SUNBURY — Strategic planning and organizational questions were discussed at a special work session meeting of the Big Walnut Board of Education.
Board members commented about whether there needed to be more specificity in communication, but overall, they believe the district’s goals and priorities in its 10-year plan are correct.
Superintendent Angie Hamberg suggested the following statement, “The district strives to engage in effective two-way communication with our community.”
“These are the types of documents that become a visual representation to the community about what we’re working on,” said Board President Brad Schneider, “and while I feel like we do a lot of good things with communication, by being more explicit that it’s important to us, says something in and of itself.”
Board members also discussed how to measure improvement other than standardized testing.
“We’re always wanting to improve. I don’t care if we’re excellent or not,” Hamberg said.
Schneider said the plan may need to address contingencies such as elementary school expansion, staffing and curriculum changes. “We’ll probably need another elementary school in another 10 years,” he said. “We can debate that, but it’s at least a discussion item.”
Assistant Superintendent Mark Cooper said these are baselines and can be adjusted yearly, and the numbers can be discussed at a later meeting.
The board also looked at student enrollment and staffing ratios. One comment was a concern the district is being reactive instead of proactive. Hamberg said even before the pandemic, mental health was considered the top priority by other superintendents.
Organizationally, member Doug Crowl said he wanted to put a spending limit on the superintendent’s spending authority. He didn’t think anything was wrong, but it shouldn’t fall to the discretion of one person. He said he didn’t know of any other entity that had this kind of discretion over $48 million in appropriations.
Board member Liana Lee said she wasn’t sure the board had the authority, and she trusted the budgeting and spending process. Schneider agreed, saying he would speak with the treasurer if there were anything he had a question over. Member Sherri Dorsch said the board has the proper controls in place.
Member Stephen Fujii said he felt there was no extravagant expenditures, but he was all right with additional oversight. He felt there might already be wording in the board’s policies to address the issue.
Treasurer Jeremy Buskirk said higher-cost items are generally contracts that need board approval anyway, 80% of the spending is on salaries, and adding layers to the payment process could result in utility cutoffs.
Crowl also felt general counsel should be present at each meeting, pointing to Sunbury Village Council as an example.
Lee said they had limited funds and couldn’t justify the cost. Dorsch said a specialized educational attorney would be needed. Fujii said the board should look into the cost of counsel, and it may save money in some instances. Schneider said he was open to the idea, yet the counsel he saw at other meetings were there more to provide procedural advice as opposed to policy.
Hamberg said districts the size of Big Walnut do not use counsel, and Columbus was the only district she knew of that had one. She added they use a firm whose attorneys handle everything from construction to issuing bonds.
Crowl was asked to draw up a request for qualifications. He also discussed public records training, which is required for elected officials, unless the treasurer was designated as the keeper. Crowl said free online training is available. Buskirk said the training would be beneficial to the board members.
Questions about Title IX regulations on sexual harassment and assault were also discussed at the Jan. 5 meeting. Crowl said he was concerned about the use of the word “may” instead of “shall” in the policy.
In other district news, there are four active cases of COVID-19 reported as of Feb. 5.