Newbury School District’s announcement Tuesday that it would become part of with West Geauga schools was approved by the board, according to Newbury Board of Education member Terry Sedivy.
Mr. Sedivy said Wednesday that school Superintendent Jacqueline Hoynes sent a draft of the press release that went out to Cleveland television stations and local newspapers that announced the district had agreed to a territory transfer with West Geauga Local School District, rather than the Berkshire Local School District.
Board member Martin Sanders said Tuesday that he was unaware of the decision until he saw it on a local television broadcast.
Mr. Sedivy said Mr. Sanders should have received the email from the superintendent that asked whether board members approved it and whether any revisions were necessary. Mr. Sedivy said the board approved the issuing of the press release individually.
Mr. Sanders said Wednesday that after checking his email, he did find the one that Mr. Sedivy referred to. But, Mr. Sanders said, he found it had been sent at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday and that it only informed him that the press release had been already sent to the media. He said he was never asked to give his approval or any opportunity to comment on it. “So, Terry’s a liar,” Mr. Sanders said.
Although no board vote was taken on the issue of going with West Geauga, Mr. Sedivy said, the press release was not premature because he (Mr. Sanders) is “aware of what the rest of the board wants.”
Mr. Sanders said he wonders how Mr. Sedivy could be aware of how the other members feel without a public discussion. “Are they having secret meetings to find out that’s how they feel? I think it should be done in a public meeting.”
Mr. Sanders said the district can compete with other schools, noting the school’s three straight years of football players being named all-state, a girls volleyball team that reached district finals and a championship soccer team. “For a school that can’t compete, it looks like we’re competing,” he said.
But, Mr. Sanders said he will likely be on the losing end of that vote and the territory transfer with West Geauga would make the premature press release credible.
Mr. Sedivy said the press release was intended to give Berkshire schools a heads up as to which direction the board was going.
“We wanted to inform them what our decision was,” Mr. Sedivy said. “We didn’t want to wait until Monday (Jan. 14) to let them know.
Mr. Sedivy said he understands that people will find the decision tough to accept. Having lived all his life in Newbury, 68 years, he said, he knows it is difficult to accept. “It’s not easy for the community to accept.”
Mr. Sedivy, who campaigned along with board members Maggie Zock and Kimya Matthews on a platform to consolidate the school, said it’s a matter of fiscal responsibility to taxpayers.
“I guess it is about the money,” he said. “We can’t provide what a bigger school can.”
He said the district is operating out of a 1928 building that will need constant maintenance. “Certainly, we would have to ask for more money and that will put a greater burden on taxpayers,” he said.
“It’s a sign of the times,” he said.
Mr. Sedivy said Newbury taxpayers would have paid less in property taxes regardless of whether the board went with West Geauga or Berkshire.
He said the board’s decision this coming Monday may actually benefit Newbury residents because the first thing people look when considering to locate in an area is how good the schools are and West Geauga will offer students a better learning opportunity than Newbury could have.
“It seems the obvious way to go,” Mr. Sedivy said.
He said while the media was reporting that the decision had been made, “it is not a done deal.”
The board, he added, will actually vote Monday to continue to pursue talks with West Geauga. “It’s not necessarily a done deal because we haven’t gotten into the meat of it yet.”
Mr. Sanders, who spent his Tuesday night serving as a coach for Newbury wrestlers, said they only found out about the potential move from the news. “They were asking me, ‘Coach, is this true?’” he said.
He said he believes issuing the press release was the wrong way to go. He said the superintendent should have first gone to students, parents and staff.
And, Mr. Sanders said board members had previously stated that they did not want to split students between the two schools, but are doing exactly that.
He said he has heard from parents who had hoped the district would have gone with Berkshire and they still likely will, only through open enrollment, not the territory transfer.
In reaction to the news release, Berkshire Superintendent John Stoddard said Newbury officials chose what they believed would be a better choice for their students. “I think the Newbury Board of Education and their administration were looking at what they thought would be the best fit and in the best interests of their students and they felt that would be West Geauga,” he said. “West Geauga is an excellent school district and we hope they do well there.”
West G Superintendent Rich Markwardt said he wasn’t surprised. “I didn’t expect a press release though until their board had taken formal action. And their board has not yet taken formal action on its decision although the district has issued its intent so I expect that formal action will follow very soon,” he said.
“I think it’s a decision that was made with the best interests of the students of Newbury in mind. I also think that it’s one that our board was receptive to hearing because our board passed a resolution about two weeks ago now in which they agreed that they would be receptive to ongoing conversations with Newbury,” Dr. Markwardt added.
Calling it a “bittersweet moment,” Newbury Local School District officials announced Tuesday through an emailed press release that they are expecting to become part of the West Geauga School District, rather than Berkshire.
“After studying the issues of declining enrollment and its financial and educational impact for many years, the Newbury schools will formally recommend a merger with West Geauga schools, effective the 2020-2021 school year,” a release issued by the school stated.
The release stated that the school board had met for months with representatives of Berkshire and West Geauga while the board analyzed its options. Although it stated that both districts had “much to offer,” it was West Geauga’s offerings that tipped the scale in its favor.
“We are recommending West Geauga for a number of factors, but the most important consideration was the breadth and quality of student programs from AP and college prep classes, to clubs and sports that enhance character and build life-long skills,” the release continued.
Although class offerings were cited, dollars may also have played a role in the decision. While Newbury has estimated that it will have $3 million cash balance to transfer to the receiving district, Berkshire officials had stated that they would need $4.5 million to make the transfer viable for them.
“It’s a money grab,” Mr. Sanders said.
The news release stated that Newbury schools “worked diligently for many years to remain independent, but we reached a critical point once our student enrollment neared 300.
“The recommendation to merge was ultimately made to ensure that our children have access to the classes and programs that will best prepare them for future success.
“When and if the Newbury and West Geauga school boards pass their resolutions to recommend a merger, the Geauga County Educational Service Center will consider the resolution to propose the transfer of school territory. This is expected to take place by July of 2019.”
While they wait, administrative teams will begin the transition process to best prepare for the school year, beginning August 2020. The transition plans include conducting joint planning and professional development with staff members and finding appropriate opportunities to bring student groups together.
The move will be a territory transfer meaning that the homes and businesses now in the Newbury district will become West G with no retention of any Newbury school district identity.
“One-on-one meetings with staff and the superintendent have already begun so we can work together and ease concerns,” the release stated.