Most other building events and activities scheduled for Wednesday will be canceled as well. This includes, but is not limited to parent/teacher conferences and a Lakota staff community conversation.
Lakota’s enrollment center will also be closed. Liberty Early Childhood School had an information night scheduled at the enrollment center from 7 to 8 p.m.
Families, who planned to register for kindergarten Wednesday are still invited to register any time before March 28. The enrollment center is open Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. It will also be open until 7 p.m. for kindergarten registration March 13 and March 20. Call, 513-682-4120 for further information.
For athletic event updates, please check each individual school’s athletic site.
The Community Foundation of West Chester/Liberty will honor two Lakota Educator of Excellence Award winners at its annual dinner celebration April 25. The winners will receive an award along with a monetary grant to be used for a special project within their school.
“We are excited to have peers, parents and community members provide nominations for those educators who have gone above and beyond in working with the district’s young people,” said Melissa Benedict Community Foundation of West Chester/Liberty vice president of donor services.
One award will be presented to an educator representing pre-kindergarten through the sixth grade. The other award winner will represent the seventh grade through the 12th grade.
Nominations are not limited to classroom teachers. Award recipients may be any person (teacher, administrator, support staff, etc.) working with young people in the Lakota school district.
The award was established in 2007 to recognize educators in the Lakota School District, who demonstrate consistency and high commitment to students, motivates, shares ideas, inspires others, is supportive, creative and goes beyond the classroom to make a difference in the community. Previous winners include Shannon Henderson, Linda Abbott, Katie Woodruff, Audrey Stamp, Karen Kamm, Ann Aprahamian, Fred Thomas and Mendy Dimatteo.
Nomination forms are available on the Community Foundation’s website www.wclfoundation.com or at the school district’s central office.
Lakota school members to be available before board meetings
If you are having trouble getting in touch with a school board member, Lakota Local Schools is taking a new approach to combat that problem.
Joan Powell, the school board president, announced this week that beginning with the next regularly scheduled school board meeting, on Feb. 28, all board members have committed to be available to the community for 15 minutes before the meeting starts.
“There are already two times during the meeting when people can come to the podium and address the board,” Powell said. “That won’t change. But I know sometimes people are uncomfortable doing that, or prefer a more informal exchange with the board members. This will provide them with that opportunity.”
Since September the district has been holding “Community Conversations” throughout West Chester and Liberty townships, meeting with residents in living rooms, coffee shops, churches and other locations. Typically, the Lakota Board of Education is represented at these “conversations.”
Miller suggests using retired police officers as armed substitutes
Michael D. Clark reports:
There has been plenty of talk but little else since Butler County’s sheriff publicly floated the idea of retired cops working as armed substitute teachers.
After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Scott Miller, a former Mason Police officer forced to retire after being struck twice on duty by cars, approached Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones with a novel idea: Put armed, retired police officers in Butler County schools as substitute teachers to boost security. Photo by Tony Jones.
Still, the man behind the idea remains optimistic. Scott Miller’s positive attitude is borne from painful adversity.
The former Mason Police officer was twice hit by cars during a two-year stretch while on duty, breaking his back and leaving his lower spine mangled and held together by metal. Forced into disability retirement in 2010, Miller recently came up with the novel idea, which has garnered statewide attention, during the days after the Sandy Hook school massacre in December.
In January, Miller approached his former boss, Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones, with his idea. Soon after, Jones called a press conference to announce his department’s full backing and urged public and private schools in the county to enact the program as allowed by state law.
Districts haven’t had time to consider idea
So far, none of the 10 public school boards in Butler County, nor any private schools or the Butler Tech school board, has voted to adopt the program allowing qualified and armed ex-officers to work as substitute teachers. Some district officials say discussions may be held in coming board meetings. Most school systems’ governing boards say they need more time, since Jones announced the program only Jan. 17.
District officials also say they are reluctant to discuss any school security measures publicly for fear of jeopardizing student safety by pointing out what their schools currently lack.
“I knew schools would move slowly,” said Miller from his Fairfield Township home. “It’s a different concept and will take some time for them to digest, but some school districts will eventually sign on.”
Paul Otten, superintendent of the 9,900-student Fairfield City School District, says his board has not had an opportunity to address the issue. He says the board is expected to include discussion about the idea at its next meeting, Feb. 12.
Randy Oppenheimer, spokesman for Lakota Local School District, Southwest Ohio’s second-largest, says “the board has not taken any action on the sheriff’s plan, (and) I’m not aware of any scheduled vote.” Lakota, he says, is “fairly reluctant to go into a lot of details about the meeting topics” pertaining to security.
Hamilton City School District spokeswoman Joni Copas says “our district has a safety committee that we have reconvened after the Sandy Hook tragedy.” Copas says the committee is “looking at all aspects of school safety and security” and is expected to present recommendations before the end of the current school year.
Sheriff Jones is neither surprised nor discouraged. “It’s a great idea, but I want to take it slow and see how it goes.
“I have had calls from school boards and emails from (school officials) in other states about it, and it has been nothing but positive reaction,” Jones says.
Subbing already to get better grasp of the job
Miller has painfully learned that disappointment can precede any success.
A Mason motorcycle patrolman, Miller was struck by a car in 2008. That accident left him with a broken, surgically repaired back. He returned to duty in 2010 only to be hit again by a car, ending his career and leaving him with metal “pins, screws and hooks at the bottom of my spine” and extensive nerve damage in one leg.
He has to do rehab daily but still misses police work. Seeing a TV news image of a military veteran standing guard – without a firearm – in front of a school in the days after Sandy Hook prompted his idea.
“Being a substitute is revenue-neutral for school districts, and they can have a certified and armed police officer in their schools,” Miller says.
In recent weeks, he has filled in as a substitute – unarmed – for a few days at Fairfield and Lakota schools to familiarize himself with the job, which pays about $75 per day. He is eager to pull double duty as an armed substitute so he can also add to a school’s security.
“We have to do something,” Miller says. “Kids shouldn’t have to worry about not being safe at school, and parents shouldn’t have to worry about maybe never seeing their kid again after sending them off to school.”
Newly appointed Lakota school board president Joan Powell announced on Monday night that she wouldn’t be running for her seat this fall. She is one of Greater Cincinnati’s longest tenured board members.
“This will be my last year on the board,” Powell said during the regularly scheduled school board meeting.
“16 years is enough. A friend of mine (Sandy Wheatley), who served on the board for 12 years, told me you will know when it is time … I just knew that it was time.”
The 16-year board veteran first took office in 1998 and her tenure on the board coincided with Lakota’s booming student population that has seen the Butler County district become the second largest in Southwest Ohio and the eighth largest in the state.
“She has been able to see the evolution of changes that have occurred in education,” said Karen Mantia, Lakota superintendent. “She also has a grasp of where it is going, so that past experience really guides her to see what the future will look like and we will miss that.”
Powell’s leadership has often been credited for some of Lakota’s many successes, but on occasion she has also been the center of controversy. Most recently, Powell in 2011 publicly criticized fellow board members for not working together and impeding the board’s effectiveness.
During Powell’s stint on the board, Lakota rose both in size and academic prominence, becoming the largest district in Ohio to consistently earn the state department of education’s highest academic rating.
“It has been incredible amount of time. Lakota has doubled in size since I first started on the board. There have been so many changes,” said Powell, 61, who is a realtor with Huff Realty in West Chester, also has two grandchildren and two children.
“I have worked with four different superintendents. I can’t think of how many governors. Lakota has seen a lot of change and I hope Lakota can remain so successful because I really do believe that it holds a valuable place in this community.”
The 17,300-student district has not seen voters pass a new operating levy since 2005 and saw three school tax issues rejected at the ballot in the last two years. The district has cut more than $36 million in personnel and programs in recent years and is anticipated to go back to the voters for a new school tax later this year.
Two other board members, whose terms are up after the year, Ray Murray and Ben Dibble said they were both planning to run for their seats.
Both Murray and Dibble began serving on the board in January of 2010.
The remaining board members Lynda O’Connor and Julie Shaffer were most recently elected in the fall of 2011 and began four-year terms in January of 2012.
Shaffer is currently serving her first term on the school board, while O’Connor is serving her second four-year term.
When Lakota students started this school year, they saw fewer teachers, staff specialists and have fewer course options, thanks to about $10.5 million in sweeping budget cuts approved March 12 by the district’s school board.
The Lakota board voted to accept in 2012 some of the deepest budget reductions in the 18,000-student district’s 55-year history. The district is running out of money after voters have rejected three tax hikes in two years.
The board votes brings an end to a rare string of public discussions on hundreds of details in the five budget-cutting plans – pre-school, kindergarten and elementary, junior and senior high, athletics and district-wide operations – brought to the board in the last two months by Lakota Superintendent Karen Mantia.
“It saddens all of us that we have to face these issues,” Mantia told an audience of more than 200 residents and school employees in Lakota East High School’s auditorium, “but we are not the federal government, and we can not spend more money than we bring in.” she said.
The cuts in Ohio’s seventh-largest school system were projected to include 141 teaching, classroom specialist, school nurse and school staff positions, and nine school and central office administrators. Also downsized was the amount of time students will have for arts, music and physical education activities; class periods for high school students; and the number of graduation credits required, from 21 to 20.
Lakota officials simultaneously introduced a new core curricular program designed to help meet tougher pending state standards. Officials have contented that the reduced times in arts, music and gym classes will allow for more instruction in core subjects.
Longtime Lakota parent Lisa Babcock criticized the board for shrinking the learning options for her children. She has already taken some of her kids out of Lakota for private schools and may soon remove all her children due to this latest round of budget cuts.
“I know things are going to get worse,” said Babcock.
The board voted on each reduction proposal separately, and the closet margin was a 3-2 vote, with members Julie Shaffer and Joan Powell opposing the out-sourcing of Lakota’s pre-school program to Butler County’s Head Start program.
Lakota officials said the $10.5 million in reductions for 2012-13 will balloon to nearly $11 million due to increased payments for unemployment compensation and severance pay.
At the time of the cuts, Lakota’s annual operating budget was $154 million. Furthermore, after the cuts were announced, the district faced a projected budget shortfall of $14.1 million in 2015.
Lakota Local Schools still faces financial hole
UPDATE: Lakota Schools have slowed but not stopped its financial bleeding, officials said during a school board meeting on Oct. 22.
The school system – impacted by three tax levy defeats in the last two years all resulting in historically deep personnel and program cuts – still faces insolvency in 2014, officials said.
“There’s not much change bottom-line. We are predicting our spending deficit will return,” said Lakota Treasurer Jenni Logan during the district’s five-year, financial forecast, which is mandated bi-annually by state law.
“We are still going to balance our budget this year and need to keep our eye on next year and make decisions,” but Logan, added that “predictability beyond fiscal year 2013 is challenging (and) the long-term financial direction of the district must be addressed.”
She said Lakota faces a $1.8 million projected budget deficit by 2014.
Despite the news last week that Lakota continued its streak of earning the state’s highest academic rating of “Excellent with Distinction” for the 2011-2012 school year, officials at the Butler County district are worried.
Lakota is Southwest Ohio’s second largest school system.
Bus transportation has been eliminated for thousands, classes are larger, and 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.
The district’s $146 million operating budget for this school year is less than it spent in 2009. Lakota receives 40 percent of its annual operating budget from state funding and 60 percent from local tax revenue.
Earlier this year, school families in Lakota thought they might see the district try for another school tax hike before the end of 2012. But with the state’s biennium budget proposals coming in early 2013 – and deadline for state funding approval set by that state budget facing a deadline of June 30, 2013 – that unknown budget factor helped prompt district officials’ earlier decision to avoid the ballot this year.
The school board took no budgetary actions after the presentation.
“There are more things we don’t know now than we do know. Additional information is needed before we assume revenue beyond January 2013,” said Logan.