By Jeff Gallatin
Upgrading district technology and facilities were common themes among about 120 attendees at a North Olmsted schools forum Thursday night.
District officials set up the forum in the North Olmsted High School cafeteria as a means of seeking public input for a new strategic plan the district is putting together. The audience members had a mix of citizens and school workers and officials.
Following opening remarks from Superintendent Mike Zalar, the audience broke into tables of five or more people to answer questions at each table about how they feel about the district. Each table then picked a spokesperson and had that person give a report to the rest of the audience about the table’s beliefs.
Afterward, Zalar said he was happy with the results of the forum.
“I believe this is a critical time in the history of the North Olmsted City Schools,” he said. “The district and community are at a crossroads. Many common themes emerged during the discussion, including the condition of our facilities, the technology needs of our students, school funding shortages and the ever-changing job market. The challenge is to balance the competing interests of different stakeholders and come up with a plan that is both cost-effective and maintains a high quality educational program. We will need everybody working together to accomplish this.”
School board President John Lasko, who attended the event but did not participate in a table discussion, said he did so because board members would be dealing with the information obtained from the tables and did not want anybody to shape their remarks based on his having been at their table. He said he found the remarks helpful and interesting.
“It was very interesting to note the nearly unanimous agreement among the small groups regarding the three most pressing needs of the district: facilities, technology and fiscal accountability or restraint,” Lasko said. “Clearly, any plan that will be formulated must balance the desire for new or updated facilities and technology with the need to be financially realistic and responsible.”
Lasko said it also was interesting to note the positions expressed by the groups about the economic and cultural diversity that exists in the district.
“On the one hand it was considered to be a challenge,” he said. “On the other hand, it was considered to be a strength. In fact it’s both, the different sides of the same coin.”
Lasko said as with the start of any due diligence process, there currently are more questions than answers.
“I’m confident that the administration will develop a comprehensive facilities proposal and present it to the board early next year,” he said. “In turn, I am equally confident that the board will agree on a balanced, cost-effective plan and recommend it to the community during 2014. Ultimately, the decision will be in the hands of and made by the voters.”
Residents saw the forum as a good event, with the need to proceed carefully.
Lucia Srail said the forum was a good way to bring the community into the process.
“Nobody can go ahead with a community plan without the go-ahead of the community,” she said.
Jack Boss, a longtime businessman in the city who frequently helps with community causes, said the community must figure out how best to proceed.
“They’re good ideas, but we have to figure out a way to pay for it,” he said.