SUNBURY — “Well, we’ve made it to the halfway point of the school year, and I can honestly say it has not been boring,” Superintendent Ryan McLane said at the first Big Walnut Board of Education meeting of 2023, which was held on Jan. 12 in the Big Walnut High School Auditorium.
After the annual organization meeting took about an hour, the board met for another 4.25 hours. Early on, McLane gave a state of the school district speech.
“We hired many new people, many great additions that have positively impacted our kids,” McLane said. “Many students had positive experiences with extracurriculars in the fall. We had great weather and large crowds at our fall sporting events. Our band choir and orchestra programs had great performances. The fall play was a success, and our FFA program is one of the most successful programs around. Winter sports and activities are in full swing, and it has been wonderful to see our kids compete.
“All four of our unions are currently under contract for the next two-and-a-half years,” he continued. “A shortage of bus drivers continues to be a challenge that we and so many other school districts around the state are facing.”
McLane said the district has “successfully shifted two buildings” — Big Walnut Middle School and Big Walnut Intermediate School. He thanked the custodial and maintenance staff, and the principals and teachers.
“This year we have met with some developers and local government officials to get a better understanding of the housing development growth and the subsequent growth in enrollment as a result,” McLane said. He said that although the district has brought on more drivers, “we have lost drivers due to various circumstances,” although not because of switching to another district.
For example, there were some early releases because there were not enough drivers, inconveniencing parents and cutting into instruction time. He was concerned that this could soon be a daily occurrence. “It is not sustainable,” McLane said. He said they are working with the bus drivers union on a solution.
He said the district is also using its 2019 enrollment study for future planning. He recommended the facility ad hoc committee meet soon to handle the growth.
“It is my belief that we can continue our current model for one more school year after this year,” McLane said. “However, we will need to implement a change in 2024-2025. … This needs to become the main focus of the board moving forward. If we continue getting distracted by things that are less important — and let me note I did not say, not important — if we continue to get distracted by items that are less important, this will not be as smooth and successful as it could and could be.”
McLane commented on December’s public participation that saw 20 people speak.
“Yes, I’m aware of Intel,” he said, referencing a complaint that the district wasn’t doing anything about the tech firm coming to New Albany. “I’ve been aware of it before I came to Big Walnut. I know more about the growth of Chandler, Arizona, as a result of that plant than I care to admit.”
McLane went on to say that the district doesn’t have a communications director, but he would try to be better at communicating. He said that the district also doesn’t have a curriculum director at this time, since both of them quit last summer. The district plans to bring the position back, but the hire would need to be made once contracts expire at the end of the school year.
“Again, we are making the best out of a bad situation,” he said, thanking staff and teachers filling the void.
“We have tried to be as fiscally responsible as possible without being cheap,” McLane said, noting the five-year forecast said the district would begin deficit spending in fiscal year 2024 to the tune of $1.6 million. That number ballooned to $5.8 million in 2025 and $9.4 million in 2026. … Our expenses are now projected to stay under our revenue by $1.2 million in 2024.
“So, when people ask why we aren’t paying (substitute teachers) more, believe me, I want to, but something is going to get cut as a result,” McLane said.
Also early in the meeting, the following students were recognized: Grace VanDeusen, Big Walnut Middle School Student of the Month; Lillian Sargent, BWMS Art Student of the Month; Page Wilson, Souders Elementary Student of the Month; and Scarlet Muscari, Souders Art Student of the Month. Also recognized were scholar-athletes Emma Barnett, Ethan Clawson, Cam Gladden, Nicholas Pentello, Nathan Severs, Garrett Stover and Matthew Von Almen.
McLane also handed out Ohio School Board Association certificates to Angela Graziosi and Alice Nicks for their second year on the board; Sherri Dorsch and Steve Fujii for their fourth year on the board; and Doug Crowl for his sixth year on the board.
McLane also congratulated scholar-athlete Vincent Giordano for his 100th career victory in wrestling.