Newbury Board of Education members made a difficult and emotional decision when they voted on Jan. 14 to start the proceedings to become part of the West Geauga Local School District beginning in the 2020-2021 academic year.
In our estimation, this move had to be made now in the best interest of students and taxpayers.
This inevitable decision was far from sudden. For years current and past board members have grappled with determining the best path for its students.
Generations of families have graduated from the Newbury Local School District. Many graduates moved on to good jobs, college and successful careers. Some stayed in Newbury, others returned to raise their families while still others moved on, retaining fond memories of the close-knit district.
While enrollment declines are common around Ohio, Newbury experienced a significant decrease over the years. Currently, Newbury has about 342 students in grades kindergarten through 12, down from 387 the year before. Maintaining such a small district has significant financial and academic challenges.
BOE members have disagreed on whether this is the right time to disband the district. Board member Martin Sanders has said Newbury continues to improve. Others point to smaller classes being especially good for children with learning disabilities as well as opportunities in sports and other activities as pluses for the Newbury district.
Though Newbury showed some improvements, its overall grade on the latest state report card was a C, along with a D in achievement, C in progress, A in gap closing, C in graduation rate, an A in improving at-risk K-3 readers and an F in prepared for success.
West G would certainly give students more choices of courses, broadening their academic experience.
Board member Terry Sedivy has said that continuing to run the small district is fiscally irresponsible.
Recent results of the Cupp Report showed that Newbury spends $17,097 per pupil compared to $13,696 in West Geauga. But Newbury’s average annual classroom teacher salary was lower at $52,285 compared to $69,937 in West G.
Financially, it could be a win for all. According to the Geauga County Auditor’s Office, West G would see a drop in effective millage from 31.08 mills to 29.2 mills with a territory transfer from Newbury. Newbury residents would see a drop from 43.9 mills to 29.2 mills by becoming part of West G.
Some parents already have decided to move their children to other districts. Newbury officials said the district has lost $597,123 to open enrollment and has taken in just $170,500.
Though the decision had to be made, we question one recent move by the Newbury BOE. The board issued a press release on Jan. 8 to the surprise of many, including some board members, stating a decision to go with West G had been made. There was no notice of a special meeting or executive session before that. Was that a violation of Ohio’s open meeting laws?
Official action was taken the following week on Jan. 14 in an open meeting packed with vocal residents.
Technically speaking, this will be a territory transfer, not a merger. With a territory transfer Newbury would lose its identity and simply become part of West G. No more Black Knights, no more Newbury traditions.
Newbury has some work to do before the transfer can take place with the help of the Geauga County Educational Service Center, which by Ohio law provides administrative services to local districts. The county service center eventually approaches the Ohio Board of Education to request the transfer.
West G BOE approved a resolution inviting Newbury to join the district with some stipulations, including reducing staff and having a cash balance of about $3 million, an amount linked to Newbury’s five-year forecast.
The journey over the next months will not be easy, but ultimately, we believe students will gain academic choices and residents will land in a financially sound school district.