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Yellow Springs School Board

Board reflects on levy loss

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The defeat of the combined 4.7-mill property tax and 0.25 percent income tax levy in the May 8 election was a painful blow, Yellow Springs District Superintendent Mario Basora said during the regular school board meeting two days later, Thursday, May 10.

“It hurts,” Basora said. “It hurts a lot.”

YSHS honored

Yellow Springs High School was recently named to the 2018 U.S. News and World Report Best High Schools List, the school’s fifth appearance on the list in six years.

YSHS earned a silver award at #31 on the Best Ohio High Schools list and ranked in the top four percent of high schools nationwide. The US News and World Report Best High Schools List ranks high schools across the U.S. 

“Yellow Springs High School’s student-centered approach and commitment to hands-on, authentic and meaningful learning continues to have a rich impact on our students,” said Superintendent Mario Basora. “This repeated recognition is a testament to our educators and our students and proves that we’re getting results by focusing on high-quality, engaging teaching and learning with meaning and depth.” 

Yellow Springs High School was honored as:

• No. 1-ranked best high school in Greene County;
• No. 2-ranked best high school in Dayton/Miami Valley region;
• No. 31-ranked best high school in Ohio, of 822;
• No. 783-ranked best high school in U.S., of 20,548 schools;
• Top four percent of best high schools in Ohio and U.S.

The decisiveness of the vote — 64.2 percent against to 35.8 for the measure, with more than 50 percent of the community casting a ballot — was a “clear message,” Basora added.

Now the district needs to take some time “to reflect” on that message and decide how to move forward, Basora said. “The problems [with facilities] are not going away.”  

The purpose of the levy measure was to raise nearly $18.5 million for a proposed rebuild/renovation project at the middle school/high school campus.

“I felt we presented the best plan that was the most cost-effective,” Basora said.

“I want to stress that the problems are not going away, and in fact, we’ve added a few more,” he said, noting that “building costs and interest rates on any future [project] will be considerably higher.”

Board member Steve McQueen, who joined the board in January, suggested that as the district moves forward, there be more community involvement in developing the plan.

“The community has clearly spoken,” he said. “What I’m hearing a lot is that they told you — us — what they wanted and they weren’t heard. If the community’s not heard, they will speak in their own way.”

McQueen suggested that the process felt top-down rather than “grass roots up.”

People want “a community-based project they’re all working on,” he said. “That’s where I want to start.”

Board members Sylvia Ellison and Steve Conn questioned what more could have been done to engage the community, with Ellison citing “multiple community meetings” over the past months.

“We thought we made a very good-faith effort,” Conn said. “We had a public engagement session about once a month.”

Ellison agreed. “There is confusion between people getting their way and being heard,” she said.

The bottom line, for Conn, is that the facilities issue isn’t going away. “On May 9, the schools didn’t get any better,” he said.

A new measure will need to go before the community in the not too distant future, board members said.

Until then, Basora said the district will spend some time gathering information, including the possibility of forming focus groups, about why people voted “no.” Local affordability seemed to be a major concern, but knowing other reasons would be beneficial as well, he said.

The superintendent also read a statement (submitted as a letter to the editor and printed on page four of this week’s issue), which along with reflections on the vote, expresses thanks to individuals who worked on passing the levy.

“They endured quite a bit of personal attack,” he said of the pro-levy committee members.

In a show of district support, longtime Miami Township resident Abigail Cobb, whose children attended and grandchildren now attend Yellow Springs schools, told the board during the community comments component of the meeting that she came to the meeting to express her readiness to move forward with the next steps in addressing facility needs.

In other school board business May 10: 

• Superintendent Basora reported that the investigation of sexual misconduct between high school students was ongoing. Police opened an investigation after being called to the school March 7. According to police reports, there was also a call in September about an alleged offense over the summer.

“We ask for patience because this kind of thing takes awhile,” Basora said of the investigation.

In the meantime, “we are reflecting,” he said. “We are thinking deeply” about the school culture and the sexual education curriculum.

He stressed that a sex-ed curriculum exists and runs from grades four through 12. In reference to the current investigation, board member Conn said he is concerned about “the toxic stew of social media,” which he described as “digital vigilanteism.”

“I am deeply troubled by the extraordinary rush to judgement,” he said.

Board President Aïda Merhemic agreed.

“People are jumping to many, many conclusions,” she said, adding that students have shown more maturity than some adults in the community.

“Our kids have responded in incredible, empathetic and eloquent ways,” Merhemic said. “I just want to support and reiterate, too, this takes time.”

•Villager and substitute teacher Leslie Scheper addressed the board during community comments expressing her concern for  a perceived lack of rigor and discipline at the high school, especially compared with neighboring districts where she also subs, and then on the other extreme, a rigidity of rules at the kindergarten level. She called on the district “to consider the whole school culture” and think about “who we are.”

Later in the meeting, Superintendent Basora disagreed that the high school suffered from a lack of rigor or discipline, but he thanked Scheper for the “courage” to share her concerns publicly, and said the administration took her criticism -seriously.

• Villager Matt Raska asked the board about its authority concerning a lawsuit against a former teacher. Board member Steve Conn said that “community comments” was not a place for questions and answers. Board President Merhemic added that the board could not comment on legal matters.

• In personnel matters, the board accepted letters of resignation from middle and high school art teacher Elisabeth Simon and fourth-grade teacher Shannon Wilson, effective at the end of this school year. In her letter, Simon said she has accepted a position developing project-based learning curriculum and professional learning experiences for teachers. Wilson is moving out of state with her family.

The board unanimously approved a one-year contract for Alicia Horvath as a math teacher at McKinney Middle School for the 2018–19 school year. According to Superintendent Basora, Horvath comes to Yellow Springs after working as an administrator and math teacher at North Dayton School of Discovery charter school.

In addition, the board approved contract changes for next school year for Mills Lawn intervention specialists Jen Clark and Olivia Dishmon, who will share a position after requesting to go from full to part time. Ryan Montross will go from half-time sixth-grade science teacher to a full-time position in fifth grade, an opening made available with the departure of Shannon Wilson; and McKinney performance and live arts teacher Lorrie Sparrow-Knapp will go from one-third time to half-time to meet growing demand for performance classes, according to Basora.

The board also renewed contracts for several teachers. 

• The board approved the Mills Lawn School Summer Reading and Math Program, to run two-and-a-half hours a day from July 31 through Aug. 11, and the Yellow Springs High School/McKinney Middle School Summer Learning Academy, from June 4 through July 12.

  • The last day of school is Thursday, May 31. Sixth-grade promotion is Tuesday, May 29; eighth-grade promotion is Wednesday, May 30; and high school graduation is May 31.

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