Board of Ed meets to discuss next steps for facilities plan
The school board's Aug. 21 meeting was held at Roxboro Middle School, in the sixth-grade pilot learning space.
On Aug. 21, the Cleveland Heights–University Heights Board of Education met to discuss next steps in the district’s master school facilities plan. While no formal vote was taken during the work session, discussion among board members and district administrators led to consensus on several next steps, including opening Plan C for revision, and forming a lay advisory committee.
Board members discussed the timing of placing a bond issue on the ballot in 2013, and spoke of the need to build trust with the community. Ron Register, board member, said, “I think community is important. I think that is our starting point.”
A topic revisited throughout the meeting was the question of cost, and how and if to determine a budget. Eric Coble, board member, asked, “How do we determine how much money we can spend? Do we need to set a budget? Do we say, this is what the community can support, or do we want to dream big, and then figure out what it will cost?”
Board members agreed that Plan C should be subject to revision and modification. Kal Zucker, board member, said, “The fact that the board voted unanimously against putting it on the ballot means the plan may need to change. I don’t personally feel the plan can exist in the state it is now.”
Doug Heuer, district superintendent, suggested that board members jot down ideas for “what components of the plan should be given new consideration,” to see where there was “general interest in reassessment.”
Steve Shergalis, director of administrative services for the district, then narrowed the ideas down to eight main topics: big picture, renovation, grade configuration, locations, budget, how to pay for it, community and square footage.
There are two scheduled elections in 2013, Heuer told the board. Placing a bond issue on the ballot in May would require that the board initiate action in January; a November bond issue would require action in July.
Heuer said, “Everyone knows there is a ticking clock on our capacity to fund a comprehensive plan. Our experts tell us that clock will expire at the end of 2013.”
In an e-mail, Angee Shaker, director of communications for the district, explained why 2013 is a deadline of sorts: “The funding necessary to fully implement a comprehensive facilities master plan for the CH-UH district will require a bond issue in excess of statutory limits (nine percent of total district valuation) and, therefore, will require the district to meet the criteria as a special needs district. Financial consultants predict the district will meet those criteria through 2013 and then not be eligible again before 2020, and there is no guarantee we will be eligible in 2020.”
Nancy Peppler, board member, advocated for a May ballot. “I think we need to do this more quickly. Looking at historic bond issues, sometimes a district needs more than one attempt.”
The other four board members all stated a preference for November. Coble said, “I agree on November, but it ups the stakes considerably, giving us one shot.” Zucker pointed out that it was one shot as pertained to being tied to one part of funding.
Board members suggested that 15–25 people make up a lay advisory committee. An application process for potential committee members was rejected as potentially taking too much time. Instead, board members will submit names of potential committee candidates to Karen Jones, board president, who will compile them for further discussion.
Suggestions for the lay committee included individuals from CH and UH city governments, PTAs, local nonprofits (Reaching Heights, FutureHeights), parents, alumni foundation members, and former participants. Register suggested, “We should have some sense of continuity with people who have been involved, and reach out to people who have not been connected to this process at all.”
The potential roles of the administration and board on the committee were considered, with Peppler suggesting administration employees attend lay committee meetings as a resource for information. Both Peppler and Zucker opined that meetings should not be led or facilitated by staff. Jones advocated for board presence at lay committee meetings, and said, “I think the board should be visible within the committee—to build trust.”
Among the goals suggested for the lay committee were to recommend plan configuration, timing and price range.
The meeting took place in the new sixth-grade pilot classroom at Roxboro Middle School—an example of the learning communities that are a component of Plan C, and the various plans that preceded it.
Patrick McNichols, Roxboro Middle School principal, said, “This is a chance to see how this [space] is different from a traditional learning environment.” Roxboro sixth grade teachers were also on hand, and praised the features of the new space, including new windows in interior walls, which let natural light into interior classrooms, and common areas that encourage collaboration. A garage-door style, glass-paned partition allows learning spaces to be combined or separated.
The district says it plans to enable the public to view the new learning spaces at Roxboro Middle School, Oxford Elementary School and Cleveland Heights High School, but no details were available at press time.
Kim Sergio Inglis
Kim Sergio Inglis is editor-in-chief of the Heights Observer. She lives in the Shaker Farm Historic District in Cleveland Heights.