BELMONT-Discussions concerning personnel at all three Union Local schools dominated the board of education meeting Thursday night.
Most notably was the Union Local Athletic Committee's decision to not recommend varsity head baseball coach Rich Mercer to continue in that position.
Mercer spoke to the board about his 17 year coaching career with Union Local. Seven other individuals, including coaches, an umpire, teachers and parents testified to his coaching and leadership abilities. While board members appreciated the input and support, they stressed that all supplemental contracts are discussed and renewed on a yearly basis, and there had been no official decision by the board in Mercer's case.
"The athletic committee meets and makes recommendations to the board," explained Todd Kildow, who is on both the committee and school board. "He [Mercer] was never fired. Nothing has happened yet."
Board member Terry Puperi added, "The rumors and propaganda have spread like wildfire. My son sent me a text from Athens within hours of the meeting asking me why Coach Mercer was fired. Find out what's going on first. He [Mercer] knew what was going on and that he has the opportunity to talk with the board, which he's doing."
At the end of a nearly two and a half hour executive session, according to Superintendent H. Kirk Glasgow, members decided to postpone the decision about Mercer's recommendation.
Elementary school teacher Cindy Goff asked the board to consider replacing one or both of the teachers who retired at the end of the school year. Goff, who has taught for 34 years, says she has had large classes in the past but also had help from classroom aides, which are not available now, and that today's teachers are responsible for special needs students who warrant additional assistance.
Other teachers echoed her concerns adding that the physical size of the rooms prevents large classes from doing some activities and class work. This includes installing enough computers per class. Goff suggested utilizing available Title program funds or re-hiring RIF teachers who would be at a lower pay scale than the retiring teachers.
Board member Dean Lancaster responded with his thoughts after reviewing both the fiscal and teaching sides of the issue. Currently Union Local classroom ratios are below other area schools, and reorganizing into larger class sizes would still result in lower or similar ratios comparatively. He re-thought the fiscal angle, however, after talking with a teacher who was worried about not being able to help the "cream of the crop" students get farther ahead because she was spending so much time helping the students who were struggling.
"The fact is we're in the red and heading for fiscal caution," said Lancaster. "The real bottom line is trying to give the best education to our students, but what level of education do we want to have here? Can we afford to cut at the elementary level? It's a gateway school and has a sterling reputation. Right now the kids are getting help. If we're going to be in the red, let's be there for the right reasons. Let's go down swinging."
After discussion in executive session, Glasgow said members decided to post one position for recall.
Ruthie Martin, middle school secretary, again asked the board to hire a replacement secretary for retiree Linda Williams' position, citing the already-full daily schedule of duties for two positions. If Williams is not replaced, workload will increase for both Martin and Principal Jayme Yonak. Teachers have stated their support for Martin's plea, including middle school art teacher Sheri McElroy.
"There's no down time in that office. I've seen both women juggling several things at once," McElroy stated. "The job can't be done with just one secretary. If the board doesn't hire a replacement it would be a terrible mistake."
Glasgow says there is still no decision on hiring for that position.
There was good news from Treasurer Janet Hissrich. In spite of the fact that the district is still operating in the red, a comparison report shows account balances from May 2012 total over $293,000 more than in May 2011.
Additional presentations and agenda items will appear in a follow-up article.
Valenti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.