The Geauga County Educational Service Center voted unanimously last week, passing the first of two resolutions that would transfer the Newbury Local School District to the West Geauga Local School District.
The governing board acted without comment, except for board President Kenneth Burnett quoting from the Ohio Revised Code.
Mr. Burnett noted the board’s authority to “transfer of a part or all of one or more local school districts to another local school district or districts adjoining the school district that is proposed to be transferred.”
He noted that Newbury and West Geauga school boards have voted for the territory transfer.
ESC Superintendent Jennifer Felker said she would be filing documents of the territory transfer along with the new territory maps, outlining the new district with the state.
The second and final vote on the territory transfer is scheduled for Sept. 3.
While the board offered little comment on its vote, Newbury residents voiced their support and opposition to the transfer during the meeting.
Tina Ryan, a Cedar Road resident, told the board that Newbury is a “quiet neighborhood with farms and parks and its population of 5,500 is made up of 25 percent senior citizens and about 1,000 children.
Although some have said the transfer would sound the death knell for the community, Mrs. Ryan said the community will benefit from the move. “We will still continue to be a vibrant community with many positive attributes.”
She said all Newbury residents need to come together at this time. “We need to take this opportunity for a peaceful and unified transfer. We need to embrace the future.”
Terri Rice, an Arbor Trail resident and declared candidate this November for the Newbury Board of Education, supported Mrs. Ryan’s position, saying while she did not wish to “disparage the passionate feelings” of those holding on to the Newbury tradition, the move to join West Geauga is the right one.
“There’s no denying West Geauga made an excellent choice,” she said.
Mrs. Rice said she hopes, if elected, to address her biggest concern – making the transfer an easy one for the children. She said she would make sure there are programs to allow Newbury children to be welcomed in their new district.
Another resident, Mary Masilonis told the board that the offerings of classes, clubs and sports at West Geauga far surpasses what Newbury offers, including sculpting, journalism, Latin, Chinese, lacrosse, fencing and chess club.
“Kids need more than school pride to launch their academic future,” Mrs. Masilonis said. “Why would anyone want less for their child? The children of Newbury deserve these chances.”
Melissa Miller, a Pekin Road resident, said the turnout at the polls two years ago to elect Newbury School Board members showed “we’ve had enough” and it was time to dissolve the district. “My family and I lived through the roller coaster ride that is Newbury schools. Please give our children a sustainable future.”
David Lair, an Auburn Road resident and candidate for the Newbury School board, said he is a graduate of the Newbury district as are his three children and some of his seven grandchildren. The school, however, no longer is on “solid footing” financially and the change is necessary, he concluded.
He also questioned why prior boards never asked residents to vote after promising them that they would research joining another district after a levy passage that put the district is better financial standing.
“This is about the residents, students and businesses of Newbury,” Mr. Lair said. “I’m proud to be a Black Knight, but the facts don’t show the ability to have a great school system by ourselves.”
Newbury School Board member Martin Sanders, who has repeatedly opposed the transfer and called for a vote to decide the issue, said that most believe bigger is better. But, he said, it takes away a parents’ option of seeking out a smaller school for their children. As a graduate of Kenston High School, he knows what a larger school offers, but chose to come to Newbury because it offered his children a chance to become involved in a multitude of sports and extracurricular activities.
He said those who want a bigger school can choose to send them to Kenston. “That’s where they’ve gone since the board destabilized the district,” Mr. Sanders said. “People have been looking elsewhere since the election.”
“Education starts at the home,” Mr. Sanders continued. “If you want something supplemental, you’ll find it. That’s what parents do.”
Resident Jessica Aldredge said the move will only help the West Geauga District with open enrollment numbers, but it will devastate the Newbury community.
“This will be a train-wreck for our community – your desire to get it over with,” she said. “It deserves a public vote.”
Ms. Felker said a referendum vote can be held, but a petition must be submitted within 30 days of the ESC board’s final vote on Sept. 3.
Residents gathered outside after the meeting said they intended to go forward with a referendum petition. To get a successful petition to place the issue on the ballot, 1,400 signatures are needed.