The Bexley Board of Education voted 5-0 on July 7 to restore the position for Rebecca Rhinehart, the director of the Bexley Theatre Arts program, to full time for the 2020-21 school year.

During a May 18 special meeting, the board unanimously approved a hiring-freeze resolution after an expected $635,000 funding cut from the state due to loss of revenue related to the COVID-19 coronavirus. Because of the hiring freeze, the district reassigned Rhinehart and four other staff members for the 2020-21 school year in order to meet the academic needs of students, Superintendent Kimberly Pietsch Miller said.

Rhinehart would have worked in the Maryland Elementary School library during the school day and continued the extracurricular theater program after school as a supplemental assignment, similar to what athletics coaches receive.

Rhinehart's annual salary is $82,301 plus benefits, according to information from the Office of the Ohio Treasurer.

When Gov. Mike DeWine signed Ohio House Bill 164 into law June 19, the legislation resulted in the Bexley City Schools losing about $411,000 in state aid instead of $635,000. With the July 7 resolution, the board agreed to use the $224,000 difference to lift the hiring freeze when necessary and to restore the full-time theater-department position.

"I don't believe it's a change in the job description. The delivery method is different," Miller said. "We will certainly work with Ms. Rhinehart on what kind of support she needs and how to make sure she can continue on with reopening, knowing the environment's going to continue to change."

With the district considering three options for the 2020-21 learning environment (in-person classes, remote or a hybrid of in-person and remote learning), the district has asked Rhinehart to prepare a plan that outlines how a full-scale Bexley Theatre Arts program could be delivered even if gatherings are limited, Miller said.

Rhinehart has provided options that include holding virtual productions with online ticket sales and making playbills available in digital format.

"I'll have to look at doing cheaper things because we won't sell as many tickets online," Rhinehart said.

"And who knows how many people can be in a theater at once?"

Bexley school board member John Barno said the district's theater program, similar to athletics, provides not only extracurricular activities for students but also amenities for the community.

"It's a benefit to the community, and anyone that goes to any of the productions knows the lines that are there for these," Barno said. " Obviously, it will be a little different this year, but I think it's important to keep those things that not only benefit our students directly but (also) our community, as well, because this is their money; this is their taxpayer money."

When Rhinehart was reassigned to the Maryland Elementary School library, Miller said, the school's librarian temporarily was reassigned to teach second grade. Because the board approved Rhinehart's position, the Maryland Elementary School librarian position was moved back into that role, Miller said.

"We would look to hire a second-grade teacher," she said. "We would look to do that as soon as possible."

editorial@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNews