Vandalia-Butler to close elementary school

Published: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 @ 6:54 PM
Updated: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 @ 6:54 PM

Vandalia-Butler City School District officials announced Tuesday they will close Murlin Heights Elementary School regardless of whether voters approve an additional 6.99-mill levy on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The earliest the 60-year-old school on North Dixie Drive would close would be next school year. It is part of the second phase of the district’s two-year, $7 million cost reduction plan, spokeswoman Bethany Reiff said.

This latest phase cutting $3.5 million follows early cuts totalling that amount announced in April.

Officials called the planned closure a “financial necessity” due to the high cost of operating the school for grades K-4 as well as additional planned cuts to teachers, support staff and administrators.

A second school that has not been identified also “could be closed” if the levy fails, Reiff said.

Superintendent Christy Donnelly could not be reached for comment.

Meegan Brady, who has three children in the district, including a 9-year-old son at Murlin Heights, was saddened to learn the news.

“To take it away completely, it shocked people,” said Brady, who volunteers at the school. She worries about the jobs of the staff and how the 406 students will be impacted. “Where are all those kids going to go?” she asked.

The district, which has about 3,300 students, plans to reconfigure district grade levels as part of the reductions aimed at balancing the budget. It provided a bullet-point list of what would happen depending on election results.

If the levy passes: $3.5 million would be cut and up to 15 positions of teachers, support staff and administrators eliminated. Busing that already has been reduced to the state minimum would be reassessed for 2013-14. There would be additional cuts to extracurricular activities.

If the levy fails: An additional $3.9 million would be cut and up to 60 positions eliminated. Student programs would be eliminated, compensation and benefits reduced and there would be $800,000 more cut from co-curriculars and athletics.

This is the third straight attempt by the district to get voters to approve a 6.99-mill operating and permanent improvement levy, which would generate about $3.9 million annually. Two earlier levies were defeated in November 2011 and last month.

District officials first warned voters last November that failure would result in $7 million in cuts. The first wave, identified in April, involved eliminating 32 positions, including 13 teaching positions. The district laid off 22 people.

Administrators said at that time the cost reductions were necessitated by a budget deficit of $18.3 million that resulted from $10.5 million in state funding cuts and a $7.8 million loss in property taxes.

This latest phase of reductions calls for reconfiguring district grade levels, likely next school year, in an effort to manage large class sizes.

Reiff said the reconfiguring “will definitely occur whether or not the levy passes” but said officials will not make a decision on what it would look like until there is more certainty about the budget.

Today, the district has 33 fewer teachers, 6.5 fewer administrators and 19 fewer support staff than it did in 2009, officials said. Remaining employees have taken a pay freeze and pay more for insurance.

Murlin Heights Principal Connie Strehle said it was sad receiving the news that the school she has led for a decade will be closing its doors for good after this school year.

“We were sad but we also realize we have a job to do this year,” she said. “We are going to provide our students with the best education we can.”

Middletown school leader talks state report card with business leaders

Published: Friday, September 22, 2017 @ 4:10 PM
Updated: Friday, September 22, 2017 @ 6:00 PM


            Middletown City Schools Superintendent Marlon Styles, Jr. speaks to local community and business leaders about state report card scores and strategic plans for the district during a luncheon hosted by the school district Friday, Sept. 22, in Middletown. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
Middletown City Schools Superintendent Marlon Styles, Jr. speaks to local community and business leaders about state report card scores and strategic plans for the district during a luncheon hosted by the school district Friday, Sept. 22, in Middletown. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

While last week’s state report card on Middletown Schools left some in the district disappointed, the school system is making significant progress in some areas, Superintendent Marlon Styles Jr. told business and community leaders.

The quarterly community outreach forum was the first for Styles and is part of his proactive campaign to engage the Butler County city’s various segments as stakeholders in improving local schools.

Styles, who started in August, told the invited audience of more than 60 at the school system’s downtown office, “we want you at the table” as the district reforms toward improvement.

MORE: School report cards: Here’s how Butler County districts performed

“If you are willing to sit in on the game, then please know the door will always be open,” he told the audience after a presentation highlighting some of the better parts of the district’s latest state report card.

Weaving closer ties with the city’s business community is a critical part of any improvement in the city schools, said Styles, who described it as a “big stitch in our fabric.”

“It’s something we really want to just not talk about it, but also invest in as well,” he said.

The Ohio Department of Education’s annual report card on the state’s 609 public school systems — based on the 2016-2017 school year student testing — showed Middletown earning three Fs, a D, C and B.

MORE: Middletown school leader wins national award

Styles hour-long presentation, which included taking questions from the audience, highlighted some areas of improvement behind the major category grades.

The district’s four-year graduation rate improved from a C to a B, and since earning a 78.6 percent rate in 2012, improved to a 90 percent last year.

“That is huge and the (student) data indicates the investment we are making as a community is paying off,” said Styles, who previously was a top district official with the Lakota School system.

MORE: Top 5 things to know about state report cards

He also pointed to the district’s kindergarten through 3rd grade literacy rate improvement from a D to C grade as another area of progress to build on and a source of optimism for the future of the 6,400-student school system. Moreover, the state measurement of “performance index” improved from 67.4 to 71.4 percent in the last school year.

Rick Pearce, president of the Chamber of Commerce serving Middletown, Monroe and Trenton, said Styles was impressive and his message persuasive.

“This was Marlon’s opportunity to share with us and the community what the test scores are but also … show we’re improving in these other areas as we dive deep down into it (report card),” said Pearce.

MORE: 5 questions with Middletown’s new school leader

Pearce said his group will now try to get the business community involved in the local schools “to see how we can be part of that solution.”

Marc Bellisario, president and CEO of Primary Health Solutions, said “it was great meeting and important to reach out to the community and let everyone know what is going on.”

“The new superintendent is really trying to get the word out and I was very impressed because there are a lot of good things happening for Middletown schools,” said Bellisario.

Annual Lakota food drive takes on Hamilton, Mason schools

Published: Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 12:18 PM


            For the first time, the annual Reach Out Lakota food drive will now include a competition outside of the Lakota Schools’ borders. Besides the usual Lakota East vs Lakota West high school competition, Lakota as a whole will be competing with Hamilton and Mason schools’ food drives, says Peyton Gravely, director of fundraising for Reach Out Lakota. MICHAEL D. CLARK/STAFF
For the first time, the annual Reach Out Lakota food drive will now include a competition outside of the Lakota Schools’ borders. Besides the usual Lakota East vs Lakota West high school competition, Lakota as a whole will be competing with Hamilton and Mason schools’ food drives, says Peyton Gravely, director of fundraising for Reach Out Lakota. MICHAEL D. CLARK/STAFF

For the first time the annual Reach Out Lakota food drive is reaching out to some neighboring school systems to help feed the needy.

MORE: Reach Out Lakota turns 25

The fall classic food drive is sponsored by the charitable organization that every fall pits Lakota East against Lakota West high schools.

But now in its 10th year, the food drive has new competitors — nearby Hamilton Schools and Warren County’s Mason Schools.

The idea of Lakota Schools’ new superintendent Matt Miller, the broadened food drive is a first to include three of northern suburban Cincinnati’s largest school systems.

RELATED: New Lakota school leader tours Reach Out Lakota

“This year, we will be working together as one Lakota to beat out two neighboring school districts — Mason Schools and Hamilton Schools. Regardless of the outcome, think of it as three communities winning,” said Miller, who began leading the 16,500-student Lakota district in August.

“We will kick off the competition at the Sept. 29’s Lakota East vs. Lakota West football game. The community will be invited to bring their donations to the game, with the drive continuing in our schools as it normally does through Oct. 25. The final collection points will be Oct. 27 at the last home games of the year with East vs. Mason and West vs. Hamilton,” said Miller.

“A (school) district-level ‘wager’ is in the works,” along with other details of the new charitable competition are still being worked out, said Miller.

MORE: Popular Lakota fanfare events at schools draws community members

Food donated will go to each school system’s community.

Peyton Gravely, director of fundraising for Reach Out Lakota, welcomed the idea.

“It’s amazing. It’s a win-win not only for Reach Out Lakota — and not only for the East versus West competition — but it will also help the Mason and Hamilton schools communities, which is a great thing,” said Gravely.

The annual food drive is the largest campaign to feed needy, area families each year, said Gravely.

Joni Copas, spokeswoman for the 10,000-student Hamilton Schools, said, “the Hamilton school district is proud that our students show compassion to help those in need.”

“We know that food drives benefit families in all communities and we are happy to participate in this food drive campaign at the Lakota West versus Hamilton High School football game,” said Copas.

Middletown classroom aide under investigation for alleged racial slur

Published: Monday, September 18, 2017 @ 5:09 PM
Updated: Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 11:09 AM

A teacher's aide at a Middletown elementary is accused of posting a racist slur on Facebook.

A Middletown Schools special education classroom aide is being investigated by the school system for allegedly using a racist slur in a Facebook comment, this news organization has exclusively learned.

A Middletown Board of Education member said the employee, Rebecca E. Montgomery at Miller Ridge Elementary, has been the source of “multiple complaints” regarding the online posting.

A recent Facebook comment by school board member Michelle Novak - in response to other Facebook comments regarding the alleged posting of a variation of an African-American slur by the school employee - stated: “The school has been notified through multiple complaints and it is now being investigated by our human resources department.”

MORE ON MIDDLETOWN: Middletown leaders voice progress in overdose fight

“I commend the community for being so proactive in reporting these matters. It is of the utmost importance that we have a safe and respectful environment within our schools,” Novak wrote.

The alleged Facebook post from Montgomery is in a comments section in response to a photo of an unidentified, young African-American girl. The post referenced an African-American slur with the final five letters replaced with asterisks.

The post also includes an emoji face shedding tears from laughing.

Montgomery started as a “substitute aide” with the school system in 2011 and is now a classroom “paraprofessional” or teachers aide, according to district officials.

Montgomery was not a work Monday and unavailable to comment.

MORE ON MIDDLETOWN: Man who lost son to ‘freak accident’ now fighting for his own life

Middletown schools spokesperson Destini Burns said “we are currently investigating” the allegations, and Montgomery is on paid administrative leave pending the results of the investigation.

Burns issued a statement from district officials saying: “Middletown School district embraces its diverse population of students and staff. We champion a safe and supportive environment that appreciates and celebrates the contributions and assets of a diverse learning community.”

This new organization will report more as information becomes available.​

New Fairfield schools’ underground secret saves money

Published: Sunday, September 17, 2017 @ 9:00 AM


            Tom Weiser, director of business of operations for Fairfield Schools, says invisible to the eye is one of the most innovative features of the district’s recently opened schools. Each of the three schools’ campuses have miles of piping buried hundreds of feet down as part of geo thermal heating and cooling systems.
Tom Weiser, director of business of operations for Fairfield Schools, says invisible to the eye is one of the most innovative features of the district’s recently opened schools. Each of the three schools’ campuses have miles of piping buried hundreds of feet down as part of geo thermal heating and cooling systems.

The three new schools just opened in Fairfield dazzle with the latest in education architecture, but you have to look hundreds of feet underground to see one of their most innovative parts.

RELATED STORY & VIDEO: Fairfield makes history with 3 new schools

Buried under the campuses of each of the schools — Fairfield Freshman, Compass and Central elementaries — are geothermal systems with miles of pipes inside small wells dug down 450 feet.

The constant temperatures underground — in Ohio an average of about 46 degrees — are used to maintain the water temperatures in the pipes to reduce the energy needed to either cool or heat the water and therefore the school buildings.

“We chose the geothermal system because it is the most economical way to heat and cool a building,” explained Tom Weiser, director of business operations for Fairfield Schools.

MORE: Fairfield Schools’ ‘superhero’ boy graduates from high school 12 years early

“The payback on the additional cost of installing this type of system was estimated at a payback of five years on the elementaries and seven years on the Freshman building,” said Weiser.

The 10,000-student Fairfield Schools opened the three new schools Sept. 5.

The Freshman School shares the high school campus and has 145,000 square feet and 50 classrooms. The new elementary schools are identical with 90,366 square feet and 34 classrooms.

MORE: 5 things to know about Fairfield Schools opening

Weiser said, “at both elementaries there are 60 wells that were drilled straight down 450 feet each. At the freshman school there are 110 wells at 450 feet deep. When you consider that a line goes down 450 feet and loops back up 450 feet and take this by the number of wells, there are 10 miles of piping in the geo field at the elementaries and 18 miles of pipe at the freshman building.”

“The water from the geo fields is circulated through the building to heat pumps that uses the constant temperature water to make heat or cooling for the building,” he said. “The payback on the additional cost of installing this type of system was estimated at a payback of five years on the elementaries and seven years on the freshman building.”

Edgewood Schools in rural Butler County also installed a similar geothermal system under the campus of its high school, which was opened in 2012.

John Thomas, Edgewood’s director of business operations, said the system works.

“It’s been a great system for us and we are seeing savings,” said Thomas.

Saving taxpayer money was the prime motivation for Fairfield school officials’ decision to try the district’s first geothermal system, said Fairfield spokeswoman Gina Gentry-Fletcher.

“It makes sense that we use a geothermal heating and cooling system in our new schools, not only for environmental reasons, but also for its energy and cost efficiency. We will reap many benefits at the start and also long term for students and staff,” said Gentry-Fletcher.

Weiser said another advantage of the system is that longevity.

“These systems are very reliable with few moving parts. The geo fields should serve the buildings for the term of their existence and are guaranteed for 50 years.”