Wednesday, August 29, 2001

Monroe's next goal: New schools

Second-year district has plans for growth

By Sue Kiesewetter
Enquirer Contributor

        MONROE — Principal Rob Amodio won't have his fingers crossed today when he welcomes nearly 740 new and returning students to Lemon-Monroe Junior-Senior High School to begin Year II for Monroe Local Schools.

        Last year's first day was filled with jitters for educators, students and parents alike in the Tristate's newest school district, formed when Monroe split from a larger district, an unprecedented move in modern Ohio education history.

        “We were stepping into uncharted waters,” said Mr. Amodio, who was in his first year as a high school principal. “I could identify with the kids. I, too, thought, "What will the new school year hold?' The reality that hit was that things went well. There weren't any land mines. It was a normal school year.”

        Administrators, meanwhile, overcame some first-year obstacles and now are preparing for a crucial November vote that will determine the shape of this growing, 1,500-pupil district along Interstate 75 that includes students in Butler and Warren counties.

        The board of education recently obtained nearly 187 acres to build badly needed schools — but voters must approve a hefty $29.9 million bond issue.

        “Last year, we were all brand new in our roles,” said Superintendent Arnol Elam. “We're past that now. What comes next is to secure adequate facilities for our kids. Our next (challenge) is to come up with a concept the community and staff will endorse.”

        District residents can review and comment on four alternatives to accommodate growth, projected to reach 1,800 to 2,000 students over the next 10 years, next week. Models showing each of the plans will be on display at the district's booth at the CityFest celebration Sept. 7-9.

        Officials are confident about the bond issue, which would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $264 per year, because of the strong local sup port they've enjoyed, from backing for the split to countless hours of volunteer work.

        “We kept hearing our community was supportive and wanted this, that it would be a source of pride,” said Patti Shull, the elementary school principal. “A lot of times you hear that but see no action. This community demonstrated they mean it.”

        Last year, eyes across the state were on Monroe as Ohio's 612th school district opened under the direction of a first-year superintendent, first-year high school principal and first-year curriculum director. No other district in the state's history had been created by deconsolidating a district — the Middletown-Monroe Schools — and also taking land from a second district, the Lebanon City Schools.

        “Initially, the state department was taken aback that this was happening. They didn't want it to be a statewide movement. But once it happened, the state accepted it,” said Robert Quisenberry, an assistant to Mr. Elam. “Once we (became) a separate district, we received great cooperation.”

        The firsts are behind them now.

        Classes have been added at the high school. Graduation requirements have been toughened. A new K-12 course of study for math has been developed and adopted, and a similar plan is in the works for language arts. The elementary school now has an assistant principal. After-school activities have been expanded.

        And the schools are run in what's called “the Monroe way.”

        “There's a whole new feel around here,” said Sue Wilson, Monroe's curriculum director. “We're secure with what we want to do. Everyone's excited about teaching.”

        Junior Amanda Tannreuther, 16, said she's more confident about what to expect this year when classes begin.

        “I was kind of scared,” she said, recalling last year's first day. “I thought it would be like a jail because we weren't used to discipline — we could do whatever we wanted to. I wasn't thrilled about having junior high students in our school.

        “The school's cleaned up now. The attitude is better. ... More kids like to come to school.”

        At the elementary, Mrs. Shull is preparing for about 690 students, up about 70 from last school year,.

        To make room for an additional first-grade section, the art room will move to what had been a storage room behind the cafeteria.

        While things went smoothly educationally, Mr. Elam and Treasurer Sharron Moon had challenges.

        It took a late November ruling by Ohio's 12th District Court of Appeals to order budget commissions in Butler and Warren counties to certify and collect the taxes approved by Monroe voters as part of a combined school district. At stake was 80 percent of the fledgling district's budget.

        And there was some controversy over the condition of buses Monroe received as part of the transition agreement with Middletown Schools.

        “What we had to realize,” Mr. Elam said, “is there had never been a school district consolidated in this manner before. All entities were struggling. One reason we struggled is we had no history. We hope it's all behind us.”

        The end of June was the end of a period when employees could transfer between Monroe and Middletown schools under condi tions stipulated in a transition agreement. Middletown will transfer collected taxes to Monroe for the last time in December. An emergency levy renewal first approved in 1995 and renewed in 1998 passed easily in May in both Monroe and Middletown.

        Officials in both districts say any negative feelings about the split are in the past.

        In Middletown, as enrollment dropped from 9,600 students as a combined district to about 7,700 now, there was a campaign to renew “Middie Pride.”

        “Right now, each district is able to focus on one high school, one community,” said Middletown Schools' Treasurer Edmund Pokora, who worked on the transition team. “Last July (2000) we unveiled a new logo, a new spirit. We began a Renew the Pride effort. Both communities worked on their own unity.

        “There was so much uncertainty and so much unknowns. The transition went better than anticipated,” Mr. Pokora said.

        “What we've seen is a strengthening of pride in both districts — Middletown and Monroe,” said Monroe Board of Education member Suzi Rubin, who helped lead the separation charge.

Monroe district finances solid

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