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Divisions over contracts — Yellow Springs School board admonished

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View a video clip from the Saturday, Aug. 3 school board meeting.

After a tense school board meeting on Saturday, Aug. 3, called on Friday to resume a discussion that had been tabled at the previous Thursday’s meeting, the board voted unanimously to approve new contracts with raises for five of the district’s principals and program directors. The contracts had been recommended by District Superintendent Mario Basora after much discussion with the board.

However, last Thursday board President Benji Maruyama and members Angela Wright and Sean Creighton voted to table the vote until the September board meeting to allow more discussion on the matter. Board members Sylvia Ellison and Aïda Merhemic voted to approve the contracts on Thursday.

The issue was what many of the 30 community members who attended Saturday’s special meeting said was a pattern of “micromanaging” by the board. Melissa Heston, representing the district’s parent-teacher organizations, was first among many to speak out about the board’s behavior which she said put the district at risk by precipitating both Superintendent Basora and Treasurer Dawn Weller to search for jobs outside the district.

“We have witnessed the dysfunction of the board through various actions taken at meetings…eroding the goodwill and parity of this school district and the professionals who work on its behalf,” she said. “Specifically, we are here because it has come to our attention that our superintendent has applied for a position elsewhere. …We implore the school board to acknowledge the gravity of this action/situation and make immediate changes in the functioning of the board.”

After Saturday’s meeting, Basora confirmed that the day after Thursday’s board meeting he had applied for the position of assistant superintendent at Wyoming City Schools in Cincinnati. Basora served as a principal in that district for two years before coming to Yellow Springs and said that though he likes the village, he also had a positive experience at Wyoming.

“I love Yellow Springs, my family loves Yellow Springs, we’ve enjoyed living in Yellow Springs, and we’ve had a great experience with the teachers, students, the community and the parents here,” he said, adding, “I’ve worked with Wyoming before, and it’s a great place to work.”

Weller also confirmed that she had applied in early July to be treasurer for Xenia schools, which she said has 4,500 students compared to 711 in Yellow Springs, a move that would help advance her career.

Tension had been mounting over the past few months over smaller issues, such as grant receipts that the board had repeatedly asked the superintendent and treasurer to clarify. When the district began its united charge toward a new project-based curriculum last year, a private funding organization was established to fund teacher training. The fund, known as YSCAPE (Yellow Springs Exempted Village Schools Capital Endowment Fund), was started through seed money given by villager Maureen Lynch and former school board member Richard Lapedes. Though the board approved of the curriculum shift and the funding mechanism in general, the district began spending YSCAPE funds in the fall for teacher training without specific approval by the school board. In early spring several board members voiced their need for greater oversight, but it was a long and obtuse struggle to write an acceptable new grant policy that satisfied the board’s need for detail without overwhelming the administration with bureaucracy.

Then in June, negotiations hit, and after a struggle between the board and the teachers, which according to the union put Basora in a compromised position, the board approved across the board annual 3.5 percent raises for three years for both classified staff and teachers. The five administrator contracts had also been discussed at both a board workshop and an executive session before Thursday’s meeting, which was the last board meeting scheduled to take place before school started again. Those contracts included annual 3.5 percent raises for three years for district Principals Tim Krier and Matt Housh, as well as part-time positions for Special Education Coordinator Barb Greiwe, Assistant Principal Nancy Beers and Athletic Director Steve Rossi. The raise is the first in three years for any of the district’s employees, who all took pay freezes and benefit cuts when the district was struggling financially to climb out of a deficit spending spiral.

At least one of the district principals was compensated at $89,000 last year. Because the highest paid teachers in the district make about $75,000, with the increase in the teacher’s contract without an equivalent increase for administrators, after three years, several of the teachers would have made as much as their principal.

As it stands currently, every employee in the school district has received a raise except for the two top administrators, Basora and Weller. At Saturday’s meeting Basora said in response to a question that he had asked the board to review his contract in January, within the time frame he is afforded by the Ohio Department of Education, and received his first response from the board that morning.

Basora is currently compensated at the same salary of $105,000 he entered with in 2010, as is Weller with a salary of $99,700. According to data from the State treasurer’s office and Buckeye Institute, superintendent salaries in the region range from $121,000 in the Cedar Cliff district, to $114,000 in the Oakwood school district, and $103,000 at both Bethel and Ansonia local districts. At Bellbrook, which doesn’t list its superintendent’s pay, the principal at the high school, which has 900 students, is paid $109,000.

Asked at the meeting if the board was unhappy with the superintendent’s performance, board members voiced support for the leadership team. And school board member Creighton apologized at Saturday’s meeting for not having done more to support the administrators by voting on the raises at Thursday’s meeting.

* A video clip from Saturday’s meeting will appear at on Thursday, Aug. 8.


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