By Sue Botos
Residents had the chance to glimpse their tax dollars at work during a Nov. 4 open house at Rocky River High School.
Student-led tours guided hundreds of community members through the building’s new science, art and music wings, as well as the updated media center and commons area, where Superintendent Michael Shoaf delivered his annual state of the schools address.
During his talk, Shoaf thanked voters for supporting a 2010 capital improvements bond issue, which funded the work at the high school and Goldwood Primary and Kensington Intermediate schools. He added that updates to areas such as the science wing, which features state-of-the-art technology, will allow students to make a smoother transition to the college campus.
“2013 is the new 1951,” quipped school board President Jon Fancher, before the talk. “The building was sturdily built in 1951, and it’s been renovated to accommodate the students of 2013.” Aside from classroom face-lifts, these improvements include improved security, an efficient heating and cooling system, a new sound system for the auditorium, new gym bleachers and scoreboard, and technology upgrades such as wireless access throughout the building. The building is also highlighted by modern, energy-efficient lighting, and brushed stainless-steel wall features.
“Seven years ago, we had technology that was obsolete seven years (before),” stated school board member Jay Milano. “Today, every student has access to a computer,” he added. Milano also praised Shoaf for his successful track record of improving the district’s state ranking.
Shoaf noted in his address that, in 2004, two years before he arrived, the district ranked 43rd in the state performance index, which takes into account the scores of all students on standardized tests. The past three years, Rocky River has placed third, fifth and third, respectively.
While the district scored an A in the major categories of this year’s state report card, Shoaf said there is always room for improvement.
On the subject of finance, Shoaf noted that state funding has dropped from about $2.6 million in 2011 to $875,000 this year. “We are doing everything we can to lobby our legislators,” he said. He added that the district has taken a number of steps to tighten its belt, including joining the Suburban Healthcare Consortium, which saves the district about $1 million over previous insurance rates.
Answering a question from an audience member, Shoaf stated that about 700 daily miles have been shaved from school bus routes, resulting in a savings of $2,000 weekly.
“A significant major factor is that the (school) board has changed the levy cycle from three to four years,” Shoaf noted. He estimated that by eliminating the cost of a levy campaign every third election, the district stands to save about 4.9 mills over 12 years. Noting that the board recently approved a $175,000 “rainy day” fund, Shoaf stated, “We’re not managing month to month. We’re making a conscious effort to change the way we operate fiscally.”
Public-private partnerships were another, more nontraditional cost-reducing measure addressed by Shoaf. He noted that acoustic work at the high school was donated, and the Campus Foundation, headed by residents David Furry, Robert Jurs and Greg Mylett, provided the landscaping for the building.
Furry quipped that without the support of residents and business owners, “we could afford six trees and 10 bushes,” he said, adding that once the planting is completed, the work will go on. “Our goal is not just set and forget it. We will pay for the maintenance.”
Naming rights to the football stadium, plus various trees and benches, are still available for purchase.
Shoaf noted, responding to questioning from the audience, that student safety is a top concern, and that offices in all school buildings have been secured as part of the renovation projects. However, finance is never far behind on the list. “We’re doing everything we can to save money. That’s the best way to stay off the ballot.”