GUEST COLUMN: by Ned Portune, member of the Loveland City School District Board of Education and 22 year resident of Symmes Township

A promise maintained

LOVELAND, OH – “To provide you with relevant history, the Loveland City School District passed a 5.6 mill operating levy in May of 2014; passage of the levy provided our team an opportunity to invest in and enrich the excellent education we provide by enhancing the classroom experience for the 4,700 students we serve. 

Ned Portune, LCSD Board of Education, resident of Symmes Twp. (Photo by Chuck Gibson) 

Those investments included one-to-one technology for students in grades five through 12, the addition of a tuition-based all-day kindergarten option, a five-year commitment to investigating and purchasing the best instructional materials by subject annually – district-wide, development of more robust offerings at our high school, and strategic investment in classroom instruction district-wide through Innovative Instructional Grants. None of these investments could have happened without your support, and – as always – we offer a sincere thank you to those who believed in our mission and continue to support our district. Our expectation is that the money from that levy will continue to fund the district – as promised – until 2018.”

These were the words of former Loveland City Schools Treasurer Brett Griffith, posted publicly to the community under the title “A promise maintained” on September 19th, 2017. 

Why is this important? It’s important to address misinformation that implies that spending was not supposed to increase after the 2014 levy was passed. It reminds us the purpose of the 2014 levy was to increase spending, invest in programs, technology, classroom materials, and educational staff – and that this was all put in motion prior to the current administration. In 2014 there was a commitment to the community to invest in improvements and an expectation to be back on the ballot for operating funds in 2018. The district has stretched that to 2020.

Obviously this doesn’t fit a narrative of wasteful spending. But the truth is often boring. And the boring truth is that significant investments were a planned outcome of the 2014 levy, and we are actually in line today with the projected cash balance positions previously forecast. 

But first, what about those investments? Let’s start here:

As the business of the district is education, moving key state report card grades to A and B from C, D and F would indicate a positive return on investment.  And that’s exactly the improvement we’ve seen. As of 2016 we seemed mired in a culture of mediocrity, and that is when the planned 2014 levy investments began to phase in. What a difference a few years makes. But these scores, specifically in progress and gap closing, could not change simply due to the addition of technology and programs. Classes don’t teach themselves, technology by itself won’t improve performance, and our results would not have changed without investment in educators.  

Additionally, students and teachers alike can’t be successful if they aren’t in the right culture of care, support, learning, and high expectations set by their administrators.  And as such, our administrative team and educational staff have raised the bar of expectations at Loveland well beyond “average.”  In business, this is exactly the environment, the culture, and the staff you want. It’s a culture of success, and continuous improvement, and every educator and staff member is responsible for it. Recruiting and retaining exceptional personnel in a competitive market, and a competitive region, is imperative.

And what has this investment in people and culture brought us in addition to raised state report card scores? Here are just a few items of note:

* In the Value Added rankings of ODE, Loveland has gone from being ranked 433rd (out of 610 districts) in 2016 to 22nd in 2019. LES students are scoring on average 20% higher than the State average in Reading/Math for AIR and are exceeding MAP projections, on average, at 20% higher than the National average. For the third consecutive year, 100% of all third graders met the Third Grade Reading Guarantee; LIS students score 20% higher than the state average in 3 of 5 areas, 15% higher in all 5. At LMS, 8th grade foreign language has risen from 150 students receiving HS credit to 227 students, and foreign language exposure in 7th grade has gone from 0 students to 185.  LHS has increased AP offerings to 24 courses serving 428 students in 2019, up from 291 in 2016, and our students have earned AP Honor Roll for 2 years (top 3% of districts in the US and Canada), with 80% scoring a 3 or higher. Over 40% of our LHS seniors earn college credit through AP or CCP offerings. LHS has added 20 new elective offerings, and added Transition to Work programming with multiple community sites. LHS has implemented Learning Lab for math support, added 6-12 College and Career counseling programming, and added class-leading Teaching, Business and IT programs. LHS’s ranking in Cincinnati Magazine has improved from 20th in 2017 to 8th out of 80 local high schools in 2019, and it has received the Momentum Award from ODE for the last three years. And this doesn’t even begin to address the improvements in gifted and special education services, social-emotional support improvements, or individual awards and accolades our students and teachers themselves have received across all of our schools.

* Sourced from public sources including Ohio Department of Education, Cincinnati Magazine, AP/CollegeBoard, 2019-2020 Principals presentation.

This is where we find ourselves today in Loveland. An environment led by administrators who have set high bars for excellence, and educators working in a powerfully positive environment with programs and supports that make our students more successful each year.  From 2016-2019 we invested as was promised in 2014 – investments in programs, technology, instructional materials, professional development and people.

We are now truly at the end of the 2014 levy’s effectivity, which was planned only to last until 2018 but has been stretched to 2020, even with changes that are outside the district’s control such as a $540K rise in health insurance costs.

We should all take pride in what we have accomplished together since 2014, and the reputation for excellence that has been attained by our schools and community.  We collaboratively invested and raised our marks from an F to an A.  We are also well aware that the growth we have experienced now needs to be leveled to be maintained, which is why our current forecast reduces expenses and commits to capped expenditure growth and keeps it in line with previous forecast expectations.

But it will take the continued support of operating funds to keep our strong performance intact. Without these needed funds, significant cuts will be made, and the improvements we have spent years implementing, and the performance we have achieved, will regress. The community’s return on the investments made will be lost.

I hope that we all will celebrate the tremendous progress of our schools, and support the continuing success of our students and our community into the future. Thank you.

Ned Portune is a member of the Loveland City School District Board of Education and 22 year resident of Symmes Township

EDITOR’S NOTE: The preceding “Guest Column” was approved for publication by members of the Editorial Board of Loveland Beacon. The author is not a member of the Loveland Beacon staff and has received no compensation for this contribution.