LORAIN — Questions swirled at a Lorain school board meeting Tuesday night about the future of a renewal levy when board members expressed concerns about a lack of financial information from the district administration.
School board member Tim Williams said the district is currently operating in “in an element not just of distrust but absence of information,” because he said district CEO David Hardy hasn’t kept the board apprised of what’s going on.
“Putting it on the ballot is one thing, but passing it is a completely different thing,” Williams said. “It would be great if we could just put it on the ballot and it passed. If we do not have a cooperative environment between the board, the administration and the community it will be very difficult, it not impossible, to pass.”
Hardy became the CEO last summer as part of a state takeover due to poor state report card scores. In his new position, Hardy has all of the powers of a superintendent and the school board with one exception.
He cannot put a levy on the ballot, which was the lone power left to school boards in the legislation.
Board President Tony Dimacchia said Tuesday night was the board’s first attempt to speak with Hardy about the levy but since he didn’t attend, and hasn’t attended a board meeting since he joined the district, the conversations didn’t move forward.
The levy in question would be a renewal that would bring about $3.1 million in revenue to the district. The board has three opportunities to put it in front of the voters before it affects district finances — November of this year, May 2019 and November 2019.
Williams noted because of the Ohio Open Meetings Act, the board must discuss items pertaining to the levy at an official board meeting rather than in a private meeting with Hardy.
“As CEO, Mr. Hardy has absolute autonomy,” Williams said. “But he will have to work with this body sooner or later. It is unavoidable. It is nonnegotiable. The only way we’ll have a discussion with the CEO is in a board meeting because we’re not allowed to have it any other place.”
School board member Mark Ballard said the board “wasn’t trying to be petty” but they’re being blocked from getting information.
“We’re trying to be the grownups in the room but when we specifically hear from our administrators that they’re being told not to give us information? That’s a problem,” Ballard said. “They’re being told not to share with us. That is a problem. We can’t run like that.”
Several board members said it’s virtually impossible for the board to make a decision about putting a levy on the ballot without receiving financial information from Hardy’s office.
Resident Marge Walker said she has concerns that the administration being run by Hardy is spending too much money.
“He’s spending money like a drunken sailor,” she said. “When I read the articles in the paper I just can’t make out how he’s going to pay for it — or I mean how we’re going to pay for it.”
Resident Rhoda Lee said by not putting a levy on the ballot, the board wouldn’t be acting in the best interests of the students.
“To me it would be a dereliction of your duties as board members,” she said. “We need to be engaging people to get this levy passed. This shouldn’t be a time to focusing on petty politics. It’s time to come together and stop this foolishness.”
Lorain NAACP President Jean Wrice said she wanted the board to mobilize a levy committee to help campaign for its passage, but Dimacchia said that isn’t the board’s responsibility and it’s up to the people on the committee.
“It’s quiet,” she said. “We don’t know what’s going on in the community. I’m not happy with you guys playing games. Our kids are not being considered. It’s what we’re going to do to get our kids back to being well-educated.”
Treasurer and incoming chief strategy and innovation officer Josh Hill said part of the lag in records coming to the board is that previously the board was the major decision-making body on financial decisions so the members were being informed about situations as they happened, such as employees being brought into the district, and were ultimately given the final say on such matters.
That responsibility falls to Hardy, and Hill said because the new CEO is dealing with “a lot of very sensitive information” that “involve people’s personal lives,” and Hardy is waiting until things are official before releasing them to the board and to the public.
“It’s a very sensitive time, and I think that’s one of those things that’s being lost in between both sides,” he said. “We’re dealing with people’s livelihoods and major changes in a community that is a difficult transition.”
The next school board meeting will be 6 p.m. Monday at Lorain High School, 2600 Ashland Ave.
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