Vote on staff cuts follows pointed, emotional comments
The Marysville Board of Education on Dec. 20 voted 4-1 to proceed with recommended staff reductions.
Building principals warned their staff members Dec. 14 that positions were being eliminated for the following school year. A 4-mill levy was put on the November ballot in hopes of making up for a $2 million shortfall caused by decreasing state funding. It failed, with only 42 percent voting for the levy.
Board members, along with district treasurer, Cindy Ritter and Superintendent Diane Mankins, sat on the stage of the Bunsold Middle School auditorium, facing a packed house while casting the vote.
The board listened to 26 different emotional testimonies, extending the original 30 minutes allotted for public participation to nearly two hours, before voting.
Marysville Education Association president Juliet Litzel spoke first, expressing frustration with the cuts the administration and board are making because of the failed levy.
"This is a community that doesn't want to pay for the excellence we continue to give to them," Litzel said.
She also accused the board of cutting teachers first instead of looking at other options, such as extracurriculars and busing.
MEA vice president J.B. Ritchie gave a stirring speech, accepting some of the blame for the levy's failure. He also criticized the board's levy campaign, though.
"The message to the community, the teachers, the principals and the voters was unclear, fragmented and in some places incomplete," Ritchie said.
He said he personally worked on getting the word out during the campaign.
"I reached out to 90 families through email and phone calls," he said. "I failed. It was not nearly enough, and to everybody I'm sorry. However, I want to ask every staff member here, what did you do?"
He then spoke to the audience.
"Community of Marysville, you overwhelmingly turned down a school levy that would have kept all current services intact," he said. "No new jobs, just keeping intact a dedicated cluster of workers that collectively helped to deliver your district's honors of excellence with distinction two years in a row. All of us failed together."
He traced the problem further to the constitutionality of Ohio's school-funding system and said Gov. John Kasich needs to be held responsible in fixing the fundamental funding problem in Ohio.
"In 2013, I'm going to write Gov. John Kasich a letter every single day, demanding to know why he would sign $2.9 billion in education cuts," Ritchie said.
Many speakers made a case to keep various employees. The largest show of support was for music and show-choir instructor Jeremy Alfera. Tears flowed from show-choir students as 2010 Marysville High School graduate Ashley Sabido testified to Alfera's impact on students.
"His dedication to the students is evident," she said. "Mr. Alfera has a way of teaching that inspires students."
The most heated moment came when former Superintendent Larry Zimmerman spoke and asked the board to put the RIFs (reduction in force) on hold.
"What I'm asking is, when you submit your plan (to the state), you then set it aside and fully study that plan so that it could be fully reviewed over the next three months," Zimmerman said. "What's the district look like once those cuts are fully implemented?"
He was received warmly by the crowd with cheers and whistles. When he finished, however, board president Jeff Mabee expressed his disappointment.
"Thank you for your thoughts. My concern is, you have undercut our new superintendent and all she's trying to do," Mabee said.
The comment was met with an outburst of scolding for Mabee, yelling phrases such as "shame on you" and "you lack leadership."
Many in the audience said the board did not do enough to get the word out about the levy, thus causing it to fail.
"I respect that to a point," Mabee said. "We did a lot of email. In fact, I think we did more continuing communication with our parents than we've ever done. It was an overwhelming election to try to get through.
"It was a presidential election; there was a lot of different political messages, and people were inundated, and we got lost," Mabee said. "We want to get better at communicating. That's something we want to do as a governing team, is get better. All we can do is try to get better."
Mankins said she understands parents are passionate about protecting their children.
"It's been a difficult and heart-wrenching experience," she said. "At the levy-results event on election night, I shed a couple of tears. I cried, not because of the numbers coming in but because I knew today would come. As a teacher -- and at the end of the day, that's what I am first -- it broke my heart. We're going to have to keep working and pushing and coming together. We still have a lot of work to do to get in a financial solvent situation."
After testimony, board member Amy Powers made a motion to table the cuts. Mabee called for a second three times while the crowd booed other board members for not giving the second on the motion.
Powers was the lone vote against passing the reductions.