Monday, May 3, 2010


The most candid person on the Northwest Local Board of Education (Board) is board member Jim Gindlesberger.

In August, 2009 he correctly identified the Northwest dilemma in getting a levy passed.  His observation was:
"The trust issue is huge.  It's something that we may not even correct by May. We are not one community. We are two communities and we have to fix that." 
The bad news is that once trust is lost, it is merely a matter of time until a relationship is a matter of time.

The good news is that once the loss of trust is squared up with, reconstructive and restorative measures can be implemented to get back to a similitude of the former trust.

However, now-a-days restoring trust is an uphill battle magnified.  And re-building trust is permanent process.  It is never completed.  If trust building efforts are ever abandoned then distrust come rushing in as a torrent.

A recent national poll shows that only about 20% of American trust governments at all levels.  This is a flip from what the 20% was in the 1950s.  In the 50s the 20% was the number who did NOT trust government.

As soon as it dawned on Northwest school officials that the failure of trust was the core problem in getting sorely needed local revenues passed by Northwest voters, it appears to the SCPR that they did go to work on an emergency program to restore trust.

But the problem with a panic program to restore trust (or, if you will:  "a quick fix"), is that any measure taken is viewed by some as being insincere and designed just to get the levy passed.  Too many times the skeptical view has proved to be accurate.

Gindlesberger's statement on the gravity of the trust problem in Northwest did not go far enough.

The problem is more than a Summit County (New Franklin and Clinton) problem.  Obviously, many Summit County constituents feel they are the outsiders in the Northwest district.  When the Board had several opportunities to bring a New Franklin or Clinton member onto the Board when board slots opened up; they failed to.  Accordingly, the Summit County constituents likely feel that they still are not embraced by district officials.

Other distrust generating problems include the bus garage purchase, the water line extension (without considering drilling its own well system) , the conversion of inside millage to meet Northwest's share of Ohio Schools Facilities Commission monies (about $1 million) and other lesser but cumulative slights of Northwest constituents which build - over time and repetition - into festering sores of generalized distrust.

Moreover, the very structure of the earned income tax effort suggests a pitting of working people against the retired.  One of the big efforts of the vote yes folks is to senior citizens, many of whom have no earned income but only tax exempt retirement and investment income.

As a parenthetical, this approach may not be the panacea of getting seniors to vote for the levy as school officials apparently think.  A mushrooming reality is that many senior citizens are returning to the "earned income" workforce out of necessity.  Years of inflation have taken their toll on viability of pensions to sustain recipients.  Also, escalating heath care deductibles erode pension income even more. 

In recent days another developing garden of distrust is a revelation that the 1% earned income tax issue (Issue 7) "Save Tomorrow" committee is 70% percent or better financed employees of the school district.  Employees who may be asking for wage increases when contract negotiations are taken up next year.

Already, a number of voters are asking:  "Is this really about preserving the Northwest school system for the kids or is it about preserving the jobs and lifestyles of a relative few?"

A question like this only surfaces in the volume and frequency that one hears it in Northwest in an atmosphere of significant distrust.

Even those who opt to vote for the tax will be closely watching school officials and union representatives in 2011 (assuming the issue passes) to see whether or not their decision to "trust" for purposes of Issue 7 were merited.

The big danger for Northwest officials lies in the passage of Issue 7.

Will it be back to business as it was in the years of levy failures?

As The Report writes, talk is circulating that Ohio could be cutting local school districts by as much as 30%.  One high level county education official is saying that if the 30% cuts materialize, Stark County schools will be finished unless they can make the money up with local levies.

A 30% cut in Northwest state funding likely means that the 1% earned income tax revenues will not last the projected 5 years. And Northwest is likely to be back with an additional levy request in the interim, especially if district employees get a pay increase in the 2011 negotiations.

It could be that not even a "pay freeze" in 2011 will do.  It may take pay cuts, if Northwest is to maintain its staff at current levels.  If salary cuts are what the financial condition of the Northwest schools call for, then can Northwest voters trust the administration and the bargaining unit to put the subject on the negotiating table?

The upshot of the foregoing analysis is that even if the earned income tax passes, Northwest school officials must ramp up exponentially the effort to re-build community wide trust or this will be the last levy they pass in a very, very long time!

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