Elections 2011‎ > ‎

LWV Responses

Elect John Memmott to the
Oberlin City Schools Board of Education
Experience & Commitment to Community

The League of Women Voters of the Oberlin Area requested responses from candidates in preparation for the Candidates Night to be held October 10, 2011, at First Church. Below are my responses to their questions. Each question had a 75 word limit. I have included an additional fuller response.

What is your assessment of the financial situation of the Oberlin Schools that has led to the request for the tax raise on the November ballot?  Do you feel the proposed raise is justified?  If yes, why, and if not, why not?

All school districts are facing financial difficulties. In Ohio the state has increased the problem by reducing current and future support while adding more unfunded mandates. Oberlin reduced expenses drastically over the past two years but still cannot insure a balanced budget down the road. All districts need to increase local support to make up for the state’s actions. I worry for the devastating educational impact on our students and therefore support the November levies.

What choices do we have? The Board is annually required to adopt a 5-year financial plan showing a balanced budget forecast - revenue coming in must exceed all expenses - and a prudent board maintains a carry-over each year adequate to cover emergency situations. In 2008 the economy took an unexpected downturn resulting in less than anticipated income tax and property tax revenue. At the same time the state started reducing the level of its support while instituting additional unfunded mandates and programs. Budget planning required drastic revision - several times. As an interested audience member and as a member of the district’s Finance Committee I have watched the Board closely as they have reacted. The district reduced expenses through negotiated agreements with the teachers and support staff, reductions in staffing (reducing teachers and support staff numbers by not replacing retirees and eliminating administrator positions), and reductions or elimination of services (reduced busing had a great impact for students and families). The administration and staff made the extra effort to apply and win grant initiatives such as Race to the Top and 21st Century which brought additional money to the district directly benefiting student achievement. Without increased local support the district will need to further reduce programs and services. Reductions have been painful both for the staff who have sacrificed earnings to maintain stability and for the students and families that have had to find alternative ways to get to school and to purchase classroom supplies. Further reductions would cripple programs and curriculum. While it isn’t ideal for the district to approach voters often for additional funds, the state and economy have put us in a position where we have no choice but to increase the share of local support. Are the levies on the November ballot desirable – no. Are the levies necessary – yes!


What are your thoughts concerning the possible facilities construction or renovation plans being evaluated by the school board?

I have worked in the school buildings long enough to realize they are not ideal as an educational environment and are tremendously inefficient and expensive to operate. We need to explore alternatives that improve the learning experience of our students. Savings in building maintenance costs can be redirected to educational programs. I support exploring solutions provided the community is actively involved and this process happens with no additional costs to the school district or taxpayers.

Our school buildings are old and inefficient. I know because I worked at Prospect for 35 years and during my part-time stint as District Technology Coordinator I visited the nooks and corners of every building. During my career all buildings underwent some degree of renovation. Our teachers make good use of their spaces but the educational design of the buildings is not ideal. Some classrooms - particularly at Langston - are too small, and all the buildings are inefficient to operate. New construction, whether a central campus or separate buildings, will lead to more appropriate and flexible classroom designs and to substantial operational savings. It could also lead to more opportunities for the community to use those buildings during and after school hours. I volunteered to be a member of the recent Architect Selection Committee. While at first skeptical of the urgency for new facilities, after hearing from the various teams and seeing examples of current progressively designed schools I became more excited and positive about the possibilities for our community. Can Oberlin afford new facilities? That will remain to be seen as the architect group meets with the community to consider the needs and possibilities and to explore funding revenues. Until an actual positive vote on a bond issue there is NO expense to the district - so why not explore and discuss such plans? As a retiree and homeowner I don’t favor increasing anyone’s tax burden, but I strongly believe new schools will better our children’s learning environment, attract families to Oberlin, increase the values of our homes, and improve the quality of life in our village.


Do you support the International Baccalaureate program?  If so, why, and if not, why not?  Give specific examples of the benefits and challenges of participating in this program.

I support any program which causes a district to research, plan, and coordinate a K-12 educational program. This reduces duplication while improving standards, objectives, and materials for student achievement. There are different programs Oberlin could have considered however, International Baccalaureate (IB) has an excellent reputation and has proven to fit our community’s diversity. I look forward to ongoing opportunities for the public to discuss and evaluateIB’s impact on student success and our community. 

I have always supported any curricular initiative that causes an entire district (teachers and administrators) to research, plan, and coordinate a K-12 educational program. Such an approach greatly reduces duplication while improving standards, objectives, and programs so students can achieve. There were many equivalent approaches Oberlin could have considered. International Baccalaureate (IB) has an excellent reputation and fits our community’s diversity. Yes, there are costs associated with training and maintaining staff, materials and program for IB, but there would be similar costs with any such K-12 program. Thankfully the vast majority of IB expenses have been covered through grant funding. In my career as a teacher in this district I have seen many programs come and go – usually they vanished because of lack of across-building support. IB has been positively initiated in Oberlin due to the exceptional efforts of the entire K-12 staff. Whether IB is successful and a good match for our community will only be fully known when students have been significantly exposed and when data is sufficient so the objectives can be properly evaluated and measured. In my last few years as a teacher I participated in the IB training and classroom implementation. I found the interaction with my fellow teachers to learn, build and incorporate the IB program to be exciting and invigorating. I was no longer working in isolation – we were part of a team uniting grades and buildings with common objectives. I look forward to publicly discussing and evaluating the effect of the IB program on student success and its impact on our community.