Saturday, August 22, 2009

WHAT ROLE DO SUPERINTENDENTS OF SCHOOLS PLAY IN BOARD OF EDUCATION ELECTIONS?

The Stark County Political Report (SCPR/The Report) has long believed that "behind the scenes" many of Stark County's school superintendents get involved in who is going to sit on their districts' boards of education.

Each of the county boards have 5 elected members and they run as "nonpartisans."

Yours truly does not believe for one minute that board of educations races are "really" nonpartisan.

Moreover, depending on who sits on the boards, the life of superintendent can be an "easy street - rubber stamp" existence or they just might have to answer a continuing parade of incisive questions.

If you were superintendent, which would you prefer?

Superintendents work hard at creating the impression that they deal with the hand they are dealt. But the SCPR thinks all too often, some work equally hard (underground) to ensure that they have compliant board members and the hoped for "impression" in reality is an "illusion."

What is going on in Canal Fulton/Clinton/Lawrence Township(Northwest Local School District) may be a case study of a superintendent who is heavily involved in orchestrating the make up of the board he has to work with.

William Stetler is the superintendent at Northwest. Stetler is a person that yours truly knows pretty well inasmuch as he was last (other than a gap at the Ohio Department of Education as the appointee of now politically deposed former state superintendent Susan Zelman [ousted by Governor Strickland]) superintendent in The Report's home district - Lake.

In fact, yours truly's spouse (Mary) served on the Lake Board while Stetler was superintendent.

One of the reasons that Mary ran (at the urging of yours truly) was because it appeared to me that some political gaming was going on and that an "approved" candidate was waiting in the wings waiting to file a petition at the last moment. Only two had filed right up to near or at the filing deadline for three positions. As it turned out, had Mary not filed, the election for Lake for the three "open" slots for the board would not have been a competitive process. Moreover, Mary does dig in and ask incisive questions.

Mary had served on the Lake board previously while Robert Dunnerstick was superintendent. Even her election in the Dunnerstick era was as a superintendent "nonfavored" candidate.

In 2007 she decided it was time to run for the Stark County Educational Service Center (which was formerly known as the Stark County Board of Education). And lo and behold what did she find? What appears to me to be another, "approved" candidate.

Ironically, yours truly believes the "approved" candidate to have been Robert "Skip" Blowers who at the time was a member of the Northwest School District Board of Education.

But if the SCPR is correct in this analysis, "the best laid plans of mice and men" did not work. Mary was elected.

The moral of the story for voters for boards of education candidates is that they should seek to find out who the "superintendent" favors.

Why so?

Well, the SCPR imagines that many superintendents favor board members who will accept the wisdom of the superintendent and his fellow administrators unflinchingly and are loathe to ask penetrating questions, or, heaven forbid, might even vote "no" on the administration recommended action here and there.

School districts which lack scrutinizing board members get into trouble with the voting public very quickly.

Decisions not properly vetted start falling apart which causes community members to get upset which over time leads to distrust and concomitant hostility between the community and the schools.

It all leads back to the superintendents trying to create a cushy environment for themselves and their administration.

Is this what is happening in Northwest?

Perhaps.

A week or so ago, The Report noticed that Nicole Metzger (appointed to fill the term of her husband who tragically died earlier this year) had added a petition.

Her first petition was for one of the "regularly" expiring terms. Her second (only added very recently) was for one of the two "unexpired" terms. Board president Steven Jones filed for an "unexpired" term as did former Canal Fulton councilman Victor Colaianni.

The SCPR's take on this turn of events?

Yours truly thinks that Victor Colaianni is persona non grata from the administration's point of view.

As things stood before Metzer pulled her "unexpired term" petition, Colaianni was going to become a board member (unless someone else stepped in at the last minute to file a petition) because there were two vacancies, two candidates.

Why would Stetler et al (and probably some of the sitting board members) object to Colaianni?

Victor is not as good a questioner as he thinks in his own mind, but he is not likely to be the rubber stamp that Jones and Metzger have demonstrated in their time on the board. However, Stetler and friends might be surprised. Colaianni was not exactly a beacon of inquiry when he served on the Canal Fulton City Council.

A second more subtle reason might be that Stetler and his administrative team see an embarrassing potential conflict-in-interest in the offing if Colaianni is elected.

Public records show that Victor lives at 1708 Bruce St NW, Canal Fulton, Ohio, apparently as a renter.


So?

Well, it so happens that 1708 Bruce Street is owned by John Hexamer who is assistant superintendent of the Northwest Local School District. The ties are shown from redacted public records displayed below.


Could it be that the administration doesn't have the heart to tell Victor that it is not a good idea for him to be on the Northwest school board for a perceived possible "conflict-in-interest" problem and that the Metzger switch is the way to deal with the situation?

More likely, to the SCPR's way of thinking, is Colaianni is an unknown quantity and therefore it is better to be safe rather than sorry.

When you add the above articulated SCPR speculated political intrigue with the Board's history of appointing to board vacancy spots without taking applications from the public-at-large, it is no wonder that Northwest has "trust" problems with its voting public.

The overall moral to the story for this blog is that superintendents make a huge mistake in their and the board of educations members' relationships with the public-at-large when they work backstage to create ideal working conditions for themselves.

Will superintendents ever figure out, that in the end, clandestine efforts to fashion board of education makeup are counterproductive to their own trustworthiness and builds into an insidious undermining of the public's confidence in how public schools are run?

1 comment:

Victor said...

Hello, SCPR! Victor Colaianni - the board candidate mentioned in this blog piece here!!

Just finished reading SCPR's "take" on -- as it was put -- a potential "conflict of interest" in the Northwest school board race.

All legal entities I spoke with before making the decision to run for the NW board said there is none.

Also, while the "renter" card might be an "ace-in-the-hole" to some, what many (including SCPR) don't know is that my wife and I are part of an LLC partnership for land (since 2005) that was owned by my wife's grandmother in the Clinton (New Franklin) portion of the Northwest district. Her grandrmother passed away in 2003, and my mother-in-law, my wife's uncles, as well as us and my wife's sister are a part of this partnership which owns slightly over 140 acres in the Northwest district. We split the property taxes equally, and the 2008 taxes were $9,456 (some of the land gets the ag credit). Divided 8 ways, you can do the math of the taxes we paid in 2008 to the NWLSD.

The fact that we currently rent our home has nothing to do with being qualified to run for the school board, and the reason we rent is no one's business, and anyone who knows me well understands that I do not "subscribe" to "rubber stamp" mentality.

Keep up the diligent work with the SCPR. I have enjoyed reading it over the years, and will continue to do so.