BLANCHESTER — The Blanchester Board of Education unanimously renewed Superintendent Dean Lynch’s contract Thursday night despite vocal protests by several in the room.
“We felt that we had had adequate conversation and adequate hearing from the community, so we decided to” renew Lynch’s contract, said board president Chuck Shonkwiler. “They (those who protested) are speaking for themselves. And the group that was here last night … is not a very large group” or representative of a large portion of the community he said Tuesday.
During the vote, a recently graduated student, Reilly Hopkins, held up a “No Lynch” sign. Hopkins crumpled that sign when Shonkwiler sounded the final vote.
Others raised their voices and pointed fingers at the board.
“This is ridiculous,” said Michelle Rhodes. “You’re supposed to be here for our children,” she said as she walked out the door. “Unbelievable.”
“Thanks for failing us,” said Josh Helton.
“You missed the point,” said someone else.
“Just remember people, next time they come up to vote, who to vote for,” said a man who was standing up.
Shonkwiler said he believes those who protested are upset, but not the community at large He said the “display was sad” and said it would never have been allowed at the House of Representatives or the Ohio Senate.
Todd Bandow, a school board candidate, asked the board to table the vote and seek community and student input.
“Before you make a vote tonight, I ask that you table it and wait a month and go forth in the community and see what the community has to say,” Bandow said. “Bring community members in to discuss what they see are their concerns. Please answer their concerns because the meetings I’ve attended in the last four months, I haven’t seen any answers.”
“I do feel that if you vote yes on this certain contract tonight, you will see a mass exodus,” Bandow said. “Make the right, informed decision. Have hope. Have hope for our kids.”
Board member Keith Gibson said, at the meeting, that the board had discussed it for three months, presumably in executive session, where boards are allowed to discuss hiring, firing or other personnel-related items.
Lynch first became superintendent in January 2013. His contract was for two-and-a-half years. It was renewed for two more years, Lynch said.
Bandow said the board should look at Lynch’s past jobs and told the Wilmington News Journal that Lynch’s contract as principal of East Clinton Middle School wasn’t renewed by that board in a 3-2 vote.
Shonkwiler said that vote came against the recommendation of East Clinton’s superintendent, and he suspected board politics were at play rather than considerations of performance.
“It’s regrettable to me that people choose to respond the way they did last night,” Shonkwiler added. “Storming out … never accomplishes (anything). It sure doesn’t continue a dialogue. We do everything we can to provide a high-quality education to students in the Blanchester Local School District.”
Several of those who stormed out of the meeting aired their grievances outside. Chief among the issues was a recent bullying incident that occurred before school started.
Roush said he believed it wasn’t handled well enough, and Bandow said the superintendent should have called the mother of the allegedly bullied girl immediately.
“Where was he on that day?” Bandow asked. “What was more important on his desk?”
“There is nothing more precious or more important than student safety, nothing,” Bandow continued.
Bandow said that at an informational meeting a week ago, Lynch said it took “three to six months” to investigate bullying complaints. However, a Wilmington News Journal audio recording of Lynch’s speech then indicates Lynch said, “It takes time, maybe weeks, and even months, to investigate investigate a bullying case. … It could take quite a long time.”
Another chief complaint was the board’s handling of questions and executive session.
Michelle Rhodes said, “There were no parents, no teachers and no students” invited to participate in the board’s executive sessions.
Shonkwiler said he knows people are upset because they can’t ask certain questions in public but said it is “inappropriate” to discuss personnel items in a public setting.
“We try to do the best we can for our district, our students,” Shonkwiler said. “To question (the board members’) intent, that offends me.”
“We want decisions to be made for what’s best for kids and transparency,” Bandow said. “And you have to work together as a team. That’s what school is all about.”
Bandow complained that the board’s agenda was sent too late and referred to Joy Penquite, who read a statement from the Blanchester Education Association requesting the vote be tabled. The BEA, that statement said, wanted to address some of its concerns before his contract was renewed.
“There’s a lack of respect of the children, my three kids go here, and there’s a lack of respect to what the community wants,” said Ricky Roush, a member of Blanchester Village Council. “We’re getting close to a dictatorship.”
Also at the meeting:
• Blanchester Police Chief Scott Reinbolt thanked the board for paying half the cost of an officer’s ALICE training. ALICE – alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate – is training often sought by police to prepare responses for armed intruders.
• Mental healthcare professionals and suicide prevention coalition members Patti Ahting, Barbara Adams and Jane VanConey presented the Power of Prevention Award to Wilmington Middle School Principal Joel King and social worker Rebecca Wilson. Ahting also gave a plaque titled “dog rules for humans” to Odin, Wilson’s therapy dog.
• Lynch presented a certificate to Marie Brooker and American Showa on behalf of BLS’ Business Advisory Council. Lynch thanked Booker for her assistance and support of the schools.
• Approved policy updates, including updated information and language, much of which came from the Ohio School Board Association, Shonkwiler said. Lynch said one of the updates included a teacher effectiveness rating placing dual emphasis on teacher performance and student growth measures agreed to by the BEA.
• Another of those policies, Lynch said, would require the district to have a career advising policy by September 30. Lynch, reading from an Ohio Department of Education definition, said, “Now more than ever, students need to see a connection between what they are learning in the classrooms and their future careers.”
• Asked fiscal officer Darlene Kassner to further research an offer to refinance the school’s 2001 bond, which paid to renovate many of the district’s building.
• Lynch estimated the new phone system would be operational by early October. He said Kurt Bowlin found a phone system that was $10,000 cheaper than was budgeted and will cut the monthly phone bill almost in half from $1,600.
• Vanessa Swinderman reported on the district’s wellness policy. She said the district is in compliance with the policy in all areas. The policy and nutrition standards are available on the district’s website at www.blan.org.
• Lynch said the Blanchester Homecoming Parade and football game will be Oct. 2. The game starts at 7:30 p.m.
Reach Nathan Kraatz at 937-382-2574, ext. 2510, or on Twitter @NathanKraatz.