The Geauga County Educational Service Center Governing Board set two dates Tuesday to decide whether to finalize the territory transfer of Newbury Local Schools to the West Geauga Local School District after hearing proponents and opponents on that transfer.
Acting on their attorney’s advice, ESC Superintendent Jennifer Felker said, the board will present two resolutions for the ESC governing board to vote on. She said the first resolution will be considered at a special meeting July 23, while the second will be deliberated at a Sept. 3 regular meeting.
The board allowed audience members to make comments, limited to 5 minutes each, before setting the dates for the votes.
“By just having the board’s vote and not the community, we’re setting ourselves up for something very bad,” Newbury School Board member Martin Sanders told the board.
He said while the West Geauga Board of Education voted unanimously to approve the transfer, the Newbury board was split by a 3-2 vote. Similarly, he said, that split was evident in the community, which he described as “so ugly” as acts of vandalism and threats tore at the fabric of the community.
That split community, he said, could swing future levies or bond issues that West Geauga school officials may place on the ballot. “You will have five to 10 years of people who are mad going to the polls,” Mr. Sanders said.
He said the community must get a say in the issue to bring closure to the issue. “Instead of taking the easy way, let’s do it the right way,” he said.
James T. Joyner, a Charlton Lane resident, said that during the 2017-18 school year, the Newbury district was not in fiscal distress or under fiscal watch by the state. He said parents who supported the school were “enthusiastic” about the district’s future.
But as the 2017 election drew near, he said, residents of the community began a campaign titled “It’s Time” and misled voters, performing what he called a “hit job on the Newbury school board.”
He said the candidates supported by the “It’s Time” campaign promised voters they would explore all options and allow the community to decide the issue. “Was it a lie and a show to get elected?” he asked.
While the experienced board members supported the survival of the district, the “three rookie” members completed their “assassination plan” on the district within a year of being elected.
Mr. Joyner said the three new members contradicted what they promised voters once in office, reading from two of the board members bios that were submitted to local papers. He said board members Kimya Matthews and Terry Sedivy each promised to allow the community to make the decision, but instead “rammed their agenda down Newbury people’s throats.”
He said there is a campaign to bring the matter to a referendum vote by the community, saying “it’s too big a decision to be done this way.”
Don Rice, an Arbor Trail resident, said the Newbury community made their decision “clear” in that 2017 election with the choosing of the three new board members.
A district which once had 1,000 students has shriveled to 340, while residents are saddled with the second or third highest tax rate. He said the transfer is needed to be able to provide students with a great education.
David Lair, who declared his candidacy for the Newbury School Board, said he understands the emotions that are tearing at the community. Mr. Lair said he graduated from Newbury 50 years ago and his father in 1939. He said he is proud of the heritage and history of the district.
But, Mr. Lair said, he is also a “fiscal realist,” who has served for more than 30 years as the township’s fiscal officer and county administrator and residents could no longer support the dwindling numbers now enrolled in the district. He said the transfer “is the way to save the school in a fiscally responsible way.”
“The only thing worse is if we lose this opportunity,” he said.
He said the decision did split the community into factions, but they now have a chance to join an outstanding, award-winning district.
“It’s going to be hard, emotional and incredibly sad, but we have to do what is right for our children,” Mr. Lair said.