it.


  4. I've said this before, but I really think it is worth repeating. Please consider the upcoming levy request based on its own merits (or lack thereof, if you feel so inclined). The levy should not be a vote for or against the BOE or any of its specific members. Consider the consequences of 100+ (200?) teachers being laid off and how that will affect the schools and our community. IMHO, it would be disastrous.

    That being said, if you feel like specific BOE members are not getting the job done, then get out and vote for someone that you feel WILL do a good job. You could even put yourself on the ballot.

    (By 'you', I mean collective 'you'. The comment is not targeted specifically to the previous posters.)

  5. Anon:

    Not sure to whom exactly you are directing your remarks, but if at me:

    1. I have voted in favor of every levy ever since moving to Hilliard 30 years ago and publicly supported the one on the ballot last March. In fact, I didn't think 9.5 mills was enough.

    2. My motivation for creating this blog is to provide an information channel in the absence of effective communications from the school leadership. The goal is to inform people WHY we are in this financial predicament so they will help me fight for change;

    3. I did run for the School Board in 2007, and at this point plan to do so again in 2009. Hope to see you on the ballot as well.

    A friend of mine who is a former Board member in another suburban district suggested to me that it will take a severe financial crisis in a well-respected district to wake people up to what's gone wrong in central Ohio.

    Hint: it's all about the developers and homebuilders being in control of local politics (please read "Getting Around Brown"by Jacobs)

    By the way, it is only 90 days until the paperwork for the levy issue needs to be submitted to the Board of Elections, and 130 days until the window for filing absentee ballots opens.


  6. Anon @ May 22, 2008 4:17 PM here...

    Paul, Wow - I must have really missed the target in what I was trying to communicate. My comments were NOT directed specifically AT anyone. I am not criticizing you. That is what I intended to convey in my last paragraph. Apparently, I didn't a very good job.

    I've seen in another post where you've supported every school issue. I do believe you.

    While I might not agree with everything you've said on here, I think it is very important to note that we agree on some very fundamental issues:

    1) Residential development needs to be controlled and impact fees levied.
    2) The Board needs to a better job of communication.
    3) We need additional operating money and we need it now.

    I was attempting to convey the message that the voting for the levy does not = a vote for or against the BOE (or any specific member). I know that you've been somewhat disappointed in the number of voters who actually turn out and vote on matters as important as school levies. Again, I agree with you there.

    My point in saying that people could put themselves on the ballot was meant to be an encouragement to participate and not believe that they can't be a part of this community's future.

  7. Anon:

    Thanks for the clarification, and I appreciate that you took the time to engage in the dialog.

    KJ often says the same thing as you: We can't let our annoyance with the school leadership get in the way of making sure the school district remains adequately funded. I agree.

    We need to pass an operating levy or our schools will be forced to change into something far different from the great system most of us moved here to be part of.

    Another frequent commenter also speaks the truth when he says 40% of the voters will support the schools no matter what, and 40% will vote against a levy no matter what. The battle is for the 20% who will make their decision mostly on emotion - frankly because that's all they have to go on.

    This blog is addressed to that 20% - to help them replace a lot of that emotion with facts and understanding, and yes, maybe a little anger directed at the people who put us in this position: developers and developer-friendly politicians (by the way, I really enjoyed reading this story of Mayor Schonhardt vs. The City Council - maybe there's hope!).

    While some important discussion takes place on this blog, we still aren't reaching a significant fraction of the 20%. Neither did the levy campaign committee.

    To get this levy passed, the school leadership must communicate, communicate, communicate. They must themselves earn the trust of the 20%, not hide behind a levy campaign committee.

    Nor can they keep blaming our funding problems on the State. The state government is facing its own financial crisis, and the state leaders feel no urgency to help school districts in what they consider affluent areas (after all, we just plunked down $65 million for a new high school - how bad off can we be?)

    They must understand that few of the 20% will, in these days of $4 gas, vote to hand over an additional $1,000 per year in property taxes to people they don't trust to be good stewards of that money.


  8. This is a topic I can get behind!! One of constructive, solution-based ideas.

    Anon/Paul, I completely agree that we must pass a levy SOON! That's not to say I don't understand the position of many in the community. I completely get it.

    I like to think that I am an objective participant in this discussion. I am neither pro-union or pro-BOE. And I think my posts back that claim. I have a teaching spouse in the district and routinely call for lower raises for the HEA. I've also made my position known on unions in general. Likewise, I've attended Board meetings, written frank letters to the administration that were certainly not flattering, and "aggressively discussed" discussed my concerns to the Board president.

    Basically, I am ticking people off on both sides of me. LOL. But that's not my goal. My goal is, and forever will be, to provide the best possible school system for my kids and all the kids in this district. It's why I moved here and it's why I care so much.

    Education is THE number one thing that separates America from all others. It's also the "game breaker" for our kids future. It's a competitive world and I hope we, as a community, prepare our children well for the difficult challenges of the future. OK, I sound like a politician, I should stop. But I am sincere in that I will vote for the upcoming levy and will work with the campaign committee and any other supporting group to do what I can to deliver the levy.

    Also, and this is a BIG "also" that many miss.... I will work toward the solution to school funding issues, including fiscal responsibility by the district. Voting for the levy is not a blank check for the future. I fear many believe that to be the case. I believe we can fund the schools while working toward the solution and holding those in positions of authority accountable. It's not an either/or decision. It can be both!

    Let's talk solutions and opportunities for improvement. That's would be a constructive use of our time and this web site.

  9. We MUST pass the levy soon? There are always two sides to a budget deficit - income and expense. Until the expense side is addressed in a better fashion, the 20% are not going to increase the income side of the equation, as those 20% feel that there is still tremendous overspending. Witness the "new" HEA contract which is, in my opinion, too rich for the current economic environment.We have already been told that 3 years from now there will be a similar levy issue - are we to infer that this will be the case EVERY 3 years into infinity? And the usual 7% raises too?
    Also,I'm not so sure we need new board members as much as we need people in city government to consider the school situation to be the most important issue facing Hilliard. The water is already over the dam with past practices - they need to aggressively go after commercial tax revenue. I actually think the current administration has done a pretty fair job of that but it must be the primary focus, and the school board needs to be leaning very heavily on the city to
    keep it going.

  10. I think the "reformation" will actually be "business as usual"

    The levy campaign will have huge financial support from the developers, city fathers, board, admin. HEA, Banks that have
    a huge financial self interest.

    As usual there will be very few
    questions out and about, and this will be interpreted as everything is ok. The problem is the board
    and HEA have created a dont ask
    situation otherwise you get the consequences, especially if you have children in school. I know I wont be asking any questions, having learned the hard way once.

    The district could have save a
    collective 7 to 9 million over three years easy by reducing the raises just two percent. This would eliminate the talk of laying off 200 teachers. In addition think of the next contract when it comes up. Another 3% + 4% step increase, 4% admin. increase. And all that with the same amount of payroll. Added costs to that will be the staffing of Bradley.

    We are expected to tighten our belts, eliminate our costs, but the district and the HEA get off with a free pass, AND you cant say anything about it for fear of retriubtion from the HEA in the classroom

    We will become a district that is entitled but the problem with that is that some kids wont be able to participate in extra curriculars
    as their parent with fee increases and huge tax increases have to cut back. I wont miss the practice shuttle, or the extra rehearsals
    but I will miss seeing the competition that my children
    participated in and their choral concert because we have to cut things out.

    The levy could have been less
    with proper attention paid to
    compensation at 2 to 4 % versus
    7% and 2% versus 4% with the admin
    that would have put the school employess in line with the rest of
    of us. How we can give 4% automatic raises and then shut out kids
    in extracurriculars is beyond my

    As the fall levy will state
    It is for the kids, the only thing is which ones, not all.

  11. Paul: I have sat in on other school boards in this state and that was my impression also. The superintendent runs the show. In one school district it was so evident that I felt like the superintendent was holding the school board hostage; very close to that audio file you posted.

    Since when is it policy to not read contracts....hahahaha. That is bad policy in any aspect of life. I believe most of the people on the school want to do a good job, but most have no idea of the laws, how to handle themselves politically and legally and some just lack any backbone to handle pressure from what seems to be a "higher authority". The irony of this situation is ....that is the whole reason the school board is there. hahahaha