Austerity urged by Warren board member

VINCENT – A Warren Local Schools board of education member urged his fellow board members to look into tightening the district’s belt as an operating levy looms in May.

Willie Holbert, who was elected back onto the board in November after a previous stint, raised several concerns about spending he said should be considered before a decision goes to voters on whether to approve a levy.

In addition to the concerns, the board discussed and approved the retirement of some employees and discussed new regulations made by the state of Ohio for teaching and testing in relation to the implementation of Common Core standards.

“A big pet peeve I have is what we pay for mileage in our district,” Holbert said, mentioning that he had noticed several fairly significant amounts of money logged by educators and administrators for travel purposes. “If we’re going to start cutting costs, let’s look at some of the things we can actually control.”

Treasurer Melcie Wells pointed out that the board has been stricter on travel expenses for teachers attending professional development events.

“The miles are what they are and they have to be reimbursed using IRS rates,” she said. “Instead, we’re doing things like cutting back on hotel and meal expenses.”

Wells noted that teachers have been put on stricter standards as far as spending, as they must calculate the distance based on where they depart and not where the district is, and the district has broken down exactly how much it costs for each meal and for shared hotel rooms.

Holbert urged the board to consider meeting to discuss the issue more seriously.

“We really need to look at our numbers, because this is coming up in May,” he said. “It’s a crucial time, and if we don’t pass this operating levy, I’d hate to see what tomorrow brings. We need to start tightening our belts.”

The emergency levy is a 10-year renewal of an existing levy, originally put in place in 1995 for $1,755,600. The board plans to announce to the community that its April board meeting will help serve as an educational tool to teach voters more about the levy.

Superintendent Kyle Newton assured Holbert that though his concerns were justified, professional development is something that is important to assure teachers are up to date.

“All of that professional development is scrutinized to make sure it’s within the scope of what we’re doing now and what we need to get done,” he said.

Much of that professional development, Wells noted, comes from a Race to The Top grant, intended to raise graduation rates and better evaluate teachers.

The grant mandates that teachers receive training as a result, often requiring them to travel to Columbus or nearby areas.

Holbert also discussed a scoreboard, donated by the Warren Elementary Youth Athletics Group to Warren Elementary, valued at $2,557.50

The LED board, Holbert said, might have been a donation, but it now requires upkeep and maintenance that adds cost.

“Are we in the business to have to repair things?” Holbert asked the board. “Is it always right to buy the right parts and to hire the right person to do the job, or is it OK to just buy something and then have to work on it. I don’t agree with this.”

Newton assured Holbert that at this point, the option to go with an LED scoreboard, because of the newer technology, is less expensive to maintain than keeping what is in place now.

The board also discussed new changes with the state of Ohio’s new education standards.

With Common Core, the state-mandated standard for a universal curriculum plan with set standards for testing, Warren educators are in the process of developing standards locally and setting forth plans to meet that requirement.

“Right now they’re deciding what students who are falling short in classes can do, and setting a timeline for alternative assessment for students who are exempt from the Ohio Graduation Test and the Ohio Achievement Assessment for cognitive reasons,” said John Nichols, a member of the learning instruction assessment committee.

With the new implementation of the Third Grade Reading Guarantee that requires students to score a minimum on the OAA to move on to fourth grade, the district is installing personalized learning tutors.

“This is coming soon for Title 1 for targeted intervention programs,” Newton said. “This will be after-school tutoring for students that need that extra help. It’s good because it will get students geared up before testing.”

In other business Tuesday:

The board approved the implementation of policies that allow homeschooled students living within the district to participate in extracurricular activities and interscholastic athletics, a mandate brought forth by the state of Ohio last year.

The board approved the retirement for several employees, including teacher Melissa Cogswell of Barlow-Vincent Elementary; bus driver Robert Dunfee, and the resignation of Lee Church, the school nurse who was re-hired after originally retiring.

Newton said that because school nurses are difficult to find because they require an R.N. certification as well as experience in a student-teaching environment, the district was in the process of interviewing people for the position, and may have to share a nurse with a neighboring district until the position can be filled permanently.