Rocky Fork Enterprise

Superintendent turns State of Schools into 'Straight Talk'

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Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools Superintendent Francis Scruci had a frank discussion with residents Feb. 7, dubbing the dialogue "Straight Talk with the Superintendent."

The new informal question-and-answer format replaced the district's former State of the Schools address.

After district treasurer Julio Valladares recapped the story of how Clark Hall and Clark Commons had come to fruition, Scruci opened the floor to questions from attendees.

He covered a variety of topics at the two-hour meeting at Clark Hall, including school safety, mental-health services, Gov. John Kasich's school-funding overhaul, the city's income-tax proposal and cafeteria food, among other subjects.

Elementary student Nathan Larick, son of Gahanna City Councilman Brian Larick started the discussion.

"I don't think my school has very good food," he said. "It isn't very fresh. It has things in it. I found bugs in it."

Larick said he told his mother and principal about the problem, but nothing has been done about it.

"I thought it was going to be an easy question," Scruci said. "We're taking notes, and that will be first on our list to find out what's going on. Everyone in here has eaten bad cafeteria food. There should be no bugs in food."

Gahanna resident Tom Weber, former city attorney, asked if the schools would endorse the city's proposed income-tax measure.

The city will have an income-tax proposal on the May 7 ballot that would change the income-tax rate from 1.5 to 2.5 percent. Concurrently, the tax credit would be changed from 83.3 to 100 percent.

"I can't speak for the board," Scruci said. "I know our relationship with the city is positive. It's the most positive I've seen."

School board president Claire Yoder said the board could discuss the ballot measure during the board's next meeting.

"I'm not sure we've been asked to do this before," she said. "We have a great relationship, and we want to continue to work on partnerships."

Scruci said he sees shared services as a hot topic.

"The city has a different working situation than we do," he said. "Some things will dovetail. The mayor and I feel strongly to share costs (where possible)."

When asked how Gov. John Kasich's biennial school-funding plan would affect Gahanna-Jefferson, Scruci said he needs to see the funding formula.

"The only thing we know for sure is the number -- 16-something percent -- increase (for the coming year)," he said. "It isn't free money. We need to see how they determined it."

Scruci said he wants to see what strings are attached to the state funds.

"A lot of times when dealing with the state, there are more questions than answers," he said.

Scruci said Gahanna would receive an additional $50 for every student in special education, as well as additional money for students in English as a Second Language classes.

As soon as the district knows what the 16-percent increase in funding means, Scruci said, he would like to have another meeting to discuss it.

The issue of school safety sparked a variety of debate and discussion among meeting attendees.

"We are prepared to protect our kids," Scruci said. "The police department has worked with us. We can't be too public about our plans. We went to every building. We've looked at buildings to make it difficult for the bad guy."

Scruci said if someone has the mindset and wants to hurt people, he or she will.

The mental-health component needs to be addressed, he said.

"Last Wednesday, we had conversations about utilizing our guidance people differently," Scruci said. "We're getting mental-health services in the district. We've had an outbreak at the middle school level, with a lot of students coming to the office with concerns."

Scruci said principals were scheduled to meet with the district's psychologist Feb. 13.

"They will bring a plan to me," he said. "There will be a change in the way we do business in dealing with mental-health needs. Again, there are dollars attached to what we need to do. We're using interns from OSU. They have to be supervised at all times."

Scruci said he wants to continue to improve communication with the public.

"Communication isn't where I want it to be," he said. "I want you to know who I am when it's time for me to come and say, 'Hey folks, I need some money.'

"We're trying to build a trust between the community and schools," he said. "You may not like me, and that's OK. We may disagree, and that's OK. I want you to know I'm genuine. I don't have hidden agendas. We want to be transparent."

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