Licking County News

Licking Heights

Levy failure, Wagner news end 2012 on a low note


For the Licking Heights school district, the year 2012 began with a split from a longtime educational partner, received some good news from the Ohio Department of Education and ultimately ended with heartbreak from a levy failure and the news that Superintendent Philip Wagner had applied for another job.

On Feb. 28, the school board voted 5-0 to end its working relationship with the Licking County Educational Service Center and enter into negotiations with the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio.

Board member Matt Satterwhite said the district enjoyed a long relationship with the Licking County Educational Service Center, but it was time for a change. Though the move caused its share of controversy among area school districts, Licking Heights board and administration members agreed that the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio offered some advantages over Licking County.

The district had a scary moment March 12, when a woman posted threatening remarks, one involving a weapon, on Facebook against a West Elementary School teacher, prompting district officials to place the school on lockdown.

According to a Franklin County Sheriff's Office incident report, the mother posted on a Facebook page, "When I prove them wrong, I'm gonna be the last one laughing with a shotgun in my hand," and another post stating, "I'm totally gonna go ape (expletive) on my daughter's teacher."

Police took the woman into custody, interviewed her and ultimately determined the teacher was not in danger.

The district received some good news in October, when Wagner said the district likely would be graded "Excellent with Distinction" on the Ohio Department of Education's state report card. The official scores are delayed because of the ongoing state investigation into allegations of tampering with student-attendance data against multiple Ohio districts, but Licking Heights was not one of the districts under investigation.

The "Excellent with Distinction" ranking is the highest a school district can earn. Licking Heights was "Excellent" the previous year.

According to the ODE, Licking Heights met 25 of the 26 state indicators. The district fell short in fifth-grade mathematics, where 73.9 percent of students passed the state exam; the state requires 75-percent passage to meet the indicator.

The year closed with the Nov. 6 defeat of an 8.9-mill levy district officials had said was needed to maintain staffing levels and transportation.

The levy failed decisively -- 2,776 votes against it to 1,693 in favor, or 62.12 percent to 37.88 percent, forcing the district to cut $2.8 million from its operating budget.

Licking Heights terminated high school bus service as of Dec. 3 and began to lay off at least 40 staff members.

The school board organized an agenda of budget changes ahead of the vote in the event of levy failure, and that agenda was set in motion.

"It's not the plan we wanted to implement," Wagner said.

The district received potentially more bad news Dec. 18, when it was revealed that Wagner is one of 20 candidates who have applied to replace retiring Westerville Superintendent Dan Good. The Westerville school board plans to narrow its list of applicants and begin interviews the week of Jan. 7, Westerville board president Kevin Hoffman said. Second and third interviews would be conducted in late January, with a decision on a new superintendent to be made soon afterward.

Wagner said his application was not related directly to the challenges Licking Heights faces and said his departure "is not likely" at this time.

"Initially, I did not apply for the position with the Westerville schools but was contacted by the search firm late in the process and recently was invited to an interview in early January," Wagner said in a statement. "At this juncture, the prospect of leaving my position with Licking Heights is not likely because it is very early in the Westerville interview process.

"Additionally, I am proud of the progress being made within the Licking Heights schools, and as long as I am the superintendent, I will continue to give my best to the Licking Heights students, staff and community."

Licking Heights school board president Richard Wand said he would "by no means" be happy if Wagner were to accept another position. However, he said, he also understands that superintendents generally stay less than four years with any district and moving is common.

"To some degree, it's a function of the job," Wand said. "They work insane hours, get burned out and look for change."