Kettering Board Candidates Meet With DDN Editors — May 2010 Operating Levy, AYP Failure Discussed

One headline in this morning’s paper — “Kettering Schools May Seek Levy In 2010, Official Says” — came out of the meeting yesterday with the Kettering School Board candidates and DDN editors, Scott Elliott and Martin Gottlieb.

During that meeting, I broke the news that a new school tax will be needed next year for Kettering Schools. According to information supplied by the superintendent and treasurer, I reported, Kettering will put a 7 mill levy on the ballot next May.

The current board members seeking reelection — George H. Bayless, Julie Ann Gilmore, and Frank C. Maus — I’m sure, know all about this new levy, but, had I not spoken up, evidently, they would have stayed mum about this important bit of information. It was well into the meeting when I spilled the beans, and, by then, these incumbents had passed several opportunities to speak of an imminent levy need.

In response to my comments about the need for a levy next year, Gilmore agreed that, yes, the board will need to ask for more money next year, and yes, it will probably be in May. She didn’t venture a mill age amount. Frank Maus seemed a little offended that I sounded so definite —”only the board can decide,” he said — and George Bayless didn’t comment.

After the meeting, the DDN reporter taking notes in the meeting, Kelli Wynn, evidently, made phone calls. The DDN article this morning reports that School Treasurer, Steve Clark, acknowledged that a levy in 2010 is likely and, that Superintendent Jim Schoenlein said, “I don’t know if we are going in 2010 or not.”

In my discussion with both of them, they were much more definite. But, it makes sense that a school treasurer and superintendent would be careful to not get ahead of their board of education in comments about future levies. The red ink in Clark’s financial forecasts, however, tells the story, and, it seems obvious to me that the overall issue of school finances deserves discussion as part of this board campaign — rather than after the campaign.

Why Kettering must so soon return to the voters for a new money request is connected to the new teachers’ contract. This last May, Bayless and Gilmore voted to approve a new teacher contract and Maus opposed approval. The new teachers’ contract included an across the board pay increases of 1.5% each year of the two year contract. This will amount to $2 million additional expenditure each year for the district — about 2 mills of taxation each year, or about $70 per $100,000 of property each year. It seems a lot to ask of voters, in a time of economic recession, to fork over an additional $10 or $20 a month, or more, to give the teachers a raise.

Frank Maus explained that he opposed the teachers’ pay increase because too many Kettering taxpayers are dealing with bad economic news and taxpayers who are struggling with money issues might interpret having to pay higher taxes to fund a teacher pay raise as, “a kick in the teeth.” Maus said he thought the teachers deserve a raise, and he would like to see them receive one, but that in his view the timing for the raise last May was not right.

George Bayless explained his “Yes” vote for the teachers’ raise by saying that the pay raise was a tradeoff. He said the administration had succeeded in negotiating a contract with teachers that included a new approach to health insurance, one that includes much larger deductibles, and, in the long run, Bayless said, this plan will save the district much more money than the pay increase will cost.

The teacher’s raise was approved last May by a vote of 3-2. Board president, Jim Trent, voted “No,” with Frank Maus. Board member Lori Simms voted “Yes” with Bayless and Gilmore.

My response to the question of the new teachers’ contract was to point out that this approval came just a few days after special May 5 election where Kettering voters approved a 6.9 mill renewal levy. My problem with the teachers’ pay increase is that during the renewal campaign, there was no mention that approval of the levy would green light a teachers’ pay increase. Nothing about a pay increase was indicated in any of the literature and nothing was said in the public board meetings about a possible teachers’ pay increase.

The point I emphasized is that in order for Kettering Schools to gain or maintain the public support needed for a first rate school system, the public must be fully engaged, fully informed. I added that during the levy campaign, nothing was said about the degradation of Kettering’s tax base and that the board was unwise to promote the renewal levy as “absolutely no increase in taxes,” when it is clear that the effective rate for taxes is increasing. I said public trust is not something that should be trifled with.

In 2002 Kettering approved a $102 million bond levy for building improvements. Each year, there is over $6 million in interest and principal that must be paid on that levy and last year, because of a smaller tax base, the millage needed to raise the interest payment increased from 3.6 mills to 4.5 mills. There is no limit as to how high this millage can go to meet this bond payment obligation. I gave this information about the $102 million bond levy during the DDN meeting to make the point effective school leadership must be committed to informing and educating the public about such matters.

Scott Elliott also brought up the question of Kettering’s bad grade from Ohio’s Department of Education caused by big penalty for failing to make AYP three years in a row.

This question brought out a lot of good information from the incumbents. Kettering failed to show Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in reading in the identified subgroup of children whose English is a second language. There are only a little over 50 kids in the program and they represent 31 languages. AYP comes from the No Child Left Behind law which specifically demands that schools track subgroups of children, so no child will “fall through the cracks,” and be left behind. Each year the requirements to show AYP are raised and will continue to be raised until 2014. Frank Maus seemed well informed about the Kettering program.

This is a tough problem. I’ve not research it yet beyond having a good conversation with the supervising teacher in the program. I’m open to considering the possibility that, though Kettering is doing its best, maybe there really is no solution because the standard for meeting AYP for these children for reading is unrealistic. (This group made AYP in math and attendance and graduation rates.) I was surprised that the incumbents opened themselves up to criticism about AYP by admitting, “we should have done better,” because that raised the question, “And, why didn’t we do better?” The incumbents’ defense seems to be that, although they pressed and pressed the issue, the former superintendent, Robert Mengerink, failed to respond with strong actions. The incumbents seems to be saying that with Dr. Schoenlein at the helm, the right actions are being taken and the district will soon be on track with AYP.

During the conversation, a couple of times I referred back to my opening comments in which I read my 75 word response to the League of Woman Voters:

Public education needs a big leap in quality — including a big leap in cost effectiveness. We need a ten year process of transformation that will result in a 21st century system of education. Community consensus is needed. Leadership is needed. The biggest challenge for the Kettering School Board is to lead the community in creating a shared vision of the future, and, in creating a well-thought out, long-term plan to bring that vision to reality.

The point I tried to emphasize in the discussion is that because a strong public school system needs strong community support, we need to be doing everything possible to gain that support. In Kettering we need much more transparency, we need to engage the community in meaningful discussion. My thought is that by focusing of meaningful long term reform — of the magnitude that it will require ten years or more to implement — and giving voters a voice in thinking through that reform, voters will have more patience for the difficulties of the present.

I’ve known Frank Maus for years and have always thought highly of him. And I found all the candidates to be very likable. Julie Ann Gilmore, I thought, showed a good grasp of the Kettering program and challenges facing Kettering Schools. Really, in their personal qualities and understanding, these incumbent board members would stand much above the average. To me, they all come across as mature, thoughtful, articulate, and knowledgeable people. (At age 62, I am the youngest of the five by 7 years.) We had a good discussion. I was positively impressed, and, I believe the DDN people were also.

I was very positively impressed by the other challenger, Jim Brown. He is very articulate and well informed. He is a businessman and seems to have made a very in-depth study of the Kettering Schools finances. After the meeting I asked him how he got the legendary Chester Roush to agree to be his campaign treasurer. Brown explained that Chet Roush is his father-in-law.

Wow. So, I’m wondering how Scott Elliott and Martin Gottlieb are processing all of the many impressions from yesterday’s meeting and who in the world they might endorse. I think the two challengers, Jim Brown and myself, are credible candidates, with the necessary background, experience and personal qualities to do a good job.

I don’t think there is a question about the qualifications of any of the five candidates. Elliott and Gottlieb I hope focus on these types of questions:

  1. Does the Kettering Board of Education need change?
  2. What is the Kettering Board that would be best equipped to lead Kettering Schools to its best future?

Here are my answers to the two questions — yes, the Kettering Board does need change, and since the two challengers are both well qualified, both should be endorsed. Choosing the third person to endorse from one from the incumbents — Maus, Gilmore, and Bayless — in my mind is less clear. I was honestly positively impressed by all three. Simply based on comments made by the incumbents in the meeting, I would lean to choosing Gilmore. But I’ve known Frank Maus for many years and have a lot of confidence in his integrity, character, motives and ability — so, if pressed, I would choose Frank.

This entry was posted in Special Reports. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Kettering Board Candidates Meet With DDN Editors — May 2010 Operating Levy, AYP Failure Discussed

  1. Eric says:

    What is the Kettering Board that would be best equipped to lead Kettering Schools to its best future?

    IMHO, it’s the board that challenges attempts by Governor Strickland to require the district raise and spend money it didn’t know it needed.

    Unbelievable that the unfunded mandates of HB-1 did not come up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *