The Upper Arlington school district ended 2013 on a high note with passage of a 4-mill levy in November.
Before then, however, district officials made some tough budget cuts in response to the failure of an operating levy in November 2012 and tightened security measures at all buildings in response to the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
The district also welcomed a new superintendent, Paul Imhoff, who quickly began efforts to create a long-term budget efficiency project.
Although the Nov. 5 operating levy faced the same opposition as the measure that was rejected a year earlier, it was approved by an "overwhelming" margin, according to school supporters.
"The board of education is thankful to the community for passing the 2013 school levy," board member Nancy Drees said.
"Two of the most important investments people can have are the value of their child's education and the value of their home," she said. "Many of us live in Upper Arlington because of the schools."
Board member Robin Comfort said she is grateful for a new leadership team.
"We are so fortunate to bring Paul Imhoff, Emilie Greenwald, Kathy Jennings and Karen Truett to the cabinet, while keeping Andy Geistfeld and Chris Potts to anchor us," she said. "This new leadership team will be critical in leading the district in 2014."
Greenwald, formerly principal at Upper Arlington High School, is now the district's chief academic officer; Jennings is the director of human resources and Truett is the director of communications.
Two longtime board members, Robert Arkin and Margie Pizzuti, decided not to run for re-election, after 12 years on the school board.
In the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in December 2012, where 20 elementary students and six staff members were killed, safety forums were held in all UA school buildings early in 2013. District administrators and teachers asked parents for feedback on ways to keep students safe in the classroom.
Cameras and buzz-in security systems were installed at the main entrances of all UA schools and all other doors are kept locked during the school day. All employees were given identification badges they were required to wear at all times and all visitors were required to wear visitor badges.
Spring brought more than cold rain -- it brought tough budget cuts, including the non-renewal of contracts for 29 teachers.
"These are tough cuts because they are flesh and blood," then-Superintendent Jeff Weaver said.
He said the cuts were necessary to shave $6 million in operating expenses over the next two years and to keep the next levy request as low as possible.
Weaver said voters' rejection of a 5.8-mill levy in November 2012 made the budget cuts inevitable. Suzanne Koch, co-president of the Upper Arlington Education Association, said the teachers union was concerned about "the reduction of nearly 5 percent of our teaching staff and its impact on students."
Weaver retired July 31 and Imhoff came on board with a base salary of $165,000. He came to Upper Arlington from a post as superintendent of Mariemont City Schools in suburban Cincinnati.
Imhoff introduced a new efficiency project designed to look for savings in building and district budgets. The aim is "to reduce forecasted costs by a cumulative $4.5 million by the end of fiscal year 2017."
He said the savings had to be found to keep a November levy request low. He also said the plan would include detailed action steps with targeted cost-reduction amounts for each of the next three fiscal years.
Both Barrington and Greensview elementary schools conducted fundraisers in 2013, and with the help of local businesses, were able to install American Disability Act (ADA)-accessible playgrounds at their schools.
Barrington's playground became the first ADA-accessible playground in Upper Arlington.
Local organizations donated more than $150,000 to build the Barrington Welcome Playground, which includes a "cocoon" swing for children with autism, plus wheelchair ramps, chair swings and jungle gyms designed to accommodate all children.
Barrington houses the district's kindergarten-through-second-grade program for children with multiple disabilities.
Greensview houses the rest of the multiple disabilities program. Its new accessible playground will also serve all children who play at the adjacent Sunny 95 Park in Upper Arlington. Phase one of the playground was completed in October, for about $65,000.
Greensview's PRIDE playground provides play space for all elementary-age children during or after school hours. As part of the play space at Sunny 95 Park, it may also host park programs.
State report card
Upper Arlington schools earned mostly A's on the Ohio's revised state report card, but a couple of C grades will help guide intervention efforts, administrators said.
The district scored an A for meeting all 24 state standards, based on 24 state achievement tests, in which students must score at least 75 percent to be labeled proficient.
The Performance Index score of 107.2 netted a B grade. The Performance Index measures the achievement of every student, with the most points given for students who scored higher than proficient.
The report card showed an overall value-added grade of A, but a C in the gap-closing component, measuring how certain ethnic groups and students with disabilities meet the state benchmark scores.
Voters appeared to find the 4-mill operating levy request on the Nov. 5 ballot more palatable than the 5.8-mill levy that failed last year, but it still faced opposition from Educate UA, the citizens group that was credited with helping to defeat the 2012 levy.
School leaders said during the campaign that more teacher positions were on the line if this year's levy failed. They also created a "contingency plan" that outlined $6 million more in cuts over two years, including the elimination of 29 teaching jobs.
The community came out to vote, though, and passed the tax issue in November 2013. Board President Arkin told members of Citizens for UA Schools, the group that came up with an "Excellence Matters" slogan and campaigned for the issue, that "Excellence really does matter."
Humanitarian and global efforts
Upper Arlington students were selected to meet world leaders and delegates from Iceland, Africa, Mexico, the Vatican and other countries at the 2013 World Food Prize Global Youth Institute.
Senior Katherine Denune, junior Alexandra Hoey and sophomore Maddie Page won the chance to attend the conference after writing essays and presenting solutions to world food problems at a Sept. 5 Ohio Youth Institute.
Three Upper Arlington High School seniors -- Nicole Carothers, Abby Godard and Nicolette Green -- also were honored for humanitarian efforts, with $1,000 Stefanie Spielman Humanitarian Awards.
All district schools are involved in community service projects each year, conducting fundraisers for both community and global projects. As part of giving back to their community, all high school sophomores, juniors and seniors are also required to complete six hours of community service during their summer vacations.