Yellow Springs School Board

Board approves GCESC contract

At its July 8 meeting, the Yellow Springs Board of Education approved the renewal of a contract with the Greene County Educational Services Center, or GCESC, for special education services for the coming school year, although most board members expressed a reluctance to do so, given the high price tag.

“I’m not happy spending this much money, but we’re late in the year,” said board member Angela Wright. “But we can’t go this route next year. We have to investigate other options.”

Interim Superintendent Tony Armocida recommended that the board approve the contract due to the legalities around the needs of special ed students. The state requires that the Individual Education Plans, or IEPs, of special ed students be in place when the school year begins, and changing contracts this late in the year would make it difficult to meet that requirement, he said.

“If you delay on this, it will put the district in jeopardy” and open to legal challenges, he said.

Yellow Springs has about 115 students with IEPs.

The board voted 3–1 to approve the contract, which costs $478,000 for the year for services that include contracted teachers to work with emotionally disturbed, learning disabled and physically and mentally handicapped students. The vote was 3–1 for the contract, with Sean Creighton, Aida Merhemic and Wright voting for it and Benji Maruyama voting against. Richard Lapedes was not at the meeting.

While Armocida recommended that the board approve the contract, which is one of the district budget’s most expensive items, he expressed his own ambivalence regarding the cost, but ultimately came down in favor of renewing the contract due to the difficulty in finding replacement services so close to the start of the school year. In a recent audit, the Yellow Springs district was found to spend about 90 percent above the recommended state minimum on special ed, while peer districts spent an average of 50 percent above the state minimum.

The GCESC contract is one of the items the board has discussed in its recent conversations regarding the need to cut district expenses due to a deficit in this year’s budget, and expected growing deficits. At the meeting, District Treasurer Dawn Weller stated that the 2009–2010 deficit ended up at $432,810, less than the expected amount of between $500,00 and $600,000. The deficit has been projected to reach $900,000 next year if there are no spending cuts.

In explaining his “no” vote, Maruyama stated that he feels the board is “sending the wrong message” to the teachers union, which is being asked to reopen negotiations on their contracts for a possible wage freeze.

“Our message is unbalanced and we need to be careful,” he said.

Armocida suggested that in the coming year the board investigate comparable services being offered by other county agencies, in hopes of reducing the cost. A comparison of the quality of the programs, not just the costs, also needs to be made, according to Creighton.

In other business concerning district financial concerns, Creighton reported that a June meeting between board members Lapedes and himself, administrators Armocida and Weller, and representatives from the teachers and staff unions had produced an agreement to work collaboratively on addressing the budget crunch. The meeting followed a letter that Creighton wrote for the board requesting that the unions agree to re-open negotiations with the possibility of freezing salaries.

“The unions are working to educate their members on the severity of the situation,” Creighton said, stating that in August the unions will vote on whether to re-open the negotiations.

In other board business:

• Board members expressed their gratitude to Armocida, who was leaving his interim position at the end of the week. Armocida stepped in last August after the sudden departure of former Superintendent Norm Glismann. He had been retired for several years after serving as the Yellow Springs superintendent for 10 years.

“We’ve known each other many years,” said Wright. “We could always depend on you to come through.”

Armocida thanked the board for its support and said, “As I walk out of here, you’re dealing with the future rather than clearing up the past. You have a really good administrative team.”

In the past few months, the district has hired a new superintendent, treasurer and principals of both Yellow Springs High School/McKinney and Mills Lawn.

The board approved new superintendent Mario Basora as interim superintendent from July 12 to July 31. Basora’s official contract begins on Aug. 1. The board also approved a contract that allows Armocida to provide mentoring to Basora as needed up to 30 hours, at $70 per hour.

• The board is sponsoring “meet and greets” for Basora and his family, with six to 10 scheduled so far, according to Merhemic. She asked that villagers interested in hosting an event contact her.

• The board approved several non-district employees as coaches for fall sports, “to be paid at a rate existing at the completion of the season, contingent upon completing all ORC and ODE employment requirements.” The board approved contracts for Clayton Brady, eighth-grade volleyball coach; Adrian Cosby, assistant girls soccer coach; Jim Hardman, head boys soccer coach; Christine Linkhart, reserve volleyball coach; Mike Reichert, golf coach; Vince Peters, cross country coach; Ben Van Ausdal, assistant boys soccer coach; Angelo Caliguiri, head girls soccer coach; Craig McCann, head football coach, and Neal Perry, assistant football coach. Coaches approved on a volunteer basis were Judy Parker, seventh-grade volleyball coach; Roberta Perry, site manager; Jessica Zagory, cross country coach; and Isabelle Dierauer, cross country coach.

The hiring of coaches for fall sports had sparked concern at a recent board Committee of the Whole meeting from community members who questioned why coaches were being hired when non-athletic co-curriculars were scheduled to be cut from the budget as a cost-cutting measure. At the earlier meeting, board members said they would look closely at co-curricular cuts. The July 8 co-curricular contracts were those necessary for fall sports to begin on time, according to Armocida.

• The board approved the hiring of substitute teachers John Gill, Mark Franks, Susan Hyde, Pegeen Laughlin, Tiffany Pikas, Shirley Martin, Kathy Robertson, Barbara Nooks, Lillian Slaughter and Rebecca Traeger, at $80 per day. The board approved substitute aides Pegeen Laughlin, Shirley Martin and Susan Hyde at $10 per hour, and Robert Libecap as substitute bus driver at $13.43 per hour.

• Creighton announced that the board will meet with the Yellow Springs Village Council on Thursday, Aug. 26, in order to discuss the two groups’ common goal of bringing new young families to Yellow Springs.

• The board’s next regular meeting is Thursday, Aug. 12.

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