Medina County’s 0.5 percent sales tax dedicated to school districts for permanent improvements was hailed Thursday as a budget boon.
In 2016, $12.9 million was distributed among the county’s seven school districts, the Medina County Career Center, the Medina County Board of Developmental Disabilities, as well as Norwayne and Rittman schools, county Finance Director Mike Pataky said.
Six school superintendents spoke Thursday at the Medina County Economic Development Corp.’s meeting about how the sales tax has benefited their districts. Sales tax revenue must be used for permanent improvements, such as purchasing textbooks, buses and technology upgrades and for construction. It cannot be used for operating expenses or salaries.
Cloverleaf Superintendent Daryl Kubilus told the audience at the Medina County University Center in Lafayette Township that the money helped his district during a time of financial distress.
“We were in a very difficult financial time in 2008,” he said. “The decision was made to leverage all of our sales tax money toward the purchase of a new school. We were in no position to go on the ballot for a bond issue. We were able to retire 300 years’ worth of elementary school buildings.
“We built one elementary school (at 8337 Friendsville Road, Westfield Township), which houses all of our pre-K through 5 students. We have 1,100 students in that building, and it’s truly been a blessing for us.”
Wadsworth Schools Superintendent Andrew Hill said his district followed a similar path.
“Five years ago, four schools opened in our school district,” he said. “Two of those buildings, Isham Elementary and Valley View Elementary, were paid for exclusively with this money. We were able to reduce the amount we had asked our community for to build the new facilities.”
Medina Schools Superintendent Aaron Sable said his district used the funds to repave several parking lots, along with installing a new roof at the high school.
“It’s been very impactful to Medina City Schools,” he said. “We used that money for upkeep and improvements around the district.
“All those kinds of projects would (normally) be funded through some kind of levy. This has allowed us to not put a levy on the ballot for permanent improvements.”
He added, “We’re also using the money for technology upgrades throughout the district.”
Steven Chrisman, superintendent at the Medina County Career Center, said sales tax revenue was used to make improvements.
“Last summer, we completely renovated our auto collision lab, as well as our cosmetology lab,” he said. “That was about a $1.5 million project. This coming summer, we’re redoing auto technology and commercial truck, another $1.5 million project.
“We’ve also used those funds to redo our parking lots and boiler system. Had it not been for the $400,000 a year, we would have had to go for a levy to make these upgrades.”
Buckeye Schools Superintendent Kent Morgan said his district is using the funds for technological improvements.
“We’ve been able to do our one-to-one initiative with technology, purchase buses, purchase MacBooks for our teachers, as well as textbook adoptions,” he said. “One-to-one is when we are giving students their own computer device. We are using Chromebooks. Over a five-year period, all of our (grade) 7 through 12 students will have a Chromebook.”
Highland Schools Superintendent Catherine Aukerman said she uses the sales tax money in three areas — buses, computers and textbooks.
“Buses cost about $80,000 or $90,000,” she said. “We’ve installed Wi-Fi in all of our buildings. We’ve continued to add to the one-to-one technology.
“We’re very grateful for this sales tax money. We also use it for major repairs in the district — a roof that needs replaced. Our elementary buildings are very old and do need some maintenance.”
Brunswick and Black River superintendents did not attend the meeting.
In 2016, county data show schools received the following in sales tax revenue:
- Brunswick — $3.3 million
- Medina — $3.1 million
- Wadsworth — $2.2 million
- Highland — $1.4 million
- Cloverleaf — $1.1 million
- Buckeye — $1.0 million
- Medina County Career Center — $439,747
- Black River — $245,020
- Norwayne — $28,371
- Medina County Board of Developmental Disabilities — $16,764
- Rittman — $9,026
- Total — $12.9 million
State report cards
Superintendents also discussed how school districts are evaluated by the state. Not all of districts received good grades on the last state report card issued in September.
“What I encourage: Pay attention to the details of what’s being reported in the state assessments and report cards,” Hill said. “We’re not against accountability. We want to make sure our students are getting the best education. To strictly look at the state report card as the only measure of success for a school district, it paints a distorted and inaccurate picture.”
Hill said the grades on the report cards fluctuate.
“When you look at this, something has changed,” he said. “I would suggest that all of the districts in the state haven’t gotten dumber.”
Kubilus said his administration knows Cloverleaf students better than the Ohio Department of Education does.
“We utilize a strategic planning process that involves our community, not our state and not our state legislators,” Kubilus said. “We hold ourselves accountable to the plan. I hold our district accountable. The board holds me accountable. It’s a locally planned barometer of our success.”
Highland received some of the top grades among county districts on state report cards — two “A’s” in the “graduation” and “progress” categories.
Aukerman said she uses a combination of internal and external measures.
“Obviously, the state has an accountability system we must all adhere to,” she said. “There are also other benchmarks that we use — taking a look at ACT and SAT scores. Our ACT and SAT scores are beyond the state and national averages. We had 260 seniors last year that brought in more than $5.1 million in academic and athletic scholarships.
“Not only are they great students and great athletes, they also give back to the community in so many ways. We use all of those things as measures. This is a great county to be in because our schools are so strong.”
Buckeye’s Morgan, who along with Sable are in their first year as superintendents, said the biggest challenge is to “keep our teachers motivated as they are continually beaten down with these results.
“We have our own assessments where we are identifying the needs of our students. We don’t look at the big picture, the big report card that comes out six months after our students have left our classroom. We look at what our students are doing on a day-to-day basis. We identify what standards those students need for that particular curriculum.
“Education is focused more on the growth aspect rather than passing a bar. For us, we’re more of the experts in the field on what a student knows and how to best teach them and deliver that instruction. We try to focus on the internal aspects of assessments than the external. There’s not a lot of faith or confidence or meanings behind those ratings. Those assessments are not going to define us.”
Chrisman said the career center’s mission is to get students ready for the workforce.
“There are some students who aren’t going to go to college,” he said.
He said he’s most concerned with what he calls the “one-year follow-up.”
“Are they in college or are they gainfully employed?” Chrisman said.
Testing results the superintendents discussed were based on the third new exams in three years after the state elected to move away from the Ohio Achievement Test and Ohio Graduation Test. Results for the 2015-16 school year were from tests developed by the American Institutes for Research.
Sable said the report card has caused his district to look internally.
“We’ve implemented assessments in all of our buildings,” he said. “Our teachers are using the assessments they’ve created based off state standards in order to know how their students are doing in a multitude of areas.
“We’re finding areas where students aren’t doing well and making changes to the instruction. The instruction is different year to year.”
Sable said the state report card is important to administrators.
“I don’t know how much weight our community is putting on that report card at this time,” he said. “The state has created a lot of that (criticism) itself. For us, it’s more of the internal evaluation of what we’re doing, the commitment to our community and the expectations of our community.”
Contact reporter Bob Finnan at (330) 721-4049 or firstname.lastname@example.org.