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Yellow Springs Schools—Facilities task force begins work

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An 11-member task force assigned to develop a plan for addressing local school facility needs — both now and in the future — is beginning its work by seeking opinions from the community.

The diverse group, assembled by Yellow Springs Schools Superintendent Mario Basora, had its first meeting Monday, March 18, and quickly came to the conclusion that gathering immediate input was necessary.

Noting that a variety of views about the district’s previous plan were expressed before voters rejected it in May 2018, the new task force pointed out that community members were not asked after the defeat about the specific reasons for their vote. 

Task force members agreed that they didn’t want to “rehash” the last facilities levy debate, but knowing more about what people are thinking and feeling now, especially those who opposed the levy, is important in moving forward in developing a new plan. 

“We don’t want to repeat the levy, that’s done,” said Mel Marsh, the professional facilitator hired by the district to shepherd the task force’s work. “We want to understand the whys. We don’t want to repeat the same mistakes.”

Toward that end, the group is distributing a three-question survey, available online at http://www.surveymonkey.com/r/NZGWCP5.

The questions:

“What were the biggest strengths of the facility plan provided to voters in 2018?”

“What were the biggest weaknesses of the plan?”

“What changes or improvements would have caused you to support the levy?”

Task force members affirmed the importance of listening widely to the community.

“A lot of community members just want to be heard and want to feel like they have a say,” said Julia Hoff, a high school senior and one of two students on the task force.

Marsh stressed the importance of following through.

“If we ask them, we are honor-bound to listen,” she said.

The group’s decision to put out an immediate short survey followed introductions and discussion about the task force’s charge and timeline.

Task force members

Superintendent Basora said the group is a mix of people who supported and opposed the previous levy, and he chose the participants because they are “all people I thought could come together and build consensus.”

The group includes a teacher, a former board member, parents, grandparents, community members and two students.

Member John Gudgel fills several constituency roles: alumnus, former teacher and principal, current staff and coach, president of the community-based The 365 Project and coordinator of The Village Mediation Program.

“After spending 55, 56 years in the school system, it’s hard not to be committed to it,” he said.

In addition to Gudgel and student Hoff, the other task force members are: Abby Cobb, Chris Hamilton, Lori Kuhn, Benji Maruyama, Susan Miller, Desiree Nickel, Chad Runyan, Ian Sherk and Kat Walter.

Cobb, a retired psychiatric nurse, said that she and her husband, George Bieri, have lived in the Vale in Miami Township for 32 years. Their five children all graduated from Yellow Springs schools, and they have three grandchildren currently in the school here, two through open enrollment.

“I really love our schools,” she said. “I was passionate for passing the last facilities levy. I appreciated how the levy [proposal] changed over time” in response to community feedback.

Chris Hamilton is retired military with three children, ages 10, 12 and 14, in the schools.

Hamilton said he joined the task force because he saw flaws in the previous plans, which he shared with the superintendent “after the fact.”

“I was upset with myself for not participating sooner,” he said.

Lori Kuhn, coordinator of the Morgan Foundation, said she has three children — one graduate and two in high school — who have gone through Yellow Springs schools since kindergarten.

While she has participated in past school-related task force groups — including the 2020 plan committee and an effort to get lunch back in the schools after it was discontinued in the ’90s — she didn’t get involved in the facilities discussion.

Concerning school facilities discussions, she said, “Like Chris [Hamilton], I felt I was paying attention, but didn’t [take part in the work]. I felt like it was time to step up,” she said.

Former school board member Benji Maruyama, a science engineer at the base, is also a parent.

He noted that the current administration  — the superintendent and treasurer — were hired during his tenure on the board, and that the 2020 plan and project-based learning were initiated then as well.

“I’m very invested in what came to be over the last nine years here,” he said, adding that he sees his role on the task force as “being willing to ask the tough questions.”

Susan Miller shared that she has lived 50-plus years in the village and is retired from YSI. She currently serves on the boards of Yellow Springs Community Foundation and Tecumseh Land Trust. She has also chaired the Yellow Springs Educational Endowment, or YSEE.

Her daughter and granddaughter are both alums of Yellow Springs schools.

Desiree Nickell teaches ninth- and 11th-grade English at the high school.

She and her husband, Ellis Jacobs, have lived in the village “almost 30 years now.”

Their son, Sam, is a graduate, having gone through the school system from kindergarten.

She said she is glad there will be “a teacher at the table” in the continuing facilities-related work.

“I want to represent the teachers,” she said. “I want to bring not just my ideas.”

Ian Sherk is a 10th-grader at the high school. He said he came to the local schools from Oakwood when he was in seventh grade.

His reason for joining the task force: “I thought it would be good to help out,” he said.

Community member Kat Walter is a current Encore Miller Fellow with Antioch College. She said she has licensure as an intervention specialist, but is not practicing.

“I want to be part of the collaborative process,” she said, added that she is interested in “coming to the table about how to do [the facilities planning work] better.”

Chad Runyan, a parent who expressed concerns publicly about affordability before the facilities levy went to a vote, did not attend the March 18 meeting.

In addition to the 11 designated members, the task force is supported by five “ex-officio” members whose role is to answer questions and provide information. They are Superintendent Basora, district Treasurer Dawn Bennett, school board liaison TJ Turner and architect Mike Ruetschle. Turner, who has children in the schools, was co-chair of the previous facilities levy. Ruetschle, based in Dayton, was the architect who developed the pervious master plan.

Basora, who will be leaving the local district to become superintendent in Huber Heights at the end of the school year, said he will continue to be a resource.

“Even though I am changing jobs, I will still live in the community,” he said.

The district will pay Ruetschle an hourly consulting fee, according to Basora earlier this year. Cost for facilitator Marsh’s services is $150 an hour, with an estimated total cost ranging from $10,800 to $18,000, Basora said in January.

Task force charge

Speaking on behalf of the school district, Superintendent Basora said that the board didn’t want to put “any constraints” on the task force’s work. At the same time, he felt it was helpful to lay out some anticipated “parameters.”

The first is to “determine what we want our schools to deliver to our students in the next 50 years,” he said. “That will take a little bit of visioning on your part.”

The second is to determine the conditions and needs of the district’s current facilities.

The next step is to determine any “disconnect between our current facilities and what we want for our students.”

Basora anticipates a process that will include getting feedback from the community at several junctures before presenting a proposal to the board.

“My hope would be the board would adopt it, because it’s coming from the community,” he said.

The projected time frame is six months.

Several task force members expressed concern about the level of expertise that could be needed.

“We’re not architects, we’re not school facility experts,” Miller said.

Kuhn noted, and Mayuyama agreed, that since the 2020 strategic plan is soon concluding, the school board may well be undertaking work toward developing a new plan, the visioning for which could overlap with the task force’s work.

Working at cross purposes was a concern for the committee members.

Marsh confirmed that the group’s task is currently amorphous, “but we will get clarity,” she said.

Information gathering

In order to better define and understand their job, the task force is beginning its work by gathering information from a variety of sources, including the three-question online survey.

A new facilities assessment recently conducted by the Fanning Howey architectural engineering firm, which has offices in Celina, Columbus and Indianapolis, is expected soon, Basora said.

In addition, the group suggested looking at the recent Village Affordability Study, a teachers survey, letters to the editor and articles in the Yellow Springs News and the pre-election phone survey conducted by Wright State University.

Ruetschle said that the surveys included a comment section where the caller wrote down everything the survey participant said.

Chris Hamilton suggested talking to administrators of other small districts, as well, about their facilities experiences.

“I’d like also to hear from the school staff,” Kuhn added.

Gudgel suggested that “we reach out to Miami Township Trustees and Village Council about plans that could affect residents’ finances.

“We don’t want to get slammed again,” he said.

Potential levy

Basora said that if the task force decides a levy is needed, the district would likely try to put it on the May 2020 ballot. 

That timeline would mean the board would need to approve the measure by the beginning of the calendar year, Treasurer Bennett said.

Transparency along the way is critical, the group affirmed.

As the group moves forward, they intend to put information online and welcome the community to their meetings, with specific times for direct input. 

The next action is to tour the schools, with dates scheduled at 1 p.m., Tuesday, April  16, and 6 p.m., Wednesday, April 17. 

The next regular task force meeting will be Wednesday, April 24, in the John Graham Meeting Room at Mills Lawn School.

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