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School board member unable to answer critics
School board member unable to answer critics
By SUE HOFFMAN
Two community members criticized West Geauga School Board member Michael Kilroy last week for his actions during the levy campaign.
"The stance of the opposition made no sense," Bernard Mandel, of Russell, said, reading from a letter which he asked to be included in the minutes of the school board meeting. "It's hard to believe that a school board member would advocate spending $35,000 just to be obstinate and with no real substance to that position."
Mr. Mandel criticized Mr. Kilroy for not being a team player and for failing to tell the public about the state's unfunded mandates, such as full-day kindergarten, as one reason more funding is needed.
David Hancock, a veteran educator from Chester, said Mr. Kilroy has "obsessive-compulsive thinking about ranking and test scores."
Prior to the November election, Mr. Kilroy placed several advertisements in newspapers advocating the delay of the West Geauga renewal levy until February. A levy vote in February would have cost up to $35,000 in election fees, according to school officials.
In his ads, Mr. Kilroy said the board needed to trim costs before putting the levy on the ballot. Despite his advertising campaign, the renewal of the five-year emergency operating levy passed in November with approval by 56 percent of the voters.
Mr. Kilroy, who did not have the opportunity to respond to the citizens at the board meeting, said later that much of their criticism was in error.
School board President William Beers said there would be no response to the citizens' comments at the meeting.
After the meeting, Mr. Beers said, "Policy has been for years that the time of the public speaking is just that -- time for the public to address the board. It has only been on rare occasions when a question is asked and there is a short, immediate answer available that the board responds."
School Superintendent Anthony Podojil agreed. He said public comment time during the school board meeting is "not a time for public discourse and debate." Discretion on the public comment time is up to the school board president, he said.
"One of the things we have been counseled, as a public official, you have to expect people will attack. That comes with the job," Mr. Beers said. He said a few citizens addressed Mr. Kilroy at the previous meeting, Oct. 26, but Mr. Kilroy was not present. There were over 100 people at that meeting, and "we had to move to the cafeteria" from the community room, which seats 70, he said.
Mr. Kilroy said he should have been allowed to respond at last week's meeting, especially since there were many students in attendance. The students "are learning a terrible message about government in process," he said. "What is the board teaching the children? What example are they setting?"
Referring to Mr. Hancock's comments, Mr. Kilroy said, "To allow a man to accuse 44 percent of the voters of 'educational terrorism' is beyond comprehension.
"The board has the option to respond if they so choose," Mr. Kilroy said. The West Geauga School Board has done so in the past, he said. "The only reason they will not let me respond must be childish insecurities due to the falling performance of the district from 21 to 61."
Jessica Spears, of the Ohio School Boards Association's legal department, said that each school board sets its policy regarding public comment during their meetings. Under the Ohio Sunshine Law, the school board meeting is open to the public for observation, but comment is "under the discretion of the board and whoever is running the meeting," she said.
Among the speakers on Oct. 26 was West Geauga Middle School science teacher Sal Passafiume, who read and submitted a letter to the school board about "Mr. Kilroy's dubious and self-aggrandizing use of test scores."
Mr. Passafiume said test scores at all of the buildings improved from 2008 to 2009. "Yet, instead of using this unanimous improvement in a positive manner, Mr. Kilroy wants you to be concerned about the disparity between the elementary vs. the secondary scores," he said.
"What Mr. Kilroy is not telling is that, if you go back just one more year, you would find different rates of improvement for each building." Mr. Passafiume said Mr. Kilroy wanted to show the elementary school buildings were doing better because of interactive boards in the classrooms, which were purchased with private donations through an effort Mr. Kilroy had spearheaded.
Mr. Mandel said last week that Mr. Kilroy did not follow the board's bylaws in trying to contact a teacher on his own, and not through Dr. Podojil.
"This was one of the best teachers on the staff," Mr. Mandel said. "It is my understanding that you called this teacher five times in his classroom, and he wouldn't talk to you because of the rules."
Mr. Kilroy denied that he called five times. "I called Mr. Passafiume, the teacher in question, and he spoke to me. It was very cordial," he said.
In addition to spearheading the interactive board project, Mr. Kilroy said he negotiated an interest rate for the district's savings account "that is now almost 10 times what our old bank is offering."
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