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School board sets limits on public comments

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The Yellow Springs School Board’s regular meeting Thursday, April 12, was its first since the middle/high school principal took a medical leave of absence last month and allegations of sexual misconduct between high school students became public. However, the board kept discussions related to employee and student concerns to a minimum.

About a dozen people, including several Antioch students, were in attendance at the April 12 meeting, and before opening the floor to community comments, Board President Aïda Merhemic directed speakers to refrain from mentioning either district personnel or students by name.

“No personal employee can be named because employees of the district are executive session material,” Merhemic said. “If you would like to come before the board around a personnel issue, you can request that for a future date.”

She went on to say that state and federal laws safeguarding student privacy restricted reference to individual students as well.

Villager Matt Rasca was first to address the board, raising questions about the district’s actions in responding to the sexual misconduct allegations. He noted that school staff are legally required to report any suspicions and allegations of abuse, and he questioned whether staff had responded appropriately.

“How will these incidents be handled in the future?” he added.

Speaking on a different topic, but also involving the high school, parent Micah Naziri expressed concerns about incidents of bullying he said had been directed toward two of his children and at least one other youth, who he said is now in trouble for retaliating.

The board did not reply to the comments, keeping its focus regarding high school personnel to routine business related to Principal Tim Krier’s leave, unanimously approving administrative actions taken in March.

In Krier’s absence, Assistant Principal Jack Hatert has been appointed by the superintendent to fill the principal’s post, while Mills Lawn Counselor and retired middle/high school Principal John Gudgel was put into the half-time vice-principal’s role.

The school board approved Krier’s leave and both fill-in appointments without discussion.

Hatert’s term was set effective March 8, to run through an “as needed” date, up to June 25, with payment at $407.24 a day. Gudgel’s half-time position was effective March 16 until an “as needed” date, up to the end of the contract year, at $174.42 per day.

The board also accepted a letter identified as being from Krier, dated March 14, which was not included in the agenda documents available to the public. According to district staff this week, the letter was a communication from Krier’s medical practitioner, stating a need for his taking leave, a copy of which the News received last month through a public records request.

In that request, the News also obtained a letter dated March 15, from Superintendent Mario Basora to Krier, directing him to turn in his keys, clean out his office of personal belongings and stay off campus for the duration of the leave, which has yet to be determined.

That same week, the News reported that Yellow Springs police were investigating allegations of sexual misconduct involving students at the high school, an investigation that began March 7.

While that investigation is ongoing, according to Superintendent Mario Basora, police have said that Krier is not accused of any sexual crimes. Police records show two times this school year — one in September and the other March 7 — in which they were contacted about the alleged sexual misconduct of one or more high school students.

“Our kids are safe,” Basora stressed during the meeting. “We’ve done everything we can to protect our kids.”

In other  school board business April 12:

• Superintendent Basora noted that early voting has begun for the May 8 election in which the district is seeking $18.5 million in the form of a combined 4.7-mil levy and 0.25 percent income tax for construction and renovation at the  middle/high school facility on East Enon Road. He urged voters to take the opportunity to cast an early ballot.

Relatedly, Board President Aïda Merhemic thanked community members who “are opening their homes for levy discussions” with their neighbors. According to Basora this week, at least five such gatherings had been planned from mid-March through April. He suggested that community members interested in the neighborhood discussions contact the board president, Aïda Merhemic, who is keeping track of the schedule.

Merhemic wrote in an email this week that the hosts have been coordinating their own gatherings, including whom they invite. Anyone interested in hosting such a gathering is welcome to contact her, she added.

Also, Basora announced that the School Facilities Bus Tour, which had been scheduled in March but was postponed due to inclement weather, has been rescheduled for Friday, April 20, from noon to 4 p.m. Participants will meet in front of Mills Lawn and travel by bus to visit Bethel High School and Northwest Dayton library, each of which features design elements district leaders are interested in incorporating at the middle/high school site. Participants are welcome to bring their lunch, Basora added.

• Board members unanimously approved several items related to the high school’s School Forest club, which maintains a field of evergreen trees adjacent to Glen Helen Preserve and John Bryan State Park to sell during a weekend holiday festival in early December.

Part of the tree maintenance includes the formation of a crew of five students employed half-time for five to seven days in June to prune, mow and weed the trees so they are sellable for Christmas, according to club advisor John Day. The temporarily employed students are paid out of the School Forest fund. The board approved the 2018 summer work program, along with the payment of Day, as the summer program supervisor, for up to 60 hours, at $14.78 and hour.

The board also approved the group’s annual spring camping weekend, which according to the trip proposal, has been a club tradition since the 1970s. This year’s trip is planned June 4–6 to Ohiopyle State Park in Pennsylvania. About 30 students and six adult driver-chaperones are expected to participate. Cost will be $25–$80, depending on whether the group schedules an activity with a vendor, such as canoeing or biking, according to the proposal. The group will bring their own camping gear and food and use parent-driven vehicles.

• District teachers Eli Hurwitz (library/media specialist) and Elisabeth Simon (middle/high school art) gave a presentation, including photographs and personal reflections, about the recent high school service-learning trip to Peru, for which they served as lead teachers. (For a News story about the trip, see the article at the bottom of page 1.)

• The board accepted donations, with thanks, in the amount of $1,000 from Tony and Ruth Bent in honor of Wally Sikes, and for $2,407 from 35 contributors toward the purchase of wireless microphones to be used in theatrical performances.

• Basora announced that McKinney Middle School math teacher Jeff Collins has submitted his resignation effective the end of school year to take a position at Wittenberg University. The board accepted the resignation with thanks for Collins’ seven years of service to the district.

• Related to the temporary administrative appointments at the high school, the board approved an additional half-time, longterm substitute teaching contract for half-time middle school performance art teacher Lorrie Sparrow-Knapp to lead the Project-Based Learning Foundations class that Interim Principal Hatert had been teaching, effectively making her a full-time teacher until an “as needed” date, up until the end of the school year.

• The board also approved the hiring of retired middle school English teacher Aurelia Blake as a substitute teacher for the remainder of the 2017–18 school year at the district’s substitute teaching pay rate of $90 per day and $45 per half day. In addition, the board approved supplemental contracts for staff member Jovan Terrell as this spring’s “One Acts” performance coordinator at the high school ($918); and  community member Austin Riddick as assistant baseball coach for this school year, following the resignation of Mitchell Larson effective March 27.

• The spring Exhibition Nights, when students present the results of their project-based learning study units, were announced: Wednesday, May 9, at Mills Lawn; and Wednesday, May 16, at the middle/high school.

The school board’s regularly scheduled meetings are conducted the second Thursday of each month, beginning at 7 p.m., in the John Graham Meeting Room at Mills Lawn. The next regular meeting  is May 10.

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