SUNBURY — The Big Walnut Board of Education recently approved establishing a community steering committee.
Tentatively called We Are Big Walnut, the permanent committee will be open to the public and limited to 25 members and run by two board members.
The motion passed by a 3-1 vote at the nearly four-hour long meeting on Feb. 10. President Doug Crowl, along with fellow board members Angela Graziosi and Alice Nicks, voted in favor of the committee, while board member Sherri Dorsch voted no. Before the vote was taken, board member Steven Fujii left the meeting to catch a flight.
Graziosi, who made the motion, will chair of the committee, while Nicks will serve as the co-chair. They will collect information during the committee meetings and report it to the board.
“I think we need the committee,” Crowl said after proposing the idea. “It is the simplest way to get the communication from the community to the board. “It’s a consolidation of compliments and grievances. I’m sure there’s some compliments out there, too.”
Crowl said that although the board meetings have a public comment portion, they are limited to three minutes per person and do not provide two-way conversation. Nicks said she supports giving the community more access, while Dorsch said the focus of such a committee could be so broad it might be hard to accomplish anything.
“What would your expectation be of us?” Superintendent Angie Hamberg asked Crowl. “Are we attending? Are you handing us a bunch of concerns to fix them? Or are we just not involved at all? I can see myself participating if it’s structured in such a way to be constructive and positive. If it’s just going to be a complaint fest, I’m not interested. I have enough of that in my life. What I’m hearing are typically administrative things.”
Crowl said Hamberg and Assistant Superintendent Mark Cooper will not be required to attend the committee meetings.
Another committee was proposed by Crowl, an employee relations committee, which would allow an employee of the district to communicate directly with the board members. Crowl called the board the district’s employers since they approve hiring decisions. It would be open to two representatives from each union, the superintendent, and two board members.
“This is not a grievance towards administration, but I have for four years said that there is no method for an employee of this district to have communication with the employer directly,” Crowl said. “Now they can go through administration, but one-on-one with their employer, who is this board, isn’t available. I’ve heard from many, so it is an issue. My problem is with the structure. It’s corrosive if an employee can’t talk to who hired them, then we lose good employees. Believe me we’ve lost some very good teachers and administrative personnel from this district because of this. You can see it in the results over the last couple years. We went through an enormous change in turnover.”
Cooper objected, saying, “We’ve operated under this way since being established as a district. This would be upending labor relations, grievance procedures. This would be in direct violation of the collective bargaining agreements” with the unions. He also said districts nationwide have experienced job upheaval since the pandemic.
“We’ve kept principals in the field longer than the industry average,” Hamberg said. “They’ve stayed and made less money because they love this district.”
Dorsch said employee relations and “micro-managing” is not part of the board’s role. “When I have an issue where I work, I go to my manager, not the board of directors.”
Graziosi and Nicks said they needed to read more about the legality of having the employee relations committee before making a decision. “We’ll address it at a different time, so do your research,” Crowl said.
The board also had a lengthy discussion of policy and bylaw changes. Under dress code and grooming, Graziosi suggested an amendment. “During school hours, unless it is a school-sanctioned dress-up day or assigned by a teacher for a play, no costumes of any kind, for example, animal horns, ears, tails, animal collars, animal chains or face paintings that can be distracting or construed to look like an animal or character.”
One member of the public said principals should tell their classes why there is a moment of silence for personal reflection. Two members of the public stressed the importance of keeping mental health counseling in the district, and former board member Liana Lee spoke in support of having vaccination clinics in the district.