Big Walnut discusses staffing


SUNBURY — The Big Walnut Board of Education meeting on March 16 was held prior to spring break, as the final quarter of the school year began, spring sports started, and the prom theme (red carpet) was announced.

The Gazette previously reported on some of the happenings of that meeting, such as public records requests and the resignation of board member Sherri Dorsch. However, there was other noteworthy activity at the meeting, mostly regarding personnel.

During his remarks, Superintendent Ryan McLane praised school bus driver Michelle Phillips, who survived a head-on collision while driving the bus (there were no students on board); board member Steve Fujii for being selected to the Ohio School Boards Association cabinet; Big Walnut cheerleaders, including student board Rep. Sophia Erndt; the bowling team and their coaches; and the cast and crew of the spring musical “Matilda.”

McLane also thanked Dorsch for her service on the Board of Education. Dorsch previously announced March 16 would be her last meeting on the board due to her pending move from the district.

In staffing matters, Mike Robertson will become the new director of academic achievement in the next school year. He is currently the principal of Hastings Middle School in Upper Arlington. Assistant Superintendent Megan Forman screened 18 candidates by phone, seven were interviewed in person by a committee, with two final candidates called back.

McLane said he felt Robertson could handle the district’s biggest needs in academic achievement. His contract is for two years at $107,000 annually. Previously, two people had been employed in the position.

Board member Alice Nicks abstained, while the rest of the board voted in favor of Robertson’s hiring.

Board President Doug Crowl said the current position of facilities director should be replaced by a business manager, and he asked whether that person should report to the superintendent or the board, and who would hire or nominate that person. Fujii asked why the position should change. Crowl said it should be a more expanded role, adding a 2013 study revealed there was $15 million in district repairs that hadn’t been done and blamed this on the prior reporting structure of the positions.

All noneducational positions would report to the business manager, Crowl said, while educational positions would report to the superintendent. Crowl said the business manager could make decisions such as on whether to call a snow day (McLane had called for school to be cancelled on March 14 due to icy conditions). Doing this would allow McLane to focus on education, Crowl said.

McLane said there was a need for a person, whether it be a business manager or director of facilities.

“You can call that person director of operations, you can that person an astronaut, I don’t care what the title is. We, without a doubt, need someone,” McLane said.

However, McLane said that while he appreciated taking duties off of his plate, having the proposed position report to the board would come off as “passing the buck” by parents who see him as the face of the district. He said he already meets with the heads of all the departments every two weeks.

“You hired me to run this district … so I need to make those hard decisions … and I want to be able to do that,” McLane said. “We’ve got a lot of people pulling double duty. We are down four district-level administrators this year. … If I’m only going to focus on education and I’m not going to have the final say on facilities, safety and security of our buildings — I don’t know what to say. I feel like I’ve been as transparent with you collectively as a board. I have never not returned a phone call, text. … I’ve not kept you in the dark. … I appreciate where you’re coming from that you think you’re making my job easier. You’re making my job more difficult, you’re making my job less efficient, and it is going to really limit the progress that we can make in this district of educating our kids.”

Fujii said that since the district was able to recently open two new buildings with a facilities director, that he was fine with continuing that structure. He said it should be the superintendent who is responsible for safety. Dorsch said we have one budget in the district, and education takes priority over things like sidewalk repair.

After more than a half-hour of discussion, no action was taken, and the director of facilities position remained in place, with McLane handling those duties for the time being until someone is hired.

The 2023/2024 staffing plan was approved by the board, which includes a communications coordinator. McLane said the staffing plan reflects the district’s goal of being fiscally responsible while addressing the needs of the district. Fifteen positions will be added, instead of the more than 40 if the former building on Baughman Street in Sunbury were to be reopened. They didn’t need to be filled immediately, he said.

“This is going to be about $1.5 million less than what was originally proposed to you in 2022,” McLane said. “This should have a positive impact on the five-year forecast.”

Treasurer Darren Jenkins praised McLane for his judicious use of staffing during his monthly financial update. Jenkins also spoke about Ohio House Bill 1. If H.B. 1 were to pass, the district would lose $513,000 annually in funding, while citizens would be paying more in taxes, he said. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but that’s what it is,” Jenkins said.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Adam Mathews (R-Lebanon) and has been reported as a priority of House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill).

In board action, the purchase of a new grand piano for Big Walnut High School was approved. Although music boosters had raised money for the piano, the remaining $16,000 came through salary savings.

During the nearly three-hour meeting, the board also approved:

• The College Credit Plus Tuition and Fees/School District Book Process Memorandum of Understanding between Columbus State Community College and Big Walnut Local School District.

• The license and subscription agreement between PowerSchool and Big Walnut Local School District, effective July 1 through June 30, 2024.

During the board member comments, Nicks thanked Fujii for giving her the book “The Energy Bus,” which she read to students at Hylen Souders Elementary School. Angela Graziosi said she also read at Souders during the Read Across America event.

Students recognized at the meeting included:

• Avery Burke,Prairie Run Elementary Student of the Month

• Ethan Clawson, BWHS All Ohio linebacker

• Carmella Coram, PRE Art Student of the Month

• Aubrey Nelson, General Rosecrans Elementary Student of the Month

• Gemavieve Smock, Early Learning Center Student of the Month

• Claire Statler, GRE Art Student of the Month

Five people spoke during public participation.

One woman spoke out against book banning and told the board to stop trying to embarrass people for being who they are. “No book is for everyone, but every book is for someone,” she said.

A second woman spoke out against the sexualization and trafficking of children, which she linked to explicit reading materials. She encouraged the board to “clean house” of these books, and said “Speak,” a book being challenged, had a third-grade reading level. A related man extended this to the curriculum, saying the board didn’t know what was being taught in the classroom. He said all books should be board-approved before going into the library. He felt the board should be proactive instead of on the defensive.

“It doesn’t matter how many books — pornography we remove, there’s 10 more coming right after it,” he said.

The third woman praised Dorsch as an “intelligent voice of reason” on the board.

A fourth woman praised a longtime track coach who had been dismissed from the district for what was termed inappropriateness. “We need to make sure we’re making the right decisions based on accusations,” she said.

Assistant Editor Gary Budzak covers the eastern half of Delaware County and surrounding areas. He may be reached at [email protected].

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