by Juliet Tissot
On Thursday, November 5th, the Loveland City School board will go into executive session to discuss the evaluations of the Superintendent and Treasurer of the school district. The evaluation process needs to be completed before discussion of contract renewal can take place. The contracts for both the Superintendent and Treasurer are up for renewal in 2021. The board is required to notify the two employees of their intent to renew in March. When evaluations are done and contracts are considered for renewal there are many factors that come into play. Renewal should not be automatic. The board must consider the quality of work done by the individuals until the time of consideration for renewal, the progress (or lack thereof) of the district since time of hire, the ability of the individuals to carry out the requirements of their position, and the competence level of the individuals going forward. In other words, how well have the individuals performed in their positions so far and what do we predict their level of success to be moving forward.
Juliet Tissot is a District resident and lives in Miami Trails
Loveland City School District is in trouble. Over the last year or two it has seen drastic decreases in revenue, severe cuts to staff and the elimination of much needed services to the students. What can these changes in the skeletal structure of the school district be attributed to? I would argue the blame lays at the feet of those in charge. Two levies were attempted to be passed under the leadership of the current superintendent. They both went down in flames as the community rallied vehemently against them. Why was there so much opposition if Loveland has a track record of passing levies before now? Some might say the opposition was based solely on the size of the levy. I challenge that even if that were true for the first levy, it does not explain the strong opposition to the second levy. The fact is, the current administration witnessed the massive defeat of both levies because lies, half-truths and misinformation were uncovered en masse during the levy campaign. So much so that the community no longer trusts the leadership with their hard earned tax dollars. Is it wise to renew the contracts of those not trusted by the very people you will have to approach for money again in the future? I would argue it is not.
One of the new board members asked me to compile a list of the lies, half-truths and misinformation presented by the administration during those levy campaigns and the work yielded a list of twenty four such lies/half-truths. You will see the most important ones itemized below. After reading through them, ask yourself if the people who presided over such failures would be rehired in the private sector. Should tax payer money not be treated with as much care and respect as private money? If these people still have not earned the respect and trust of the community, what is the fate of the school district if left in their hands during another levy campaign?
- One of the most repeated statements made by the administration during the two levy campaigns was that the “need is real and the time is now”. This referred to the current condition of the three buildings to be destroyed: LECC, LPS and LES. The verbiage in many glossy postcards, leaflets and communications with the community addressed the “infrastructure needs” of the buildings and stated how an architecture firm “confirmed the repair costs” the buildings required. A letter written to the community by Dr. Crouse herself addressed the need to “divert funds from the classroom so that [we] can make critical fixes in our schools”. In an office-hours meeting with several private citizens and top administrators the architect’s report was requested and it wasn’t until then that it was discovered no major repairs were needed to those buildings until 2028, per the architect. Why was the community never given this information, why was the need presented to be so urgent and what “critical fixes” was Dr. Crouse referring to when she claimed funds were being “diverted from the classroom”?
- The amount of one line item in particular changed several times until the truth was finally discovered by private citizens. Initially a request was made for the estimated cost of the Fine Arts Center. In an email, Dr. Crouse responded with “the total estimated budget for the new theater and stage at LHS is $5,355,000”. No one questioned her answer as $5 million sounded sufficient for a new high school auditorium. Shortly after the $5 million answer was given a Loveland Magazine article was found that stated the new fine arts center would cost between $12 and $16 million. Since these numbers were so far off, a records request was made for a line item spreadsheet of all the new buildings to be constructed. Once that spreadsheet was received it was realized the true cost of the new Fine Arts Center would be $22,575,000. Why did it take so much work from taxpayers to get to the truth?
- When discussing the millage amount to request for the second levy the amount needed if no cuts were made to expenses changed suddenly from one meeting to the next. At the 11/7 meeting Dr. Crouse asked Mr. Hawley, “what would the millage be to do nothing and replace the 6.95 mil” from the first levy? Mr. Hawley’s response was, “if it passed in November we would have had revenue in ’20 so that’s 3 years out. We would look at it being back on the ballot potentially in ’22. If we’re looking at March of ’20 then we’re looking at May of ’23 being back on the ballot potentially. So you have to add a year and then you lost a year of revenue but if you’re looking at NO REDUCTION IN EXPENDITURES JUST TO MAKE IT THAT FAR YOU’RE LOOKING AT 8.95 MILS.” Yet just days later in an ad hoc committee meeting Dr. Crouse said the new millage needed, if no reduction in expenditures was made, would be 9.95 mil. I thought perhaps she just misspoke so I asked her why that number changed from 8.95 mil to 9.95 mil, a $900,000 swing. She simply said, “the administrative team met the day after the levy defeat and decided on that number”, but Mr. Hawley is on the administrative team and he gave the 8.95 figure just two days earlier. Was this another lie to be able to syphon more money from taxpayers?
- There are four separate pieces of literature distributed by the administration that tout their ability to stretch the 2014 levy beyond it’s expected 3 year time frame thus proving just how fiscally responsible they are. Yet private citizens uncovered a Loveland Magazine article written by Henry Allen in which then Superintendent Chad Hilliker is quoted saying, “unlike previous three year levies, the 2014 levy is expected to last the school district FIVE years”. The current administration knew how long the 2014 levy was expected to last but yet had to mislead the community yet again to imply that because of their decisions the levy lasted as long as it did.
- The administration used Franklin Local School District as an example of how long it would take to receive OFCC funding. Franklin Local would not get state funding until 2027. They told the public LCSD would have to wait longer than that. What the treasurer failed to mention is that Franklin’s master plan status is shown as “project closed” per the OFCC website. Franklin had a $146 M project that was funded in 2003. Franklin will not be funded again before other schools currently in the ELPP program (ie. LCSD).
- In an effort to refute the claim that the Nov 19th levy was the largest levy in Ohio’s history, the current administration used two levies from other school districts in the state of Ohio to compare to the one LCSD had on the ballot. The two levies they chose to highlight were in New Albany and Sheffield. Yet again they failed to provide the community with all the pertinent information. Both of their chosen levies were replacement levies. The 2009 New Albany 24.4 mil levy replaced a 20.7 mil levy from 2006-09 and the Sheffield levy was a replacement levy that did not raise taxes. Hardly an equal comparison to the levy they themselves put on the ballot that would shoot LCSD community members’ taxes through the roof. It took the diligent work of private citizens to once again uncover their lie/half truth and present the correct information to the community.
- The administration as well as the past board president (in a FB post) used Sycamore’s levy as a comparison to LCSD’s claiming Sycamore would have their taxes raised $84 per $100,000 while Lovelanders would see a tax increase of $49 per $100,000. Yet again, the devil is in the details. The Sycamore levy did indeed raise taxes $84 per $100,000 but that was $84 PER YEAR while Loveland’s was $49 PER MONTH ($588 per year).
- The community was told the Grail was giving LCSD a good deal on the land by going off an appraisal done many years earlier yet we obtained a copy of an appraisal done by Crown Appraisal Group April 17,2019 for the same amount.
- The community was told repeatedly the Grailville land was not part of the ballot initiative although the ballot language had “land acquisition” added to it and the certificate from the board of election stated the land on which the schools were being built and the 4/2/19 board work meeting had the land included in the $165 million levy ask.
- There were dueling stories about whether or not the decision to buy the Grailville land would be made before the results of the levy were realized. Two board members said the decision to buy the land will not be made until after the Nov. 5th vote while a third board member said the land would be purchased the levy fails or not. All three of those statements are in writing.
- The administration repeatedly talked about increasing enrollment and the need for larger buildings but then an email to the superintendent from Columbus shows that she reported to them an expected decrease in enrollment through 2023-24. Two different stories depending on the audience.
Some of the other lies, half-truths and misinformation peddled by this administration include things like what the community wanted or what the community was aware of but their claims were quickly debunked by looking at the results of their own Fallon Research survey. Many times the administration and then board president claimed the levy was not permanent but “continuous”. None of their glossy, expensive pieces of propaganda ever mentioned a portion of the levy would last 37 years and nothing will erase the video that the public was never supposed to see from taxpayers’ minds. The video where the superintendent and current board president, along with others, mocked the community and disrespected the very people who trusted them with their children and their money.
If you take the time to think about how devastating the current leadership has been to the standing of LCSD I wonder how anyone can justify renewing their contracts. Does the community trust them yet? Does the community forgive them yet? How will the community respond when this administration asks for more money and will this administration lie or twist the facts when they do it? Everyone can make up their own minds and when you do… email the board and let them know your thoughts.