Michael D. Clark reports
The financial woes of one of the area’s highest-rated school districts has helped drive away more than half its principals in the last two school years.
Of Lakota Schools’ 20 building principal positions, seven – 35 percent – have recently resigned due to retirement or other jobs.
That follows the 2010-11 school year, which saw four principals depart, leaving Lakota with a 55 percent turnover rate among its school building leaders since spring 2011.
While attrition fluctuation at any school district is an annual spring event, the extent at Lakota is unusually high in the district’s 55-year history, district officials said.
The leadership drain has officials at the academically top-rated school system worried.
“We have to put a tourniquet on this pretty quickly,” Lakota Superintendent Karen Mantia said during a recent school board meeting.
The impact from this turnover is hard to gauge.
Lakota maintained it state rating of “Excellent with Distinction” for 2010-11 but the four principal departures began after classes ended in spring 2011. State rankings for the recently completed 2011-12 school year will not be available until August.
Lakota, with 17,400 students, is the second-largest district in Southwest Ohio (behind Cincinnati Public Schools) and seventh-largest in the state. Lakota is the largest school system among Ohio’s 613 public districts to earn the state’s highest rating.
But historically deep budget cuts in response to a recent string of tax levy defeats have left Lakota scrambling financially, with less staffing and fewer resources – all reasons cited by departing principals, Mantia said, based on her exit interviews.
Bus transportation has been eliminated for thousands, classes are larger, dozens of teacher, building staff positions and central office jobs have been eliminated as budgets have been cut $35 million in the last three school years.
Moreover, voters have rejected three proposed school tax hikes in the last two years. This month Lakota officials announced that the unknown funding levels from the next state budget has prompted them to skip a levy try this fall.
“The number one reason is the financial insecurity from the failure of levies,” said Mantia, citing comments from those departing for other jobs.
Another reason for some departures reflects well on Lakota, Mantia said, in reference to extensive training Lakota provides principals. Lakota principals are in demand, she said.
Thomas Ash, a 39-year-veteran of public schools and now director of governmental relations for Ohio’s Buckeye Association of School Administrators, said Lakota is not alone.
“The turnover in building principals reflects both increased opportunities and anticipated public retirement reforms,” said Ash. “This year, about 60 of the superintendent vacancies in Ohio were filled by former school principals.”
“In addition, I would anticipate more retirements throughout the education profession over the next couple of years because of probable changes impacting both cost-of-living allowances and actual pension benefits,’’ Ash said. “Since they will not receive the benefits that they had anticipated a few years ago, they are electing to leave education sooner than they had planned.
Lakota’s veteran school board member Joan Powell shares Mantia’s concern and she said pay freezes for school administrators – as part of sweeping budget cuts – play a role.
“This exodus of administrators is troubling but not surprising. These individuals have experienced a decrease in their take-home pay over the last five years, while being asked to take on more responsibilities with fewer resources,” Powell said.
“While some turnover is to be expected and can actually keep the organization dynamic, there a point where you can risk losing the sense of connection and direction.’’
LIST OF LAKOTA DEPARTING PRINCIPALS
• Jennifer Klein, Woodland Elementary: New job.
• Elizabeth Spurlock, Wyandot Early Childhood Center: Retired.
• Dave Pike, Hopewell Junior High: Retired.
• Mike Holbrook, Plains Junior High: New job.
• Keith Kline, Lakota East High School: New job.
• Richard Hamilton, Lakota West High School: Retired.
• Marco Pangallo, Heritage Elementary: Retired.
• Timothy Weber, Endeavor Elementary: New job.
• Robert Winterberger, Union Elementary: Retired effective January 2013.
• Denise Hayes, Hopewell Elementary: New job, ending board action.
• Todd Petrey, Creekside Early Childhood Center: New job.