Sunday, October 08, 2000

L. Miami schools boss has big plans

Shell stirs up many with income-tax idea

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MORROW — Little Miami Schools' new superintendent, Ralph Shell, hasn't been on the job a month but already has big plans for the district — some of which are causing a stir.

        His plan for a 0.75 percent district-wide income tax to fund school operations has wound up some residents who have been pummeling his office with calls.

        But Mr. Shell made the income tax his priority, and he has more ideas, too.

Ralph Shell
Ralph Shell
        “There's always room for improvement,” he said.

        The superintendent is not coming into the position blind. He served as interim superintendent when former superintendent Michael C. Virelli retired July 31, and he has been superintendent of the Preble County Educational Service Center and Goshen Local Schools in Clermont County.

        While in Goshen, he worked for about four years to pass a district-wide income tax. Since the 1 percent income tax passed there just after Mr. Shell left the district a decade ago, Goshen schools have not asked the voters for an increase in money to operate schools, said Goshen Treasurer Todd Shinkle.

        George Rise, assistant principal of Blanchester High School in Clinton County who worked with Mr. Shell in Goshen, said the income tax concept there was largely Mr. Shell's idea.

        “He was always very energetic and innovative,” Mr. Rise said. “That certainly put the schools in a stable financial situation.”

        Mr. Shell said he supports an income tax because it's inflationary, unlike property tax levies. Incomes generally rise with time, generating more money for the district, while property tax levies generate the same amount every year — until a new levy is passed, he said.

        Mr. Shell is blazing a campaign trail, including about 30 speaking engagements by himself, the school board and a citizens committee.

        “And that's just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “We're having coffee at people's houses, and we're going to flood the district with signs.”

        Mr. Shell has plans for the school board, too — including having the members develop five goals for the district.

        “It's very important for the board of education to have goals because they are the policy-makers of the district. It'll be my job to implement those goals,” he said.

        Board member Mary Beth Hamburg said she likes the idea because the board, having just overseen the opening of a new high school and the hiring of Mr. Shell, has been tied up with immediate goals.

        “I think it's a wonderful idea he wants to work on long-range goals for the district,” she said.

        The goals, Mr. Shell said, can be anything from increasing student academic achievement to helping students get more scholarships.

        Mr. Shell also wants to help teachers streamline their workday so they aren't spending too much time on tasks not directed at learning.

        He hopes to make more waves by examining the district report card for areas that need improvement, and he wants to align elementary curriculum to meet the standards of the fourth- and sixth-grade Ohio Proficiency Tests.

        Little Miami ranks as a “continuous improvement” district by state standards, having met 19 out of 27 performance standards last year. Mr. Shell said he wants to improve upon that.


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