Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Survey Shows 62 Percent of West G Residents Favor Open Enrollment
April 3, 2014 by Gwen Cooper | No Comments

Preliminary results in West Geauga Schools' telephone survey of residents indicated the community generally supports having open enrollment students, said Superintendent Geoff Palmer Monday night.…

Preliminary results in West Geauga Schools’ telephone survey of residents indicated the community generally supports having open enrollment students, said Superintendent Geoff Palmer Monday night.

“About 90 percent of the respondents were aware of open enrollment, including 88 percent who were nonparents,” he said in his report during the West Geauga Schools Board of Education meeting. “Sixty-two percent supported open enrollment, while 30.8 percent opposed it. Forty-four percent disagreed with the new cap put on the number of open enrollment students, while 41 percent agreed.”

When asked if they felt it was unfair that open enrollment parents do not pay (West Geauga) property tax, 48 percent of the responders agreed and 43 percent disagreed, he said.

Palmer said he had just gotten the survey results the previous night and intends to have Burges and Burges, the survey company, give a full report on it at the April meeting.

“I just wanted to give some of the highlights tonight,” he said.

The telephone survey took place March 20 and 21 with 532 people surveyed among a statistical sample of registered voters with a history of voting in the district, he explained.

“The overall satisfaction rating was high for the school, teachers and building principals,” he said. “Ninety-six percent agreed that good schools mean a good community.”

Ginny Jefferson, a resident, questioned the survey results, stating she did not receive a phone call from the survey company, while her mother received 10 phone calls.

Palmer said the company that conducted the phone interviews is recognized as one of the best in the country. He admitted there was some overlap on the first day, but it was resolved.

Another resident said he was interviewed for the survey and felt the questions were biased toward open enrollment.

Kilroy explained the questions were written in a positive tone, rather than a negative one because people are more likely to take the survey; however, the survey allowed for responses for residents opposed to open enrollment.

“If you are nice, you elicit more comments,” said Kilroy.

School board member Tom Phelps expressed surprise to see how closely divided the community was on the board’s decision to limit the number of open enrollment students.

He said the board took a moderate approach in placing a lower cap on accepting students from outside the school district and he has been receiving emails from parents and community members on the subject.

“One person thinks we should use an applause meter at the meeting and use it as a valid method to make a decision,” he said.

Board member Ben Kotowski called the initial results “very illuminating.”

“With the community divided on the issue, we’re not going to please everybody,” he said. “It puts the burden on us to make these decisions.”

Phelps asked the board to expand the cap on open enrollment for the 2015-16 year to allow more ninth-graders to attend.

At that grade level, there is an influx of more resident students from parochial schools, which may reduce the number of positions open to students who live outside the district, he said.

“My concern is that we have not given open enrollment students and parents enough time to make alternate plans,” Phelps said. “If we increased the number for incoming ninth-graders, it would leave a buffer. High school is different. It’s a huge part of their life. We’ve been short-sighted to their sensitivity.”

“There have been some heartfelt phone calls,” board President Michael Kilroy said. “People are asking: How about adding one more spot in each different grade. If you start (here) in high school and open enrollment changes later, students may get bumped altogether, creating even more hardship down the line.”

The board voted on Phelps’ resolution to add open enrollment spots for incoming ninth-graders, bringing the total to 205 open enrollment spots.

That vote ended in a tie with Michael Kilroy and Dan Thoreson voting against it, and Phelps and Kotowski voting for it. Board member Jackie Dottore did not attend the meeting.

The end result is that the limits placed on open enrollment will stand for the coming school year.

“A lot of people would like to see open enrollment placed on the ballot,” Thoreson said. “But, the only way we can is to put it (that language) into a vote for or against an increase on taxes.”

In other business, the board voted 3-1 to accept a $1.6 million bid for reroofing Lindsey Elementary School, the middle school and a portion of the high school this summer, with funds to be taken from the school’s permanent improvements appropriation fund.

Kotowski voted against it, saying it was “irresponsible to spend $650,000 for a roof on Lindsey with enrollment declining 40 students per year.”

State law dictates the school board would have to first offer to sell the building to a charter school if it was for sale, which could further erode West Geauga Schools’ enrollment, he said.

“We haven’t answered questions on the long-term use of our facilities and the consequences of keeping them open,” Kotowski said.

The school has enough residential students to fill both the Lindsey and the Westwood Elementary School buildings, Kilroy said.

The board also had a 2-2 split vote on changing its bylaw number 0124 pertaining to expediting decisions by voting to suspend a second and third reading prior to making a policy change.

Phelps and Kotowski voted against changing the policy that would have allowed suspending the readings with a majority vote of board members present. Kilroy and Thoreson voted in favor of the resolution.

The current policy requiring a unanimous vote of all the board members present at the meeting to suspend the additional readings will stand.

After the meeting, Kilroy said the change was intended to speed up decisions.

“If the board meets only twice a month, it can take months to get anything done, if we have to wait for the second and third readings before voting,” he said. “There are those who want to hold up our progress.”

Paul Pendleton, a consultant with the Independence search firm Finding Leaders asked for some general agreement among board members on how to pursue seeking candidates for a new school treasurer.

The next board meeting will be held at 7 p.m. April 28 in the Middle School Community Room.

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