CAMDEN — Preble Shawnee Local Schools Board of Education welcomed new Superintendent Todd Bowling to his first official meeting at the helm of the district during its Thursday, Aug. 12 meeting, which also saw both the rescission of recent partial reductions in force as well as announcements regarding COVID protocol.
“It is so nice to come to a small community where they show pride. They support each other. And it is something that I want to put back into our school district,” Bowling said to kick off his portion of the meeting. “And it’s been rough, the last two months, when you do RIFs, the finger pointing starts, but it’s just reminding folks of what a board of education’s job is — it is to stay fiscally responsible and is to make hard decisions sometimes people don’t want to hear about or want to make. But I think we are making some decisions, tonight, to get us back on track.”
Bowling said some resignations and retirements are allowing the board to make some “different decisions.”
“What we have to do as a district, is we have to come together as a team and part of our covocation on Monday will be to rally to support each other, to make sure we’re working together, and to make sure that we have each other’s backs, because we can’t expect the community to support us as a school district if we have internal battles amongst ourselves.”
He continued, “We have to work together with each other, and we have to make a difference for kids. It doesn’t matter what happened last year, or what happened the past few months — on [Aug. 18], our most important commodity we have walks into our front doors. And that is our number one responsibility. The gossip has to stop. The backstabbing has to stop. Our number one priority has to rise to the front. And what I’ve seen for nine days is that our community loves our kids, and our community loves each other, and we get to turn that into our Preble Shawnee pride. And that’s the direction we’re going to go and the way we’re going to step forward. So, I am extremely excited to get started.”
Bowling then moved into his report, beginning with Preble Shawnee having developed COVID protocols which are aligned with the Center for Disease Control, Ohio Department of Health, and Preble County Public Health.
“Vaccinations — first of all, we will not mandate them, but I can tell you the information we have on them. It is a personal choice, I get it. It’s like a flu vaccination, but over 40 percent of Preble County students aged 12 to 18 are vaccinated. That’s a great statistic. It is working against the other COVID-type symptoms that are coming out, the other variants. It is successful. They are saying by early January it will be available for ages five to 12. They strongly suggest that you get it. There is a YouTube video of doctors around the state the Ohio Department of Health put on strongly suggesting it to parents. But again, that is a parent’s choice, and we respect parents and their choice to do that. But if you’re wanting to protect your child, that is a good way to do it. Again, we will not be mandate it, but it is something that you need to consider for the safety of your child.
“The other thing is masks,” Bowling continued. “We will not mandate masks, and if you look at the article in The Cincinnati Enquirer today, the majority of school districts are not mandating masks. We have listened to our community, we’ve taken their input.
“There is things that encourage staff and students to wear masks,” he said, “We do ask that if our staff is not vaccinated that they wear masks, but it is their choice. We ask that our students, if they’re not vaccinated, to wear masks, but it is their choice. The only time you don’t have a choice — and this is a federal mandate — is on the bus. By law, riding a bus to and from school and athletic events, you do have to wear a mask. We have checked with every legal counselor in the state of Ohio, there is no getting out of it, it is a must, and we must be compliant.”
Bowling said the school will supply masks as students get on the bus. He noted, superintendents in both Preble and Darke County are challenging the masking mandate on buses. But, he noted, there are fines associated with it, and all schools are following it.
“The other thing I want to remind everyone, last year schools proved to be one of the safest places there is. We made it through all sports seasons, we even had a wrestling state championship. They can’t get any closer than wrestling. Preble Shawnee schools continue to take pride in cleaning their schools, making sure they’re sanitized. We now have water stations that you can drink from if you choose, but you don’t have to. Bring a water bottle — there’s water filling stations in every one of our schools. Social distancing will be strongly enforced.
“As of Aug. 6, they are still recommending quarantines if you test positive,” Bowling said of public health officials. “So if you do test positive, you must quarantine for 10 days, and self-monitor. After 10 days you can return. There will be a contact tracer through the Preble County Health Department. We will have to report, if you are a close contact or have family or relatives who test positive. But quarantines won’t be similar to last year, they will be based on what they find out.”
In other business
On Bowling’s recommendation, board members voted to rescind for one year the partial reduction in force for the food service employees be made contingent and effective upon the approval of a memorandum of understanding with OAPSE related to the health insurance benefits of the affected staff members. “That will put the hours back for the cafeteria workers and reinstate the insurance,” Bowling said.
Keith Stiverson, Ohio Association of Public School Employees representative for Preble Shawnee’s classified staff, addressed the board. “As you know, when the decision was made to reduce the health benefits of some of our members during a health pandemic, we were very concerned to say the least. We let our concerns be known,” he said. “I’m very pleased to say that Kathy Chamberlain and I met with Mr. Bowling and Ms. Green and was able to come to an agreement to rectify this for the upcoming school year.”
Board President Julie Singleton commented on recent social and other media coverage regarding pay increases approved last month for administrators in the district.
“I just want to publicly support our administrators and the decisions that we’ve made around our administrators. You know there was an article about increases, and I will stand behind those increases — I don’t necessarily love the way the article presented it, but I will 100 percent stand behind our administrators and those increases they were given. They work very hard and put in a lot of hours and I know all of our staff do. But to say that we would not give the administrators an increase again — and I say ‘again’ because they didn’t get one last year — would not be right,” Singleton said.
Board member Nick Duskey agreed. “I think that I completely agree with your statement,” he said. “Especially the fact that we’re reducing an administrator, we’re not replacing an administrator, so we’re asking a lot more out of those administrators. But then to tell them, you know, ‘we’re going to give other teaching and support service and classified staff raises but you guys are not going to get anything for yet another year, and we’re going to demand even more out of you,’ isn’t going to do much to build that team environment that Mr. Bowling talked about and that we all agree is incredibly important.
“We have some of the best employees in the county, maybe even in the state, in all our different departments, and we want to support all those employees across the different departments — so I agree with you,” Duskey added.
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4061 and follow on Twitter @emowenjr