Reynoldsburg stays home in choosing new superintendent

 Stephen Dackin

Reynoldsburg School Board President Cheryl Max believes that Assistant Superintendent Stephen Dackin had one of the longest job interviews on record before being promoted to the district’s top job.

It was a two-year "on-the-job interview" that started when Dackin returned to the district where he had served as high school principal, Max commented at the Oct. 16 board meeting.

Max and other board members and administrators offered words of welcome and encouragement to Dackin, whom they selected on Oct. 11 to succeed Richard Ross.

Ross, who has headed the district for almost 20 years, announced last month that he would be retiring Dec. 31.

Dackin served as high school principal, from August, 1995, to January, 2001. He left for stints with the Ohio Department of Education and Westerville City Schools before returning to the district where his children attended school and his wife teaches at Slate Ridge Elementary School.

Max noted that Dackin was brought back to the district with an eye toward preparing him to take over once Ross stepped down.

"He had opportunities to just fall flat on his face, but he didn’t stumble," Max said.

Ross concurred that it was his expectation that Dackin would succeed him, and he called his assistant "uniquely prepared" to assume the leadership of the district.

Max observed that Dackin shares the same beliefs as Ross that have made the district successful, including "a heartfelt belief that all students can learn, and that it is our responsibility to make it happen."

The superintendent sets the tone, Max added. "If they don’t believe that, there’s no trickle-down."

Dackin agreed that "the superintendent is where it starts."

Dackin said that he had those values almost "pounded into me" by Ross. "He has an unrelenting focus on (student) achievement," that allows for "no exceptions, no excuses."

And he knows of no one in the state who has a better grasp of the financial side of running a school district and being a good steward of public tax dollars, Dackin said.

That is one area where Dackin is well-prepared, having been deeply involved in the budgetary process, Ross noted.

Fiscal realities

Those are skills he is going to need, with the district readying to place a bond issue on the ballot in March for a second high school and seventh elementary school.

The district is also going to need to pass an operating levy in the near future, Ross reminded the board.

Board members took the first step toward getting the bond issue on the ballot by passing a resolution requesting state consent to issue bonds and to submit the issue to voters.

It’s part of a new, three-step process required to get an issue on the ballot, explained Treasurer Mitchell Biederman. Previously, school districts had been required to submit a resolution to the county auditor certifying a millage amount to raise the necessary funds, and another measure setting the millage and sending the issue to the board of elections.

The school board will need to take that last step by its December meeting to meet the board of elections deadline for the March ballot, Ross said.

He also urged the board to appoint levy committee chairpersons by Nov. 1.

The district is in line to receive around $60 million from the Ohio School Facilities Commission, a 47 percent state match with local funds that will allow for the construction of the two new schools and renovations of other buildings.

The district opened a second junior high school this year, and educators and students are reporting the additional space at Baldwin Road and Waggoner Road junior high schools has created an improved learning environment.

District officials are hoping to replicate that effect with a second high school, to relieve crowding at the current facility.

To run these news buildings, and augment flat state funding over the last four to five years, Reynoldsburg is going to have to pass an operating levy, Ross reported.

That state funding, which accounts for half of the district’s $56 million budget, has increased around $100,000, Ross said.

In the same time, over the past three years, the district has been spending more than it is taking in, even with cost-cutting measures that affect academics, the superintendent continued.

The district expects to spend $1.4 million more that it collects in taxes and other revenue this year, according to Ross.

Reynoldsburg can’t open another building without passing an operating levy, he said.

The next superintendent called the bond issue "a great challenge for the community."

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