LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS / Cleveland Heights-University Heights Board of Education meeting highlights [online 4-5-2016]

APRIL 5, 2016

  • Public comments
  • Staff reduction – board action
  • Field trips
  • Renovation change orders
  • District deficit
  • Board president’s comment on reductions

All board members were present.

Public comments: staff reductions

Twenty-nine people addressed the board, among them teachers and other staff, students, parents and citizens. All comments were in opposition to the staff reduction of 52 people, which is on the agenda. A number of speakers stated the opinion that class sizes must be kept low in order to adequately meet the needs of all students, including the district’s many special education students and students living in poverty or foster care. Patty Smith, intervention specialist, noted that 18 to 19 percent of district students have intervention needs. Several speakers asserted the value of being known by one’s teacher in terms of a student’s sense of security and positive school climate. Students especially cited the importance of individual attention and motivation from teachers. Brian Schaner, a Heights High science teacher and father of a Heights student, noted that teaching staff has already decreased in line with decreasing enrollment, and that merely meeting state requirements could result in a minimally adequate staffing level. Ari Klein, president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union and father of district students, stated that the deep staff reductions proposed do not reflect community values, and that careful thought, in consultation with teachers, should be given to each reduction, rather than making cuts across the board. Several teachers and students spoke against reducing art staffing, citing art as a healthy outlet for at-risk students, as well as a draw to the district. Heights High student David Matia pointed out that arts classes are the first to fill and students are turned away. Teacher Donna Salzman said that a National Education Policy Center study shows that large class sizes are more harmful to low income and minority students. Several speakers predicted that the reductions will lead families to move or choose private, parochial or charter schools, thus furthering decline in enrollment, public support and real estate values.

Staff reduction – board action

Each board member spoke before voting on the reduction in force. James Posch stated that the percentage of administrators to be cut is equal to, or slightly higher than, the percentage of teachers being cut. [Posch further stated] that the levy failure in 2015 and the loss of students to charter schools created the need for reduction, and that the community expects the district to be sustainable. Eric Silverman said that the school board must make businesslike decisions and empower the superintendent. Kal Zucker, board president, noted that all programs would be maintained, to which the superintendent added that most classes would increase by only two students. All five board members stressed the difficulty of this decision, but voted unanimously to approve the elimination of fifty-two positions.

Field trips

The board approved three student field trips: a group of Heights High students will attend the DECA International Career Development Conference in Nashville, Tenn. from April 22 to 27; another group will go on the Promise Morehouse field trip in Selma and Birmingham, Ala. and Atlanta, from May 11 to 15; and Heights High Spanish students will go to San Juan and Ponce, Puerto Rico from June 27 to July 2.

Renovation change orders

The board approved four change orders for the high school renovation project totaling $753,055. The additional work included foundation waterproofing, removal of unsuitable soil, and removal of an unanticipated section of building. Work has already been done on three of the four changes. Posch restated his discomfort with the number of change orders, even though they are correctly documented and necessary. Zucker repeated the need for timelier consideration of change orders and a specific policy for dealing with them. He asked Posch and Silverman, both members of the Lay Facilities Committee, to act as liaisons between the board and contractors. Zucker also stressed that the contractors must pay attention to the established budget and timeframe for the work.

District deficit

Scott Gainer, district treasurer and chief financial officer, said he responded to an Ohio Department of Education request for district plans to address a pending deficit by outlining the cuts just acted upon and the plan for an operating levy in the fall.

Board president’s comment on reductions

In his president’s report, Zucker noted, with regard to the staff reductions, the board’s statutory obligation to address a fiscal deficit. He also described Ohio’s school funding system as inequitable, unconstitutional and unsustainable.

LWV Observer: Nancy Dietrich.

These meeting summaries are abstracted from LWV observers’ written reports. The summaries have been edited and prepared by Anne McFarland, Charlene Morse and Maryann Barnes. To receive e-mail postings of full reports, send an e-mail to mbarnes9515@gmail.com or join through Google groups using “lwv-chuh observer reports” as a search phrase.

These reports contain member observation and selected highlights of public meetings and are not official statements of the Heights Chapter of the League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland. This disclaimer must accompany any redistribution of these reports.

League of Women Voters

Observer Corps editor for the Heights Chapter of the League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland

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Volume 9, Issue 5, Posted 9:17 AM, 04.22.2016