As preparations progress for the expected approval of Newbury Local School’s territory transfer to West Geauga Local Schools by the Geauga County Educational Service Center in the summer, Newbury Township residents are continuing to talk with each other and processing the decision.
Stakeholders that are for, against and undecided on their opinions of the territory transfer have continued to show up for school board and ESC meetings and converse with their neighbors at school sporting events, around town and online through social media. At least three Facebook groups concerning Newbury’s future have given residents a place to gather, ask questions, find more information and offer their viewpoint.
The “It’s Time” Facebook page administrators Rose and Chris Yaecker and Fran Dittrich said they were heavily involved in Newbury Schools when their children attended and continued to support the schools through levies.
“When we first started this, we had no idea of the financial situation, how expensive Newbury was, how much taxes we paid,” Mr. Yaecker, a Newbury graduate who has lived his whole life in the township, said. “We were really ignorant of that, and we were shocked.”
Shortly after previous talks of the district merging with West Geauga or Berkshire fell through in 2017, they formed the page to explore and relay information to the public about why talks stopped and what the best course of action was going forward. They eventually decided that the declining enrollment and high tax burden was unsustainable and supported pursuing consolidation with a neighboring district.
“I was happy for the community,” Mrs. Yaecker said of the Board of Education’s decision to become part of West Geauga through territory transfer. “I think it’s going to be a good thing to move forward.”
“I’m really excited for the future of the students of Newbury. I know that they are scared right now and I feel badly for that, and I know that the teachers are scared right now and I feel badly for that,” Mrs. Dittrich, who has lived in Newbury for more than 40 years, said. “It’s not an action against (teachers). It’s a movement for the students and for the community.”
Another Facebook page, “Stand 4 Newbury,” began in March 2018 “to inform the community of wonderful things happening within the walls and putting things out there for people to know that our staff and our administrators are making a difference in our students’ lives,” administrator Vicki Koller said. The group now continues to advocate for Newbury’s teachers, students and the community who want to keep the district independent.
Ms. Koller has two children who attend Newbury High School and said she believes the school board has not been transparent in its decision making and did not do its due diligence in exploring what it would take to remain independent.
“They made a decision without public discussion and vote,” she said. “I feel like they’re negligent in representing our community. I feel the school board would be focused on not only the future of the school but on students currently walking those halls today. My kids are suffering because of their lack of leadership, and they’ve done a big disservice to staff, to students, to the community.”
Ms. Koller said she would be supportive of a referendum petition to stop the territory transfer from going forward.
“At minimum we want the truth about why this is happening so quickly and without public input. At best we’d love our school to stay open,” she said. “Maybe in the end it makes sense to consolidate, but at minimum the public should have some input into what happens.”
Newbury parents Amy Carver and Dana Pavick created a third page, “United Newbury,” in January following the board vote. The page is focused on providing facts and making the transition to West Geauga as smooth as possible for students and the community.
“I’ve been hoping for this to go through for quite some time, basically ever since I found out I was pregnant with my son,” Mrs. Carver said. “I’m kind of excited about this future and what it holds for my children and their education.”
Mrs. Pavick said she originally wanted to remain independent because her children love their school, but she came around to the territory transfer once she “took (her) blinders off.
“I looked at the facts, and I realized it was inevitable,” she said. “We just want to make the transition easy for the kids and the parents, and just put the facts out there so people stay educated to what’s going on. That’s really what the whole page is for.”
Mrs. Carver and Mrs. Pavick said they are both nervous and excited about the transition to West Geauga, and both have applied for open enrollment to West G for the 2019-2020 school year, the last year Newbury will operate independently if the territory transfer goes through.
“I am a little bit nervous just to make sure that my child’s education doesn’t suffer just because of all the transition and everything, but talking with (Newbury Superintendent Jacqueline) Hoynes and everything like that, she’s pretty much assured us that they’re taking steps,” Mrs. Carver said. “I’m pretty optimistic about it.”
Former Newbury school board president Susan Arnold said while she stays off social media because “it drives (her) nuts,” she has remained informed and involved in the conversation and has more questions than answers following the board’s vote to become part of West Geauga. She said she cannot definitively state her opinion on what the district should do since she doesn’t believe she has a full picture of the situation.
“I need more information to be better educated as to what serves my district the most,” she said. “We have over 70 employees in our district and over 350 kids. That’s a lot of lives being touched in this process, and if you’re going to make a deal, you better be making it for all of those people, not just for the personal gain of the district taking it.”
Mrs. Arnold said she thinks the board could have waited and gathered more information while negotiating so that more teachers’ jobs could be saved if remaining independent was not a feasible option. Ultimately, she said the final decision should have been directly decided by Newbury residents.
“Whatever decision that’s made, I think it should be a public vote no matter what, whether east, west or independent,” she said. “In the end, it’s taxpayer money. And if it is overwhelmingly they feel it’s the most phenomenal choice (to go to West G), tell me why first and then let the community vote on it. And that’s not happening in this case as it is right now.”
The next step in the proposed territory transfer process is an expected vote by West Geauga’s school board in June requesting that the county ESC move forward with the territory transfer. West Geauga’s board stated it would continue if Newbury “right-sized” their staff to West G’s needs and maintained a cash balance at a minimum of what Newbury’s 2018 five-year forecast projects for the end of the 2019-2020 school year, a little more than $3 million, among other considerations. The formal transfer is tentatively scheduled to occur July 1, 2020.