School administration responds to teachers and citizens questions of what, and how much in effort for transparency

By: Chuck Gibson

LOVELAND – Loveland Schools Superintendent Amy Crouse, Loveland School Board President Dr. Kathryn Lorenz, and Loveland School Treasurer Kevin Hawley had conversations with Loveland Beacon late in January regarding the cuts, the March levy, and potential future cuts if the March levy fails.   

Dr. Amy Crouse is the Superintendent of the Loveland City School District (Provided)

“We have the same goal,” said Superintendent Amy Crouse. “We all want to protect our people.”

Detailed information about plans and cuts did not appear immediately when the March ballot 6.95 mill operating levy was announced in December. There was work to be done.

“We cut $2.7 million dollars in order to get the levy millage reasonable at 6.95,” said Superintendent Crouse. “Affordability is the issue.”

The brakes had to be put on for planned expansion and improvements moving forward. Investing in opportunities for expanding programs, supports and services to students, teacher professional development, and investment in programs in the schools to improve student outcomes were all areas of focus for future plans.

“Put brakes on those things,” Crouse said. “Eliminating things out of the budget is removing that $2.7 million dollars out of that expending future. It is a cut in planned expenditures in the forecast.”

That’s why there was no detailed dollar amounts immediately reported. It’s not a failure to plan or be transparent. Going through a thoughtful, professional, and thorough process to determine the best possible plan to meet a budget takes time.

“That’s the commitment over the course of the year,” said Crouse. “Detailed line items can’t be known. You can’t balance the checkbook until the end of the year.”

Dr. Kathryn Lorenz is President of the Loveland City School District Board of Education (Provided) 

Some numbers were fixed and available immediately. Numbers can be found in the board minutes. Variables like attrition of staff and teachers determine final accurate numbers. Replacement and reallocation costs have a number, teacher retirements have a number. Those numbers are unknown until the end of the school year. School board president Dr. Kathryn Lorenz explained further.

“The problem with putting numbers out there is then you have a list of things and you have only half the numbers,” said Lorenz. “People will extrapolate. Then the other piece has to be this much trying to figure it out. You don’t want people to look at that when you don’t follow exact numbers and then say you lied to us.”

There was a clear message “Too Much” voiced by the community. The total number and planned cuts is a commitment by the end of the school year.  Lorenz and the 

members of the school board will hold the administration to their commitment. At the same time, the school administration, the board of education, and all the teachers are committed to providing the highest level of education opportunities available for all Loveland students. Protecting professionalism and respect for faculty, staff and students comes first in the process.

“People have been saying a lot of things about the board and administration that simply are not true,” Lorenz said. “It is not unreasonable to think someone could say something completely untrue about a teacher and have it out there on social media. Then that affects their ability to get a job.”

Lorenz made the point a social media post could claim a teacher was not really a reduction in force (RIF) but let go for some other reason.

“These things happen,” said Lorenz. “We don’t want it to happen.”

Respect and privacy for these professionals is a reason detailed names are not released in planned cuts.

“These are all humans,” Crouse said. “It is an element of ‘you don’t need to know right now’. Plans can change. We have a plan, but if someone planning to retire doesn’t retire, we’ll adjust.”

Hard work was done by Crouse and Hawley to determine a viable financial plan in a very short span of time. There was no alternate plan for a loss at the polls. They understand the numbers are different now. They began “whittling away”; tuition for pre-school was increased, participation fees, tech, and other fees increased. All those things have become a part of the big plan.

“These are the cuts required to make sure the budget continues to work,” said Hawley. “There is still planning to be done. Information is on the website. We do not intentionally withhold information from the people”

A crowd estimated near 200 was on hand for Loveland School Board meeting January 21, 2020 (Photo: Chuck Gibson)

Loveland school teachers marched into the cafeteria in a solidarity show of support of teacher’s who were cut (Photo by Chuck Gibson)

There is a higher standard of accountability for Hawley, Crouse, and all members of the Board of Education. Hawley adheres to faithfully to that accountability in his personal life as well. His faith doesn’t stop when he walks into work; it is his guiding principle. He takes transparency and trust very personally.

“If you know me, you know I have no intent to withhold from the people,” Hawley said. “The district is being very clear expenses went up the last four years. The last levy was intended to do that.”  

It is not simple. There are numbers being reported out there on social media that are not correct. Hawley explained the issue is four variables in State data released.

Kevin Hawley is the Loveland City School District Treasurer, Kevin Hawley (Provided)

“These are common pitfalls when you are looking for financial data,” said Hawley. “The Ohio Department of Education puts out a lot of information. If you don’t know what you’re looking at, you end up comparing apples to cars; you could be not even close.”  

Those variables consist of classroom instruction, non-classroom instruction, non-operation, and excluded district spending. Short story, State data reports only two pieces, there is no place you get all four. That’s how facts become misinformation.

“We’re being very open and transparent,” Hawley said. “We’ve put that information on the FAQ’s. We’ve tried to simplify.”

Hawley suggests if people are going to look at social media for their information, they should use the Loveland Schools website. The website shows directly where your property taxes go, how it is spent and counted going forward. Public trust is paramount for him. He thoroughly checks anything he posts on the website and is completely confident in its accuracy.

“As an office of the district, we have an extra level of accountability,” he said “When we say something, it’s not something we can take back. I hope people will feel much more confident in our website because of that accountability.”

Significant things are on the line if the operating levy fails in March. Class size, support for students and faculty, transportation and others will be affected. Exactly how much, who, what, when has begun to unfold. Crouse says there was never any intention to hide anything. The work takes time and a professional approach to serve kids after cuts are made.

“Trust in this board and this administration,” Crouse said. “You would be hard-pressed to find another administration and school board as consistently student focused, consistently making decisions about student outcomes, student safety, teachers, and supporting teachers while, at the same time, committed to fiscal responsibility.”

Loveland City School District Administrative Office entrance hallway wall (Photo by Chuck Gibson) 

The desire for transparency compelled Loveland School leaders to do the work and release updated information for the public on the Loveland Schools Website. It has led the Superintendent and the Treasurer back out into the public to sit face-to-face and answer questions. Loveland City School District voters are encouraged to seek all the updated facts on the March levy and school finances by going to the website, or public sessions.

“I hear the criticisms and I am pained by those things,” said Crouse. “I know what is in our hearts. I know what we intend to do is for the kids. We hear clearly it is an affordability issue. I believe this team will continue to achieve goals for the kids and be able to reduce expenditures. But we have to pass in March to do that.”