By Kevin Kelley
The Westlake City Schools Board of Education faces a number of important decisions in the coming weeks: Which search firm will it hire to find candidates to succeed Superintendent Dan Keenan? Will it appoint an interim superintendent when Keenan leaves July 31? When will the board ask property owners for more revenue in the form of an operating levy? How much of a tax increase will the district seek? Which educational services and programs will be permanently cut? Which will be brought back if and when a levy is passed? Should the district have Keenan’s permanent successor in place before it seeks passage of an operating levy?
Board President Carol Winter mentioned most of those issues facing the board at a meeting Monday night in the library of Lee Burneson Middle School. However, no decisions were made.
The board may move closer to answering some of those questions at its April 28 meeting, when more information on the issues is expected to be presented. At that meeting, the board is expected to review the qualifications of three consulting firms – Finding Leaders; the Ohio School Boards Association; and Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates – it has contacted regarding the superintendent search.
How long might the selection process take? The Ohio School Board, Association told Winter it could be completed in less than four months, while Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates said the district could spend the entire 2014-2015 school year conducting the search while led by an interim superintendent.
Winter told West Life the board has been discussing possible interim superintendent candidates. She said she could not say whether those being discussed were current district employees or are outside the district.
If the board decided to name a current employee as superintendent, either interim or permanent, it has seven persons to choose from. According to district officials, the following employees hold a state superintendent license: Pam Griebel, director of academic services; Anne Pyros, director of human resources; Tim Freeman, principal of Westlake High School; Paul Wilson, principal of Lee Burneson Middle School; Ben Hodge, principal of Bassett Elementary School; Ned Lauver, assistant principal of Westlake High School; and Sue Palchesko, assistant principal of Lee Burneson Middle School.
As to whether the district would seek voter approval of a levy without a permanent superintendent in place, Winter told West Life that districts have done that. Board members are discussing that, she said.
The board has met in executive session three times since Keenan announced April 3 that he is taking the executive director post at the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation, an educational nonprofit based in Cleveland. Another executive session is scheduled for Thursday.
Winter said many residents with whom board members have spoken have said the public should have input into the superintendent selection process.
“Be assured that we are going to engage the community on that,” Winter said.
Superintendent Dan Keenan told board members they need to decide what programs and services they hope to restore before they can decide on when to place a levy on the ballot and how much money to ask for. As a consequence of the two levy failures in 2014, roughly 20 teaching positions are slated to be cut for the next school year.
Keenan and Treasurer Mark Pepera plan to present the board with various levy scenarios at the April 28 meeting. Keenan noted that some have suggested that an operating levy be combined with a permanent improvement levy. Under such a scenario, a certain amount of the tax increase, say 15 percent, would be earmarked under law for capital expenses, such as building maintenance. Capital expenses currently are paid out of the operating budget.
If the board wants to hold a special election in August to ask for a tax increase, it would have to act in the next several weeks. The deadline to place a measure on the August ballot is May 7.