Budget cuts and staff turnover – just two of the challenges members will face –
By Patricia Beech –
Voters in Manchester will choose between six candidates to fill seats on their district’s Board of Education. The Defender asked each of the candidates the same questions regarding their views on the operation of the district’s schools.
The first question asked candidates what they believe the greatest opportunities and challenges are in their district. Kathleen Stacy, a graduate of the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University who has served on the board for three terms, says it’s preparing students for the future and understanding that learning is a lifelong enterprise. Stacy is from Green Township
“Our board’s greatest opportunity is to serve the families in our district by providing an educational environment that promotes our students using all the tools we can garner for them to think independently, work collaboratively, and plan for a future using those skills to become productive citizens,” she said. “One of education’s greatest challenges is to help families realize that learning is ongoing throughout our lives. Earning a two-year degree may serve some with the chance for further training through apprenticeship programs or continued post- secondary programs. Our area needs technicians of all sorts- medical, computer, HVAC, and the list goes on, so our graduates need tools to carry them on to the challenges that the future brings.”
Troy Thatcher is a resident of Sprigg Township who works as a Field Superintendent within the Jobs Division of Evans Landscaping, Inc., in Cincinnati. He is currently President of the Greyhound Athletic Boosters, Vice President of the Manchester Educational Foundation, and an academic/athletic volunteer for the MLSD. Thatcher says educating students and finding qualified personnel should be two of the district’s most important concerns.
“With so much changing within Adams County in regards to the power plant closings, I believe the school is the one constant that the community will need to depend upon through these trying times. Therefore, the real opportunity of the MLSD is to continue to graduate our young adults, as we have for years, despite all the negative news that we keep receiving. By holding on and fighting for our district we all have an ‘opportunity’ to educate all of our youth,” said Thatcher, adding, “Many would consider the financial issues as the most significant challenge facing the district. This is something we all can agree on, however, finding a person to ‘fill the shoes’ of retiring Treasurer Karen Ballengee is the most important challenge facing the district in the immediate future. We have people who have been with the district since its inception, one being Treasurer Ballengee, and her reputation and tenacity for our district in Columbus will be hard to replace.”
Current board member and candidate Rick Foster agrees that the closing of the power plants represents one of the district’s greatest challenges.
“The challenge for MLSD over the next few years will be transitioning from being a predominantly locally funded district to one that is much more dependent on Columbus,” said Foster. “Since it’s inception, MLSD has been blessed with a very high property tax assessed valuation due to the power plants. With the recent cuts to that evaluation and the impending closures next year, we will be going from about 5% to nearly 80% state aid. Along with this challenge, we have an opportunity to continue the excellent educational tradition. Our administrative team and teaching and support staffs are implementing efficient and innovative means to continue the progress.”
Greg Penny is a Manchester resident and a volunteer baseball and football coach, scoreboard operator, and scorebook keeper at Manchester High School. He is also an honorary MHS alumni member and works as a USPS rural carrier associate. He says the district’s most important opportunity is to continue providing quality education despite harsh budget cuts.
“We get the chance to prove that we can still do all of the same things just on a tighter budget, such as providing a top-notch quality education, continuing to improve the availability of post-secondary options to our students, as well as offering multiple extra-curricular opportunities for all of our students,” he said. “The district has made many advancements that will help students become more well-rounded individuals. Students need to continue to be offered a quality education that will prepare them for state standard testing, and will also allow the them the opportunity to grow intellectually, emotionally, and socially as young people that will someday lead our great country. Hiring qualified teachers to teach all subjects and all grades is going to be important.”
Candidate Joshua K. Reaves is a 1995 graduate of MHS and served as president of his senior class. He is currently employed by the United States Postal Service and is co-owner of Jakkd Up Designs.
Reaves says he believes the district should look for opportunities to be more involved with the townships and that the greatest challenge the district will face is keeping qualified and quality administrators and staff.
Candidates were also asked if they believed the district has done well over last five years, and whether they have performed poorly in other areas and the area that they would change.
“MLSD has completed major capital improvements at the campus over the last few years and they are paid in full – that’s quite an ccomplishment, in fact, the only thing that MLSD still owes is paying off the bill of 50% of all four county high schools constructed years ago,” says Thatcher. “I am not dissatisfied with the MLSD in regards to the education of our youth. My oldest daughter graduated Co-Valedictorian last year and is attending Morehead State University pursuing a degree in nursing. Her friends are attending other institutions of higher learning including Wright State, Eastern Kentucky, Northern Kentucky, Shawnee State, and Southern State just to name a few. Also, I have hired over 10 of our graduates to work at Evans Landscaping, so I feel the district has done well in preparing our graduates accordingly.”
Candidate Foster says the school should get high marks for educational performance.
“MLSD has continued to reach high academic standards – we have received the Bronze award from US News for six consecutive years – the award recognizes outstanding performance on state assessments, and how well we prepare students for college,” he says. “One area we’re focusing on for improvement is communications. MLSD has an opportunity to improve communication of daily activities as well as keeping our community up to date on all of the wonderful things that are happening.”
Candidate Stacy says she believes the school’s work has benefited the entire community.
“Over the past five years I feel we have invested well by providing our community with a state of the art fitness center,” she says. “Through judicious use of our resources and the outstanding skills of our treasurer, Karen Ballengee, the MEAC was built at no cost to our taxpayers. Over the past several years our elementary teachers working with our treasurer were able to earn grants to provide a state of the art after-school program providing homework help, remedial help, and lots of creative experiences. And more recently we are completing the upgrading of our ball fields.”
Like Foster, Stacy says improving communications is a challenge the school is working to meet.
“I feel the greatest challenge is our continued need to keep the lines of communication open, and we are looking at ways to use social media in a way that is helpful to our families,” she says, “Parents need to come and talk to us at school board meetings. Open and honest dialogue is far better than complaining on Facebook.”
Candidate Penny also says the school district deserves credit for contributions that have enriched the entire community.
“The district has undergone many physical changes over the past over the past five years that have helped both the district and the community,” Penny says. “The district has opened the MEAC, where we have given students and community members opportunities to help develop their whole person by being involved in physical activity. The district has also opened Valley View Health Center, which has allowed us to provide a service to our students, our staff, and our community to help keep them healthy. Lastly, the district has provided wonderful outdoor sport facilities that rivals some of the best in the state.”
Penny says he believes changes in the district’s leadership over the past five years have had a somewhat negative effect.
“The district has changed leadership multiple times which has led to some instability within the district,” he says. “The financial crisis that faces the district was handled in a way that made multiple quality teachers leave the district, when they did not have to leave Manchester Local Schools, which left us hiring teachers after school started that may not be as highly qualified.”
Candidate Reaves points to the rising test scores produced by the school during the past five years, and says the building of MEAC as a boon to the entire community.
Concerning whether students in the district are on track for post-secondary readiness, candidate Thatcher points to the number of students currently enrolled in collegiate courses.
“Many students at Manchester are currently taking college classes at the school and at area colleges and universities. Over 30% percent of our juniors are enrolled in these classes with senior participation being much higher,” he says. “I have never been in favor of state scoring procedures because they are the product of special interest groups in Columbus, the same special interest groups that convince our legislators to continually take funding from the General Fund in order to finance embarrassments to the state, in particular ECOT. That being said, our test scores may not meet the state set indicators, however, we are above average in 15 out of 23 state tests district-wide. Five out of the six subjects met their value added target in the high school, with one subject in particular achieving the highest standard of growth. This shows that our kids our learning and making progress.”
Thatcher says communicating with administrators and MLSD teachers is an excellent way to stay informed about student performance and readiness. “They care for your children and are continually put under a microscope by the state.
Are we really looking for a special interest group to tell us how our kids are doing or do we ask those we have hired. They will share this information freely in order to show you they are doing the best they can for our youth. Since my oldest grew up with last year’s senior class, I know a lot about what is going on in their lives following graduation. I am proud to say that many have already joined the workforce or are continuing their education at an institution of higher learning.”
Candidate Foster says students in the district are on track for post-secondary readiness. “Our teaching and administrative staff have a curriculum designed to present 30+ academic credit hours of College Credit Plus,” he says. “This program can help students earn college and high school credits at the same time by taking college courses from community colleges or universities. Our students are exposed to post -secondary academia all while staying at Manchester High School.”
Candidate Stacy says, “Whether a student wants to work a few years before college, or go for Information Technology, (Machine Trades, etc., at the CTC), or serve in our Armed Forces, or enter a two or four year college program – it is our goal to see that the graduate makes that transition with the skills they need. Our teachers, counselors, and administrators work to expose our students to as many post-secondary opportunities as possible. I know this as my god-daughter fills me in on what is available. Dual enrollment in college, vocational skills, computer certificates are all gems that students can pull out of their pockets for future use.”
Candidate Penny points out that he has a vested interest in seeing that students are ranking high in post-secondary readiness, but adds that more needs to be done.
“I am lucky enough to have two great sons, Tyler who graduated in 2011 from MHS, and Tanner who is currently a sophomore at MHS,” he says. “I think that we have made great strides in preparing our students and my children for post-secondary opportunities, however there is a limited number right at the high school. Not every student in the school has the resources to get to an offsite campus to continue their learning at this time.”
Asked what the district’s greatest capital needs are at the present, candidate Foster says the district is ahead of the game.
“MLSD has no large capital needs right now because we have invested significantly in our facilities over the last several years. We’ve utilized the existing funds to open the elementary in 2008, and improve the high school infrastructure at the same time. We’ve added the school-based health center, the Manchester Educational and Activities Center (MEAC), and improved the outdoor athletic complex,” he said, adding, “All of these improvements have no indebtedness, and as it stands now, the high school will be paid off in about four years. Imagine a school district with no capital outlay debt.”
Thatcher agrees: “When one speaks of ‘capital needs,’ it is my understanding that this refers to infrastructure. I believe that MLSD is in great shape even when considering the recent financial setbacks. Our buildings, buses,
facilities, etc. are a bright spot in our community and we owe this to our non-certified employees, teachers and administrators, particularly Treasurer Ballengee.”
Candidate Stacy answered: “We should not have huge capital improvements in the near future. We have built a new elementary school and it is paid off. We have made significant infrastructure improvements to the high school. The MEAC is something for our entire area and it is paid for. No one can predict a malfunctioning boiler or the need for repairs due to storm damage. Again, I cannot thank our Treasurer, Karen Ballengee enough for her outstanding service to Manchester. She patiently explains the Five -Year Forecast, and has guided us through the power plants closing. The closing of the power plants is indicative of one of the truest things in education- always remember that the most constant thing in education is change.”
“The district has been blessed in the past having been able to make improvements as needed to make it one of the best in Ohio,” says Penny, “At this time we need to focus on the classroom needs of our students with quality teachers in every classroom, and quality materials to ensure the success of our students. I believe that all jobs should be opened to find the best possible candidate. I also believe that allowing teachers to continue professional development will allow us to find the best materials to use in our classrooms for the students at Manchester.”
Asked what are the factors upon which they will base their decisions as school board members, each of the six candidates answered “the students”.
“Simple,” said Thatcher. “The education and well being of Manchester’s youth.”
“Ultimately the factor of most importance is providing the best possible education opportunities for all children,” said Foster. “This of course is accomplished while being fiscally responsible.”
“What is in the best interest of our students,” says Stacy, adding, “while being fiscally responsible to our taxpayers.”
“I will always base my decisions on how it will affect our student body,” says Penny. “They are the most important part of the educational process. I will then look towards how the decision will affect the staff at the school. Finally, I will look at the budget aspect of the decision.”
Candidate Dana Thornburg works as an Ohio Maintenance Specialist/Equipment Owner at the Zimmer Power Station. He said, “Each situation or issue will be different, and the factors on which you base your decision will likely vary for each. For any issue all available information will need to be gathered, reviewed and discussed in a professional manner. The ultimate decision made should be the one with the most favorable outcome for all stakeholders.”
Asked from whom they would seek advice or input in weighing key decisions, candidate Thatcher responded: “The administrators of the Manchester Local School District because they are on the ‘front lines’ each and every day. These people have dedicated themselves to years of training, at considerable personal expense, to do the job they are hired to perform,” he says. “They have made significant sacrifices in regards to their own family and personal life in order to take care of the children of many families. This is certainly done for the ‘love of the job’ because our administration parking lot is not filled with Porsches or Lamborghinis. I don’t even think we have an administration parking lot, I’ll have to check.”
Candidate Foster said: “There are many opportunities for valuable input. Professional organizations such as the Ohio School Boards Association have many resources to aid in key decisions, and board members often seek advice from their peers and board members from other school districts.”
Candidate Thornburg said he would seek advice and or input from all parties who would be affected by the outcome of the decision.
Candidate Stacy answered: “I find it helpful to talk with stakeholders – staff, students, parents. I often check things with educators with whom I’ve worked in the past. I also like to see what folks think who don’t have students in schools. Again, there can never be too much communication.
Penny says he will debate other board members to see what their thoughts are on the issue.
“I will also look to the community that elected me as a board member for advice and input on my decisions,” he adds. “If it is confidential, I will do a lot of personal reflection to see how the students, the staff, and the budget will be affected.
Asked whose interests should matter in the governance of a school district, the candidate’s answers ranged from the single students to the community at large.
“The children,” said Foster. “The framework for effective governance must have the children’s best interest as the centerpiece.”
“What should matter, and is my bottom line – is this in the best interest of our students?” says Stacy.
“Everyone has an interest in the school,” saysThornburg. ”It matters in the sense that we continue to make sure students receive a great education to prepare them for advancement after high school.
“The interests of the entire community as as whole matters the most in regards to governing the MLSD,” said Foster. “In a democracy your vote and voice count, exercise them with vigor, because there is nowhere else on earth where you can do it so freely. Take advantage of articles like this to base your opinion and throw hearsay out the window. Listen to the candidates on the C103 Forum on Oct. 30 and talk to those employed by the schools. Look at each candidate and deep down ask yourself if their agenda is orientated for the real job at hand – the education of our youth.’Lead by example’ and show the next generations of Americans that their vote and voice really matters.”
“First and foremost the students will always be a priority, because they are the primary stakeholder in education,” says Penny. “Secondly, the staff of the district because they are educating and providing services for our children. Finally, the community because it takes a community to raise a child.”
Of the six candidates on the ballot, three will be elected.