A member’s perspective

By: Chuck Gibson 

Loveland Schools announced the establishment of a community advisory committee November 22, 2019 to explore the feasibility of a March 2020 Ballot Issue. Soon after, a committee made up of a diverse group of 25 Loveland residents was formed. That committee was part of two formal Board of Education meetings held Tuesday, November 26, and Tuesday, December 3, 2019. Following a Board of Education work session Tuesday, December 10, the district announced the BOE passed a resolution of necessity for a March 2020 Operating Levy.

Loveland City School District Superintendent Amy Crouse experienced the formation and participated in BOE meetings with the ad-hoc advisory committee. Lynn Mangan is a wife, mother, (four children – two still currently attending Loveland Schools) Loveland resident and voter. She is a member of the 25 member advisory committee. Mangan participated in both formal meetings held by the LCSD Board of Education in November and early December.

The advisory committee 

Lynn Mangan – Member of the advisory committee (Photo: Courtesy Lynn Mangan)

The advisory committee was formed to bring together people from all sides of the issue to determine if sufficient support by voters might exist for an operating levy in March. The BOE, Superintendent Crouse and LCSD treasurer Kevin Hawley worked directly with the advisory committee during the November 26, and December 3, board meetings. Those meetings were open to the public for observation, but not for public input.

Formation of the committee, meetings, and passing a resolution for a ballot issue had to happen quickly due to board of election requirements. Final certified ballot language had to be passed and submitted to the board of elections no later than Wednesday, December 18, to place an operating levy on the March ballot. 

On Tuesday, December 17, the Board of Education passed, by unanimous vote, the certified second resolution to place a 6.95 Operating Levy on the March 2020 ballot. It is the culmination of the short-term advisory committee work with administration and the BOE.

 There is another clear purpose

There is another clear purpose for an advisory committee to work with school district administrators and the board of education which reaches beyond current critical time constraints for LCSD finance and ballot issues.  Crouse, Hawley, and the BOE heard the community crying out ‘Why can’t the board just talk to us?’ While board meetings are held in public, they are not open for public discussion. Rules only allow for comment at a public hearing.

“Many times when people come to address the board, it is an operational question and is referred to an administrator anyway,” said Crouse. “It’s challenging trying to figure out how to create a situation where there could just be interaction while the board would be in session. The committee is an opportunity to see if this is a way to improve communications.”

Loveland City School District Superintendent, Amy Crouse (Photo-Courtesy Loveland Schools)

This time it happened quickly and for only a short period of time. The committee no longer meets formally, but lines of communication were opened for continuing dialogue into the future. Mangan heard a wide ranging base of information from members of the committee. She asked herself how she could listen in a way which would allow her to better understand the variety of perspectives from across the community.

“I made connections with people in the community I previously didn’t know,” said Mangan. “It broadens my perspective and allows me to have direct dialogue with people, the majority of whom I never met.”

 Making new connections

BOE members BOE members with crowd on hand (Photo: Chuck Gibson)
Making new connections, hearing different opinions, simply being with people she did not know was exactly the situation for which Mangan hoped. Not knowing the vast majority of the people on the committee was the greatest value to her. Three of the people on the committee actually lived within 10 houses of her, but she had never spoken to them about the levy. She believes looking at the district from different demographics of young parents, parents like her, with kids in Loveland schools, and retiree’s will help the board make more informed decisions.

The diverse make-up of the committee was no accident.

“We tried to mirror the no, yes outcome to be representative of the vote,” said Crouse.

The selection process was challenging without asking how anyone voted. Getting a representative sample was made easier by those who simply said how they voted.

“Let’s take what went well out of that,” Crouse said. “How can we have some community committees? How can we fairly identify people to be on that committee based on interest and diversity? It has been on our radar to create some community committees anyway.”


Merge the community

The challenge is to develop a system to merge the community wish to actively participate with the desire of the Board of Education and administration to involve more people with a more diverse cross-section of the community to work on a committee matching their interest and skill set. There were a lot of people at the community meeting who expressed a desire to be part of the solution. School officials focused on asking them to join the first committee. They also asked some of the vocal leaders of the opposition campaign to help identify candidates to be part of the committee.

“We tried to take a few people who were involved from the very beginning from the pro-side, but not so many,” said Crouse. “We tried to engage the ‘not this levy’ people, but wanted to be part of the solution. We started to engage. We took a stab at pretty quickly pulling something together.”

 They brought 32 people together

Lovleand Community members attend a BOE meeting (Photo:Chuck Gibson)
They brought 32 people together at one table for the first time at the November 26, Board of Education meeting including the 25 new committee members, five board members and Treasurer Kevin Hawley and Superintendent Amy Crouse. It was a frustrating first meeting for Crouse with little progress made. It got better with some adjustments made to better engage members in the next meeting.  

Crouse characterized the committee as 25 people with 25 different ideas. March is too fast. November is only one shot. Do you want to give people a chance to act early? Do we need more time to educate?  A long list of pros and cons opened up. There was no right answer. The committee gave people a chance to hear others.  Sure there were conversations about why yes, why no, but the focus of discussion in the committee was operations.

The group included a mix of retirees, parents of younger children, families who chose to send their children to private schools, and parents of older children. There were some teachers. Mangan felt having their perspective is critically important.

“There certainly were some heated moments during the conversation,” said Mangan. “In general the group tried to stay pretty level-headed.”

Community night with the Loveland Board of Education (Photo:Chuck Gibson)

Conversation focused around fiscal responsibility, maybe not enough on the outcomes and the challenges the school and community face educating children today in the eyes of Mangan. Crouse agrees the work is about what the schools have accomplished, advocating for continued improvement, adding programs, professional development, support for both students and teacher’s needs.

“I have been happy with a lot of the outcomes and improvements that have happened in the district over the last 3-5 years,” Mangan said. “It’s two things, the outcome of the district we are driving toward and the fiscal responsibility of the schools, those two things go together to me.”

“Yes, but how are we holding ourselves accountable to affordability,” asked Crouse. “There were zero people who said we hate public education, we’re unhappy with the schools. It’s not anti-school, not anti-Loveland, it wasn’t anti-anything. It was: Who is watchdog on budget?”


There are checks and balances

Community involvement will create a balance (Photo: Chuck Gibson)

There are checks and balances for accountability in operating the Loveland City School District. The Board of Education can’t spend any money – period. The Superintendent and Treasurer are employed by the BOE. They work directly for the board. The Superintendent cannot do whatever she, or he wants. Likewise the Treasurer cannot do whatever he, or she wants. The BOE sets the vision and direction. The vision may be for a Master Plan long term solution for facilities. Administration must follow rules to engage contractors to assess needs and develop plans to address those needs. 

School performance measured by State and Federal standards weighs in. While performance of the Loveland City School District has made progress in in the last few years, the board vision calls for continued improvement and achievement.

That requires program changes which cost money. The Superintendent and Treasurer must collaborate to bring proposals to the board for approval. This is a continuous process which occurs at every BOE business meeting. The board says yes and no all the time. The final check is the community, you, the voter. If the vision of the board is too expensive there are two options to hold them in check: 1) Vote No, 2) Run for a seat on the board.

“No organization has an unlimited budget,” Mangan said. “I think everybody on the ad-hoc committee has opened their eyes to the challenges of the school, opened their eyes to varying opinion. I always believe more heads against a problem are better than just a single person tackling a problem. All in all, I think it helped add value to the conversation.”


Progress was made

Community engagement helps progress (Photo:Chuck Gibson)
Progress was made toward helping the Board of Education understand the steps they must take to regain the trust of the community. Two meetings didn’t create a full consensus of agreement among members of the committee and school officials. Loud voices remain on both sides of the issue for or against an operating levy on the March ballot. However, she feels more conversation has been created by the committee.  

“The focus, is March feasible? If yes, at what level,” said Crouse. “Truly you have to let the people decide what is okay for them, and what is not okay by talking to one another.”

Early feedback from the first committee meeting heavily favored a November levy ballot. Email feedback after the meeting turned to a March ballot for the levy. They were a more fully engaged group with a lot of interaction the second meeting. More spoke, more were heard. Still there was no consensus.

Mangan categorized herself as a supporter for the March levy, but would not go so far as to blanket herself as a yes person. She believes there are four questions people need to ask themselves.

“Am I happy with the districts outcomes for our students and community? Do I believe the current plan at 6.95 mills is one that leaders in our district can execute and continuously improve outcomes? Is it affordable and is it sustainable?” said Mangan. “I think all four of those involve people making their own judgement decisions.”

The level of information each person needs to make a decision can differ. Mangan believes those are the four questions people need answered to feel confident. They need to know this is an operations levy, not land acquisition or facilities. The Grailville property is not a part of the March levy. One-on-one dialogue with other committee members continues for Mangan. She feels it is prudent to give voters the early opportunity with a March levy, and still have the November option if necessary.

“Clearly we have to go back to the drawing board for facilities,” said Crouse. “We need a private donor. How do we engage to raise funds? Help us develop that. We’d love to do that.”


Finding what will work

More committees are planned to engage the public with the BOE (Photo: Chuck Gibson)
Finding what will work is the challenge Loveland City School District faces every day. They made cuts to keep the levy ask at 6.95 mill. They seek to build partnerships for programs, technical, equipment, and operation of programs. Those partners do not participate in building square footage. Right now, that is the taxpayer. Crouse reflected on her experience with the advisory committee.

“I want to know what role I can play to create opportunity for the board to engage with the community,” she said. “I am reflecting on how to do this on purpose and not just dumb luck.”

There is a lot of information floating out in the community. Not all of it is accurate. Both Mangan and Crouse agree engaging committees with the Board of Education will only help with more creative solutions for the future of the Loveland City School District and the community of Loveland.

“The board is hearing loud and clear they need ad hoc committees,” Mangan said. “They need to be hearing more from the community in three areas. I think it is curriculum, communication and the financial aspects of the district.”