Last evening the Northwest Local School District held its much ballyhooed public event in which the board of education met with about 380 Canal Fulton, Lawrence Township, North Lawrence and New Franklin residents to get their input on an "action plan" geared to restoring trust in the board which the board wants to parlay into a passage of issue to bring new revenues into the district.
The structure that Northwest school officials set up for receiving input was effectively done as evidenced by the engaged participation of community persons in the ten to a "roundtable" format.
These groups of ten selected a leader who tallied the preferences of participants on the five highest priorities of each group (about 38 in number) which was then communicated in summary form to the board in a post-table-talk general session.
One of the Northwest School's constituents can be seen on the video at the end of this blog telling the Northwest Board of Education (in the general session at the end of the evening) that since they are "new" (all except Steven Jones), the community needs to give them a chance to show that they are trustworthy.
But will the community heed the admonition?
It might. However, there could not be a tougher economic/financial climate for even a "new" board to climb that hurdle.
Take a look at the May, 2009 levy election results:
The Stark County portion (the largest) of the election was evenly divided on the levy whereas the vote went down by nearly 300 votes in Summit County (New Franklin).
Assuming the same number of voters in May, 2010 (which it appears will be the date the Northwest Board of Education will pick to put an issue before the voters), the "new" board line appeal will need to attract about 150 votes from the "against" side.
Can this be done?
Remember the financial crisis in the country did not materialize until the fall of 2009. The SCPR believes whether or not individual Northwest voters were directly affected by the crisis, the crisis set up a "hunker down" mentality on tax increases and it will be a tough sell to get any new levies passed in Stark County no matter how sorely new revenues are needed, even if trust improves in a given locality such as Northwest.
And the SCPR does believe that the distrust of the "old" board was the major factor in prior Northwest levy defeats.
The opposite question now is this. What is the "new" board's track record on the "trust" issue.
As can been seen in the accompanying video, it appears that there is an improvement, if one believes those presented in the video are representative of the Northwest community.
The Report believes the "new" board has done a number of things that suggest they are still trying to manipulate rather than to openly, honestly and transparently connect with consumers of Northwest's educational services.
First, there is the "community survey" done a number of months ago . The SCPR's gauge of the survey is that the questions asked were the first cousin of a "political push polling."
A push poll is where questions are formed to elicit a desired response.
The problem with push polling is that it often is an exercise in fooling one's self.
When the "real" election occurs, believers of the push poll are stunned when the actual election produces a different result.
Second, there is the New Franklin factor.
Obviously, in voting 2 to 1 against the May, 2009 Northwest levy try, Summit County constituents of the Northwest schools demonstrate that they are less than thrilled with the school system.
Could it be that the distrust is because there is no Summit County member of the board?
While the board was considering new members for vacancies that occurred over the last year or so, why wasn't a priority of the Jones-led board getting an eligible Summit County member on board (no pun intended)? Think maybe the folks in the Summit County side of the the district might feel just a little bit disconnected?
Third, there is the seeming manipulations of the calendar on the schools/community interaction set up by the Northwest board by resolution on December 15, 2009.
It appeared to the SCPR that maybe the board wanted to downplay the committee meetings (committees working on formulating actions plans) held on January 11th. The official explanation is that the "on," then "off," and then "back-on" again calendar scenario was inadvertent. But was it?
Could be that the volleyball-esque calendar miscue was inadvertent, but given the history of distrust in the Northwest district, such incidents are bound to fuel suspicions that manipulations are still the preferred way of doing business in Northwest.
Fourth, there were disclaimers published in the general news media stating that the meetings of the 11th and 18th had nothing to do with a levy. Moreover, it was touted that Superintendent Stetler was an "incidental," at most, player in the "action plan" process.
Viewers of the video included with this blog will see that the "levy" was on everybody's mind at last night's meeting. And Stetler was more than incidentally involved.
This "you don't see what your eyes and mind tell you that you are seeing" routine is insulting and is a ominous sign that with a "new" board; perhaps, very little, if anything has changed in terms fostering trust.
Other worrisome signs include: the Board's failure to solicit applicants for vacant board seats, in an open-to-all, transparent way and the board's shifting of millage (no vote of the people, please) to satisfy the district's mandatory share of the Ohio's Schools Facilities Commission funding of school construction.
The foregoing are troublesome, but not necessarily fatal to restoring trust. But the Board have further adjustments to make.
There appear to be three members of the "new" board that are more "trust" engendering than others.
Look at the numbers below of the November, 2009 vote whereby all five members were up for election. It took a "perfect storm" of events for this election phenomenon to occur. Such is a rarity, indeed.
Notice that Nicole Metzger is the most trusted person on the Board. Next is Rita Gearhart and then Jim Gindlesberger. Hmm?
Who is at the low end of the "trust" spectrum?
Carryover "old" board member Steven Jones and Bruce Beadle who has a history of home schooling his children.
It is obvious that Jones and Beadle should be shuttled to the background during any levy try and Nicole Metzger advanced to be the lead Board person.
Yours truly listened to Metzger at the candidates night in October, 2009 and noted that she, by force of her personality, engenders trust. However, she doesn't appear to be all that comfortable in being front and center.
Lack of ego?
A refreshing change.
Metzger could be the answer as the person to put in the public eye if Northwest is to have a "new beginning" in restoring trust among the constituents of the Northwest Local School District.