Cleveland Heights-University Heights Board of Education regular meeting 2-2-21
FEBRURARY 2, 2021
- FutureHeights housing initiative
- Public comments
- Athletic department donations
- Policy group A reading
- Trauma-informed action plans
- Vaccine rollout
- in-person instruction
- Treasurer’s five-year forecast
- Public records
- Board goals development
- In-person board meetings
Board President James Posch and members Dan Heintz, Malia Lewis, Jodi Sourini, and Beverly Wright were present. Also present were Superintendent Elizabeth Kirby and Treasurer Scott Gainer. The meeting was called to order at 7 p.m. and was adjourned at 9:35 p.m.
Superintendent Kirby recognized the four student winners of the 31st Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Essay contest from Roxboro, Monticello, and Heights High.
Hannah Bradley, senior at Heights High, was named one of “20 under 20 Up and Coming Storytellers” by PBS. Bradley will work as a student journalist in the PBS Student Reporting Labs program.
Ms. Kirby recognized and thanked school counselors as part of National School Counseling Week, as well as the Tiger Team Members of the Month.
Dashara Turner, ninth grade Heights High student and member of the Superintendent’s Cadre, presented athletic team updates. Turner also discussed her positive involvement in the school community and her appreciation of teacher- and student-support during difficult times. A Cleveland Heights student since fourth grade, she said she values Cleveland Heights schools and her continued involvement in the education community.
FutureHeights housing initiative
Deanna Bremer Fisher, executive director of FutureHeights, reported on the housing initiative in the Cleveland Heights mid-city area around the high school. Five homes have been renovated, and three more properties are being developed. The Cedar Lee Mini Park is being developed. With a focus on improving the neighborhood, six homes in the Noble area are targeted for renovation.
Mr. Heintz thanked Ms. Fisher for her work to save “these gems” and said, “This is a community commitment to itself.” Ms. Wright concurred, saying this was “great work.”
Ms. Sourini asked about FutureHeights’ target plan. Ms. Fisher stated that during the project’s third year they are targeting a minimum of ten homes to renovate. These homes are vacant and scheduled for tear-down. They also have an initiative to build new homes.
Mr. Posch asked who did the work on the renovated homes. He was referred to Abby Lawless, director of real estate development for FutureHeights.
Ms. Lewis asked whether energy efficiency was part of the renovations. Ms. Fisher stated that they are using a historic preservation approach and attending to energy efficiency when possible.
Bus safety during COVID: A district bus driver said that board members had not listened to requests for assistance to maintain a safe bus environment. She said they needed assistance in cleaning the busses, distributing face shields, and promoting mask compliance and social distancing. She stated bus drivers and other staff members concerned with student transportation have not been contacted in response to these requests. Mr. Posch asked Ms. Kirby to give the board a report on the complaints and what is being done to address them.
Remote learning during COVID: A parent stated that he was disappointed that the board continues to meet virtually while teachers and students meet in-person. He also asked if the fourth-quarter school communications will include another round of surveys. Mr. Posch stated that the board is considering the logistics for returning to in-person board meetings.
Public records requests: A parent said that her multiple requests to Mr. Gainer for public records had not been met. She stated that she had sought legal assistance in making her requests and had received a file on which student names were not redacted. She expressed concerns regarding protection of student identity and desired more transparency. Mr. Posch stated that the present meeting will include a report on public records from Mr. Gainer.
Athletic department donations
Mr. Heintz observed that Monticello’s athletic department had successfully solicited donations for equipment. He wanted to know whether Monticello lacked equipment and was relying on donations to achieve their learning standards. Superintendent Kirby will investigate.
Policy group A reading
Dr. Paul Lombardo, assistant superintendent for human resources and operations, presented a second reading for Group Policies, Policy group A for approving seven board policies. The third and final reading will be at the March meeting.
Trauma-informed action plans
Counselors and social work teams presented drafts of trauma-informed action plans during their monthly meeting. The proposed plans ensure that each school will provide social-emotional support to students and staff for stresses endured this past year.
The Educational Service Center (ESC) of Northeast Ohio will coordinate vaccine rollout for first-ring districts. Through the ESC, Giant Eagle will provide registration forms and information to each school. Each district’s total clinics, clinic sites per day, doses provided at specific times, and other clinic requirements will depend on the update that Giant Eagle receives from the state.
Mr. Posch asked whether teachers have signed up for vaccines. He also said it would be helpful if the board knew the percentage of staff who received vaccination. Dr. Lombardo answered that 640 staff members have signed up, and 175 are receiving vaccination at other sites.
Mr. Heintz asked if pre-K teachers were eligible for vaccination. Dr. Lombardo answered that anyone who is in the school buildings on a regular basis is eligible.
Return to in-person instruction
In a discussion about the return to in-person instruction, Felisha Gould, assistant superintendent for educational services, answered questions regarding elementary students being assigned to new teachers, asynchronous time on Wednesdays for specials such as music and art instruction, cleaning between morning and afternoon students for those on half-day schedules, and the indicators for returning to fully remote learning, if needed. Dr. Lombardo answered operational questions regarding cleaning.
Ms. Kirby said recommendations for preparing buildings for in-person instruction as well as returning to remote instruction, if needed, will be aligned with Ohio Board of Health and CDC guidance. Parents should contact the school/grade-level principal or their child’s teacher regarding questions or difficulties in selecting student learning models.
Treasurer’s five-year forecast
Mr. Gainer presented the five-year forecast for February. In the forecast assumptions he noted the uncertainty of the current financial situation. State funding has changed revenue. Additional federal funding is expected and will be added to the forecast when amounts are approved and restrictions determined. A district-wide facilities plan may affect future operating costs, once implemented, as could the proposed Fair School Funding plan in the Ohio legislature. The Lay Finance Committee will meet February 11 to review this five-year report.
Board comments and requests: Ms. Sourini suggested that moving from a three-year to a five-year levy cycle would be easier on the community. Mr. Heintz requested an overview of the cuts the board has made over the past years. To provide a clearer understanding and more transparency, Ms. Lewis requested a summary of the specific items to which the budget numbers are related.
Mr. Gainer appreciated the suggestions and will work to clarify the reports. He is tracking specific COVID-related expenses. Receipts that would qualify for more CARES funds are being collected. Thus far, the district has spent $300,000 in CARES funds.
At the board’s request, Mr. Gainer reviewed public records requests and compared these data with that of other districts. In 2020, there were numerous requests for public records and complaints about the board’s transparency. The levy campaign and the teacher strike may have increased the number of requests. Compared to other suburban districts, CH-UH received significantly more requests in 2020. Of the 200 requests received, only four were denied as overly broad. Mr. Gainer noted that the state auditor reviews board action and compliance with the Ohio Sunshine Laws. He also explained how to request a public record from the district.
Mr. Heintz asked about the expense incurred by answering public record requests. Mr. Gainer said it would be difficult to calculate the expense because each request required involvement of various departments. Mr. Posch noted the district is required to provide public records, regardless of cost.
Board goals development
Mr. Posch presented the need to begin developing the board’s goals. He said that they should also be reflected in the goals of the superintendent and treasurer. He specifically referenced implementing the equity policy, improving college enrollment outcomes, and enhancing blended learning. He asked that discussion of the goals occur within the next 60 days.
Mr. Heintz observed the difficulty in maintaining the stated goals as a standard in light of the past year of COVID. He suggested a board retreat to discuss goals.
Ms. Sourini observed all the stated goals are important, but that time was needed to prioritize them.
Ms. Lewis agreed that a retreat is a good idea and observed that many of the goals are being addressed even if not specifically stated.
In-person board meetings
Mr. Posch said a policy was needed for in-person board meetings. The location should be safe, secure, away from space used by students, and amenable to social distancing. Currently, virtual board meetings are watched by about 700 people, a marked increase from pre-pandemic in-person meeting attendance. There should also be continued accommodations for public comments. Citing Ohio House Bill 197 [allowing public bodies to meet virtually during the pandemic], he said he also wanted procedures to allow board members to participate electronically when they cannot attend in person. Mr. Posch referenced how the Shaker Heights board uses the school auditorium and a green room to isolate a person making a public comment.
He also stated that the board members must adhere to the protocols required of teachers and students when meeting in person. He wondered whether demanding people to be present to make a public comment is asking people to endanger themselves. He will be reviewing how other districts handle meetings and how the Heights High auditorium could be used. The board will need to develop a proposal that complies with HB 197.
Mr. Heintz commented that people wanting to address the board face-to-face need to be accommodated. He observed that making board meetings physically available may help mend fences in the community. Ms. Lewis looks forward to in-person meetings but suggested the board also continue with YouTube accessibility. Ms. Wright thought the auditorium and green room suggestions would work at Heights High.
The next meeting is a work session on Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. It will be held in person at Heights High and also livestreamed.
LWV Observer: Rosemarie Fairman.
Meetings are livestreamed on the district’s YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/CHUHSchools) and recorded for later viewing. They can also be viewed at: https://stream.meet.google.com/stream/8f442366-4bbd-4160-aaeb-ece0f7ab6534