Is the Worthington school district about to fall off a cliff, or were Marc Schare's words just unfortunate hyperbole that could hurt the reputation of an excellent school district?

Is the Worthington school district about to fall off a cliff, or were Marc Schare's words just unfortunate hyperbole that could hurt the reputation of an excellent school district?

Members of the Worthington Board of Education seemed split on that question at Monday's meeting, where they took up the heated discussion of finances and the future of the schools.

The discussion began at a board retreat on May 7 and continued at the May 10 regular meeting, when the board approved a grim five-year forecast that would require an operating levy be placed on the ballot next year, and possibly every year or two thereafter.

Schare's words that the district is "about to fall off a cliff unless something is done" and ThisWeek's story about a three-year levy lasting for only two drew a lot of mail from community members, he said.

Charlie Wilson, often at odds with Schare on the board, said the words were "very troubling and hurtful to our district."

The five-year forecast overestimates expenditures and underestimates revenues, he said, and Worthington is a choice district where residents are committed to maintaining quality.

"I am convinced this community will not allow the Worthington school district to fall off any cliff," Wilson said.

Board member David Bressman said he agreed the district would not be the first off the cliff, but he does not want it to be in a line of lemmings falling off a cliff either, he said.

Schare urged Wilson to "do the math."

"We are struggling to operate the district under a series of constraints," Schare said.

Those include a labor contract that allows no discussion of salaries and benefits; parents who object to cost-saving measures such as closing a middle school or reconfiguring elementary schools; a community that will not approve levies in excess of 7 mills; and a state government that issues a "steady stream of unfunded mandates."

Wilson said he objected to what he sees as a constant attack on teachers' salaries and salary scale.

He said that in 2003, Worthington's salary schedule was second from the highest of the 16 districts in central Ohio. By 2009, it had fallen to ninth, and is now eighth.

"I don't think we're overpaying our teachers," Wilson said.

Parent Michelle Dickson also got into the discussion, informing the board that she and other Wilson Hill parents object to the idea of reconfiguring elementary schools.

Under such a plan, each elementary school would either serve kindergarten through third grade, or fourth through sixth grade.

That would essentially be the end to neighborhood schools, and would mean busing students to schools across town, she said.

We do not want to find ourselves in the unenviable position of middle school parents who had no say in the closing of Perry Middle School, she told the board.

Many middle school parents object to sending the Perry students to McCord Middle School next year, but the board made that decision and has stood firm, despite their pleas.

Dickson said she was disappointed to have to learn about the reconfiguration discussion by reading it in ThisWeek Worthington. The issue is not mentioned on the district's Web site, nor were parents informed in any other official manner, she said

"We parents feel deceived," she said, asking the board for more "proactive communication."

Bressman said that there has been no commitment made to pursuing reconfiguration. It was an idea that he brought up and, along with other potential money-saving measures, he believes it needs to be discussed before a levy is placed on the ballot next year.

"Unless we have those discussions, I'm not going to vote for a levy next year," Bressman said.

A closer look