Frontier BOE discusses new kindergarten, consolidation plans

NEW MATAMORAS – The bright light of achievement and the dim prospects for the fiscal future bookended the monthly meeting of the Frontier Local Schools Board of Education Wednesday night.

Newport Elementary School received recognition from the Ohio Department of Education for academic accomplishments of its staff and students. Paul Mock, Southeast regional manager for the Ohio Association of School Boards, presented the board with the Ohio Department of Education High Progress School of Honor award.

Newport, Mock said, was one of 15 schools in the southeast region and one of 66 in the state to receive the award. According to the education department, the award is based on a five-year academic performance index of grade 3-8 students for schools in which at least 40 percent of the students are economically disadvantaged. The school has to show gains during the period in an array of English and math scores the index of which is at or beyond the 90th percentile of gains shown by all schools in the state. The period measured was 2014-18.

“They don’t just hand these out, this is high academic achievement,” Mock said.

“Congratulations to the Newport staff, this is outstanding,” Superintendent Brian Rentsch said.

After an executive session that lasted more than an hour, the board resumed its regular session and addressed two matters.

Rentsch announced that for the 2019-2020 school year, kindergarten students will be enrolled in their home school, a change from the system started this year in which all kindergarten students were placed in Newport Elementary School. The change had prompted an outcry from parents in New Matamoras, where about 15 children had to be bused daily the additional distance to Newport, and from teachers because of the bloated class size. What previously had been three classes, one in New Matamoras Elementary and two in Newport, was consolidated into two at Newport, one with 26 students and the other with 25.

Starting in the fall, Rentsch said, there will be two kindergarten and two first grade classes in Newport and one of each grade in New Matamoras.

He noted, however, that the rearrangement will put the district in an operating deficit.

In view of the district’s declining enrollment and financial pressures, he said, by the time the 2020-21 school year begins, “our objective is to consolidate those buildings.”

Rentsch said after the meeting that the board will continue to monitor its financial position and make the decision based on enrollments, which could result in closure of one of the schools.

“The future is dependent on revenue and student enrollment,” he said. “The hope we have is that the levies we propose are going to pass.”

The board previously has decided to ask voters to convert a 5-year emergency levy into a permanent levy that doesn’t require renewal. It also has an additional levy under discussion.

The board also considered a proposal to save money by eliminating the position of curriculum director, which is now occupied by veteran teacher and administrator Frank McCleery. In an unusual divided vote, the board defeated the motion 3-2, with vice president Justin Hoff, Jeff Webber and Jennifer Ramsay voting against it and Joani Reece and president Jeffrey Knowlton voting in favor.

Although he voted to defeat the motion, Hoff said as the meeting closed that the board had faced a number of difficult decisions trying to balance its financial position with the welfare of the district and students.

“I’ve been here for a while, and we’re back in a cycle of making hard decisions,” he said. “I see history repeating itself.”

Knowlton said he reluctantly had voted in favor.

“We need to save money, cut costs, and we’ve done that in the past by consolidating classes and teaching positions and combining administrative duties,” he said.

At the end of the meeting, Knowlton encouraged everyone who attended – about a dozen people, including several elementary school teachers — to encourage the community to come to the financial aid of their school district.

“It’s important for you to go out and get the support of community to renew the levy and increase funds in the spring,” he said. “We need it to serve our students.”

Knowlton also congratulated the Newport staff on their award.

In other business the board:

¯ Signed an exempt quit claim to transfer a deed that had been incorrectly entered nearly 70 years ago. Attorney Chris Justice told the board that a piece of property sold by the Newport School District in 1950 to the Number Nine Church didn’t register correctly because the church at that time was an unincorporated body and could not legally receive the property. The church has since disbanded, Justice said, and was unable to dispose of the property until the deed was corrected. Knowlton signed the document.

¯ Received $425.89 in donations.

¯Approved agreements for $9,798.75 for student support services, $1696.50 for OhioInfoLibrary services and $1,000 for content filtering services.

¯ Approved employment of Brian Sunderman as tutor for homeless students at $17.32 an hour for 220 hours of service, to be paid by reimbursement by the Ohio Valley Education Service Center under a grant.

¯ Hired a music teacher, Shirelle Barnett, as district music teacher for the 2019-20 school year.

¯ Renewed membership in the Ohio High School Athletic Association.

The board’s next scheduled meeting is at 7 p.m. May 13 at Frontier Middle and High School.