Mayor’s Message Regarding School Consolidation

Hello, I am Ben Garlich, Mayor of the Village of Middlefield.

I would like to provide follow-up regarding the surveys that were mailed out to registered voting households this past week. First of all, thank you for taking time to answer this important survey.

In our State and specifically our County, many changes are evident in area education districts. One such change that has affected our local area is the blending of school districts that have occurred in the past few years. Ledgemont is now part of the Berkshire School District. Newbury Schools are soon to be part of the West Geauga School District. These changes greatly impact families, children and the economies of each district.

Change is never easy and can come with some worthwhile difficulties. At this point, I am sure you are aware that our Middlefield Village Council, our Economic Development Committee and I have pressed the Cardinal School Board to be proactive and address the changing landscape in our current educational system. As I have pointed out already, the idea of consolidation is not foreign to our County. Four districts have already done so.

These four districts have concluded that by merging they are leading their communities and their students in the best direction. Numbers are numbers, and the entire State, as the Cardinal School Board has pointed out, has a problem with decreasing enrollment in most school districts. Our district has experienced a loss of in enrollment over the past 10 years and there is no expectation that this trajectory will change.

It is my duty and obligation as your Mayor to make sure I assess potential social and economic impacts on our Village whether they be positive or negative. After the residents of the Berkshire School District overwhelmingly passed and approved new plans and a new direction for their district, I immediately realized, as have others that have voiced their concerns to me, the potential growth in that area will greatly threaten the economic viability of our Village and our Cardinal School District.

The Berkshire School District is invigorated, and has much to offer including partnerships with University Hospitals, Kent State University, Auburn Career Center, as well as a brand-new facility. I am concerned about the viability of our district. Open enrollment is and will continue to adversely affect the Cardinal School District.

The Cardinal School District is one of the Village’s largest employers. The Village collects nearly $60,000 in withholding every year from school employees. Any implication that there will be a short-term financial gain “in this for us” comes from those who are ill-informed. Blending the school districts will likely have a short-term negative economic impact on Village income.  So, I do not make these recommendations without counting the short and long-term costs and gains.

The Economic Development Committee felt that in view of other district consolidations (that have already happened), hard data collected from all affected area residents and business owners is needed to evaluate and inform the consolidation decision-making process within our district. This again, as I have stated, will negatively affect our Village Finances, as it would with any other large employer who is potentially leaving or cutting employment. We would take these same steps to assess the possibility of a drastic employment drop.

We have hired an outside, third party to conduct a scientific poll consisting of telephone surveys as well as mailed surveys. This data is being handled by this third party and the data will be tabulated by them. This is not a simplistic nonscientific internet poll.

So, why would the Mayor, Council and the Economic Development Committee be in favor of consolidation if there would be a negative impact on the Village financially? We believe this will lead to new positive growth for our future. We feel housing values will increase, employment opportunities will grow, and families will move to our community to be part of this newly-energized district.

Solon, the number one school district in Ohio is a fantastic community. However, it doesn’t have snowcapped peaks, majestic canyons or ocean-front property. Why do people desire to live there? Because their education system is ranked number one.

The number one reason families with children move to an area is: their schools. This is not intended to be an attack on the efforts of our Cardinal School District and their staff. As I have said earlier, I agree with them that the declining enrollment is a State-wide problem. However, the rank at which the State of Ohio has listed our district is not good. Our district is far behind other districts in the County.

After year five Cardinal School District will, once again, go back to the voters for more financial help. As they have said themselves, enrollment will continue to decline and with an enticing, open-enrollment threat seven miles up the road, I fear, the financial state of the Cardinal School District will deteriorate more quickly.

My job as Mayor is to address the difficult topics “head on” and to lead with resolution. This is not a topic that I wanted to push, but it is my duty and sometimes doing what you are elected to do is hard, very hard.

We live in a democratic republic. The future of our Village and School District should not be left up to politicians, myself included. The voice of ‘you’ the people and what ‘you’ feel on this matter needs to be heard. This new reality is here. These consolidations, mergers and transfers are happening in our own backyard.

We want to make sure that we are looking out for the residents of the Village of Middlefield, their children, their housing values, employment opportunities and their future. However, I understand that this discussion has an impact on our surrounding neighbors as well, including Huntsburg, Parkman and Middlefield Townships. We want you to be a part of this discussion because we all have an interlaced interest in this community. Your children come into the Village each day, you shop here, and you may even work here. You were included in this survey, not because I think the Village is more important; you were included because your voice is just as important to this specific issue.

I close with this, in the political landscape in which we live, it is very easy, and even necessary, to be leery of other’s motives. I assure you, I live here; I shop here; I went to school here; I raised my family here; I love this community and specifically the Village of Middlefield. I genuinely want what is best for the future of our children, our families and our community. I thank you for your time.