School district now oversees London Academy

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For years, London City Schools acted as a sponsor for London Academy, a community school for at-risk students that otherwise operated as its own entity with its own employees. That status has changed in response to new state laws.

As of the Nov. 19 London school board meeting, all London Academy staff members are employees of London City Schools. They retain their positions but now report to a new boss. Pete Bartkowiak remains as the Academy’s coordinator, Mary Rumpz as administrative assistant, and Jasmine Featherstone as intervention specialist.

The change in oversight applies to the academy’s governance, as well. Sherry Baldwin and Rick Parsons are chairperson and vice-chairperson, respectively, of the Academy corporation’s board of directors. London City Schools Superintendent Steve Allen is the corporation’s president, with Britt Lewis as secretary/treasurer.

Allen expressed frustration with the changes, the latest in a string of adjustments the school district’s attorneys, Bricker and Eckler, have required based on their interpretation of state law.

Allen said that when the state granted money for non-profit and for-profit community schools many years ago, they did not lay down rules for how the schools should be structured or held accountable. In some cases around the state, problems arose and now the state is imposing rules after the fact, he said.

"The rules are not clear. We are just following counsel’s advice," Allen said.

Board member Eric Schooley sees the changes as a "knee-jerk reaction" to corrupt activity going on elsewhere. Locally, the state’s changes put a halt to efforts the school district was making on its own to improve the organization of London Academy, he said.  

The new governance structure leaves London Academy with no independent authority, Schooley said, because the school board can remove Academy board members for any reason.

Board president Vici Geer said that despite the turmoil, all involved parties must keep the students’ best interests in mind. Schooley said everyone involved with London Academy is focused on helping students succeed.

As proof of the Academy’s positive impact, Allen reported that the Academy board approved 10 to 12 diplomas on Nov. 19 for students who likely would not have graduated without the Academy’s services. He foresees a trend of approving about 10 diplomas every one to three months.

London Academy’s enrollment is 290 students.

Substitute teacher pay increase

In other matters, Allen reported that the school district is struggling to find substitute teachers, especially for seventh- through 12th grade.

He said London’s pay rate for substitutes ranks in the lower third of area school districts. To make the job more attractive, he suggested the board increase the daily rate for substitutes from $80 to $85. The board approved the increase, with an effective date of Nov. 21.

Employee retirement benefits

Allen spoke in opposition to House Bill 315, which proposes that school boards help the State Teacher Retirement System (STRS) with health insurance costs for retirees. The bill calls for school boards to kick in an extra 0.5 percent each year for the next five years. The cost to London would be $50,000 in 2008 and $280,000 by 2012.

Allen said STRS does need help with retirees’ health insurance costs, but should look at ways to remedy the situation internally, not place the burden on local taxpayers. The superintendent has expressed his opinion to State Representative Chris Widener and suggested board members do the same.

As a retired educator, board president Vici Geer receives STRS benefits but opposes the bill, as well. She said the Ohio School Boards Association has assembled a packet of information that includes a resolution for boards to adopt in opposition to House Bill 315. The London board will vote on the resolution at its December meeting.

Construction review update

The school district’s construction review committee likely will present its suggestions for Phase II to the board in January. They are taking into consideration ideas presented by architects Steed, Hammond and Paul.

Phase I encompassed the new elementary school and additions and renovations to the high school, funding for which came from local tax dollars.

Funding for Phase II will come from the state by 2010 or 2011 in the amount of $25 million. The school district must decide what they want to do with the money, within the Ohio School Facilities Commission’s (OSFC) parameters.

Originally, the district planned to renovate London Middle School. The cost to do so has risen since initial plans were made.  OSFC will not pay for renovations if the cost exceeds 67 percent of the cost to build a new building.

Allen said the review committee likely will suggest that the district abandon the current middle school and build a new one. They need to decide where to locate the new building and how big it should be.

"We can get a very nice, new middle school for less than $25 million and have money left to do more with our facilities," he said.

Choir trip approved

The board approved the high school choir’s overnight trip to Orlando, Fla., set for March 24-29.

Coaches hired

The board granted supplemental contracts to Hank Hodge to coach middle school wrestling and to Bill Dennis to serve as head varsity football coach next season.

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