by Melissa Martin
Oct. 25 school board meeting
Brecksville-Broadview Heights Superintendent Jeffrey Harrison told school board members the district will have a new strategic plan in place by the start of the 2024-25 school year.
Harrison said he launched the planning process with the administration and staff in August, with the goal of developing a three-year strategic plan that has measurable goals.
“When you met me [during the process of hiring a new superintendent], I told you we needed to have a strategic plan in place that is actionable, measurable and will move our district forward,” Harrison said. “The overarching theme of this process is that our stakeholders will be involved – community members and staff – and they will affect the direction of our district.”
In addition to having a plan with manageable goals, Harrison said he has a “very aggressive timeline” in mind.
“The first phase is now underway, with the second to begin in January,” he said, noting that he envisions the draft plan will be completed in August for submission to board in September 2024. “But most importantly, at each step in the process we are going to be bringing the community in because we want to hear from them.”
Harrison said the district has “to make important decisions about the allocation of resources, both financial and capital, and wants to do it in a way that is “valued and in the direction the community wants for our local public school system.’’
“This is not going to be a grandiose plan because we only have a limited amount of time with students [before they graduate],” he said. “But it will lead us into the future as a district.”
Harrison said the process will help him understand the community’s values and allow him to understand the level of service the community believes the district should offer.
“I hear about this ‘level of service’ all the time from our staff. I hear it from community members,” he said. “Before we start talking about the need for additional funding — which we all know is coming at some point in time – we need to understand the direction we are heading as a district and what it’s going to cost us.”
Harrison said the administration plans to work closely with Communications Director Jim Crooks to facilitate the process, which will involve bringing in experts for information gathering and preparing questions for a community survey.
“That survey will go out by paper and pencil, electronically and through random phone interviews,” Harrison said. “This isn’t just going to be about the people who show up at the meetings. We’ve got to touch all parts of the community if we’re going to do a strategic planning process accurately.”
Developing strategic plans typically costs $40,000-$60,000, but Harrison said his plan is far more conservative and will cost the district less than $20,000.
“It will be a fiscally conservative, responsible plan,” he said. “And we will still bring experts in to provide the ability for community members the freedom to speak their minds freely without the fear of any [repercussions.]”
Campus master plan
At the request of the city of Brecksville, Harrison told the board the district will move forward with the development of a campus master plan in the coming months. He said the plan will not only address traffic flow in and around the campus but the need for additional practice fields and what becomes of the former Hilton Elementary School.
“The very first thing we need to determine is what to do with Hilton because the rest of the plan hinges on that,” he said. “Once we make that decision, it will affect the campus as a whole.”
Harrison said the city approached school administrators in recent weeks asking for the district’s input on traffic issues before the city invests additional money to deal with safety issues at the Mill Road intersection and beyond.
To alleviate traffic jams before and after school, the city conducted a traffic study on Mill Road last year.
City officials have suggestions, including the addition of crosswalks and additional signage, but they said before they budget for improvements, the administration wants to know what the school district will do with bus schedules, access roads and more, Harrison said, noting that similar conversations are ongoing with the city of Broadview Heights.
“We’re talking about layout, traffic patterns, where things should ideally be placed on campus,” he said. “We’re getting fewer calls now (reporting issues) and we’re having discussions of long-term plans to get some assurance to the city how things may or may not change on our campus.”
Harrison said the district will wait for kindergarten registration numbers during the first quarter of 2024 before making a decision regarding the Hilton property, but the district believes adding on to another school would likely be less expensive than bringing Hilton back online should the district need additional classroom space.
“We do not need Hilton at this time,” Harrison said. “The space issues that were bantered about [last fall] are not an issue,” he said, noting that he understands that educators want more classroom space. “It is an ideal, but we have a financial responsibility to be fiscally responsible. I can tell you from being a part of other school districts in the area, we are so much better off than some other districts.”
Substitute drivers’ pay increase
Board members approved a pay raise for substitute bus drivers. Prior to the vote, drivers were receiving a rate of $17.50 per hour. Now drivers will receive $21 per hour.
“At $17.50 we are not necessarily in the market,” Harrison said. “There are still some districts that pay a little more than us and there are some that pay a little less than us. But this will make us much more competitive.”
Harrison said the district wants to prevent drivers from choosing to work in a neighboring district for $1 or $1.50 more an hour.
“We want to make sure that we keep them,” he said. “We’re getting to the point where every sub driver – we’ve got to have them. We don’t want to lose them, so this is hopefully the way to do that.”
Harrison said the district has a new procedure: putting two substitute drivers on call every day as standby drivers.
“This means these drivers are coming in and getting four hours [pay] whether we need them or not,” he said. “But, ladies and gentlemen, we need them every day.”
The plan is not fiscally irresponsible, Harrison attests. Rather, he claims it is market competitive.
“This way, when the community always asks me what we’re doing to correct the problem, after tonight I can tell them we [raised] the rate for sub drivers and now have a plan of what to do in case of that last minute call off,” he said. ∞