Superintendent presents financial plan following failed levy

by Laura Bednar

Dec. 19 board of education meeting

Independence schools Superintendent Ben Hegedish outlined the district’s budgetary plan after voters approved an operating levy renewal but rejected an additional levy asking for new funds in November.

Hegedish and Treasurer Eric Koehler fashioned a two-year plan to produce a balanced budget. Koehler’s five-year forecast predicts deficit spending and a decreasing cash balance.

“Our objective is to enact operational adjustments that coincide with our stable tax base, strongly supported operating levy renewal and our upward trending collections,” said Hegedish, adding that he did not want substantial changes in programming.

The plan includes an analysis of the fee structures and tuition costs in 20 other school districts. The suggestion is to phase in a new fee structure on par with other districts to potentially reap $200,000. Any fee changes must be board-approved.

The plan also adjusts how district debt is paid. Hegedish suggested the district pay off the annual $110,000 for an energy conservation loan, using money from the permanent improvement fund. The district would also refrain from making transfers from the general fund to the permanent improvement fund, which would “reduce general fund expenditures by $150,000 per year.”

Finally, the district will review staffing and explore staff transfers or reassignments. Hegedish said the district is also developing ways to enhance enrollment numbers to make Independence High School the choice over private or parochial schools. This includes a potential tuition program or open enrollment for students from other municipalities.

Public comment

Former Independence softball coach Garry Moore stated his concern that Independence High alumna Katie George was bypassed for the position of varsity softball coach because she is female.

Moore said she was all-conference for three years in softball, graduated from the University of Akron in “the male-dominated field of mechanical engineering” and works for an architectural firm in Cleveland.

Moore said she coached the youth fast-pitch team for the past three years and helped organize and participated in tryouts, clinics and open gyms. She coaches the high school junior varsity softball team.

He said she was one of three applicants who made it to the second round, and her “initial interview was with the assistant superintendent, high school principal and athletic director, all men.”

He said she has volunteered her time for the youth programs, has a vision for the future and wasn’t considered because she is a young female.

“Not only is Katie a strong professional female, but she’s absolutely the perfect role model for every parent with daughters,’’ Moore said. “Shame on us for another great coaching decision by the boys.’’

School parent Suzi Tschetter offered her support for a high school teacher who is on leave due to what Hegedish classified as “concerning social media activity.”

According to Channel 19 news, Hegedish shared a statement with school parents about the teacher, which read in part, “While district leadership is not aware of any allegations or evidence suggesting illegal activity or improper action involving students, the Independence Local Schools will always maintain an unwavering commitment to excellence and insist on the highest standard of conduct for members of our school family.”

Tschetter said the teacher on leave is an “excellent educator” and her son finds her to be engaging. She offered her support for the teacher’s return and said other parents she spoke with felt the same.

Resident Mike Zubic requested that the Ohio Department of Education’s code of professional conduct be posted on the district website.

“I believe it is completely inappropriate for teachers to have social media connections a.k.a being ‘friends’ with students,” he said. Zubic asked the board what actions are being taken to prevent further “conduct unbecoming,” especially with social media.

Biology Society

The Independence High School Biology Society celebrated its 60th anniversary with a presentation at the meeting. Principal Mike Janatovich said the society is “something special not a lot of people have.”

Scott Maretka, the society’s second adviser, took over in 2001. He listed some of the society’s events, including a pumpkin hunt at the school’s outdoor education center and land lab, seeing the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo light display and visiting a local farm.

Biology society secretary Jack Ottaviano read a statement from society President Ashley Todt, which said that joining the society has ignited her interest in nature. A statement from Vice President Joe Jana said the society, “teaches about the environment around Independence and is a great way to get out into nature.”

Jack said by joining the society, “I’ve learned a lot about the world around me,” adding that he took Maretka’s environmental science course and has learned about what nature is and why people should conserve it.

Biology Society member Tommy Ksiazka said the society is unlike any other club that has been offered and he has made a lot of friends along the way.

Biology society member James Kitagawa said what he likes most about the club is “the solid core group of people that are very committed to it. [The club] captures that sense of curiosity and everything about the environment with people who really do want to learn.”

In other action

The board approved Finding Leaders search firm in partnership with the Educational Service Center of Northeast Ohio to find candidates for district treasurer, as Koehler will be retiring in July.

The district resolved to offer support at the three school buildings for military families, especially students of military parents. Independence Middle School band teacher Mike Green is the liaison for the initiative, as he and his father are both veterans. ∞