BY Aaron Smith
On May 7, my local school district, Nordonia Hills, will make its second attempt to pass Issue 3, its first levy since 2011. It’s been a contentious issue in the community and failed by a razor thin margin in November. I support the levy, just as I did last fall, and I hope my comments below might persuade a few of my fence-sitting neighbors to do the same.
Three years ago, my wife and I decided – very reluctantly – to move from our home of 13 years in Akron. We didn’t really want to move. We’d established firm roots – welcoming two daughters into the world, building close, lasting friendships with our neighbors, and turning our little white colonial on Ayers Avenue into the sort of home we’d always dreamed of. In short, we loved it.
What we didn’t love was the fact that our pothole-laden street rarely got plowed after heavy snow. Or that the police and fire departments were essentially non-entities the few times we needed their services (including a robbery and a power line-induced fire in our backyard, among a few other issues). And, most importantly of all, we couldn’t reconcile our comfort level with the state of the local schools (our oldest daughter was wrapping up her kindergarten year – at a private daycare – at the time).
So, we made the difficult decision to pull up those deep roots and move. We did our homework before beginning our new home search, focusing on several factors: public services; long-term property values and taxes; and, most critically, quality of schools. We visited properties in the Hudson, Stow-Munroe Falls and Nordonia districts before deciding to make an offer on a house in the heart of Nordonia in Sagamore Hills.
And we haven’t regretted it once. Nordonia is everything we hoped for and more. And I don’t say that lightly. Our daughter came into the system with some academic challenges – her language arts scores were bottom-of-the-chart low and her math skills were, at best, a year behind. In many school systems, she would have already been destined for failure before she ever sharpened her first pencil.
But not at Nordonia! Her first grade teacher at Northfield Elementary recognized her challenges immediately and worked with my wife and I to develop a focused academic plan, including extra help from the school’s reading intervention specialist. We received regular progress reports and guidance on things we could do at home to keep her on track. Any time we had questions, we got quick and thorough responses. It was clear her teacher considered her occupation more than just a job. She genuinely cared about our daughter and wanted to do everything she could to set her up for success – even if it meant putting in extra work beyond her regular responsibilities as an instructor of nearly 25 kids.
As first grade turned to second, and second to third, that trend continued. Our daughter continues to have challenges to be sure, but thanks to her remarkable teachers, her dedicated principal, her always-available guidance counselors, and notably, the continued “extracurricular” help (including ongoing reading intervention and an outside math tutor – who was recommended by the school), by the end of third grade, she’ll be somewhere in the “meaty” part of the curve even in her most difficult subjects.
That’s why Issue 3 is so important – and personal – to me. Failure means my daughter (and many other kids in the district) is unlikely to continue receiving such personalized attention. Larger class sizes, cuts to special academic programming and bigger burdens on a smaller administrative staff put her at risk of becoming just another “number.” Even the most devoted educators can only do so much as classes grow and resources shrink. Even kids with best-case academic situations will surely suffer.
As I’ve heard and read the arguments against the levy, most seem to follow some common refrains: Our property taxes are already high enough; Nordonia schools simply need to manage the budget better; we’re already better than similarly-sized districts in terms of student-teacher ratios, extracurricular offerings and the like. I.e., we need to consider scaling back.
I concur on some points. Our property taxes are high. Our programs are ahead of the curve. The schools will likely be able to hold the line with state averages – for a while anyway – at current funding levels.
But I didn’t move Sagamore Hills for average. I came from a community with property taxes about 60 percent lower than Nordonia’s and can say from that experience that you get what you pay for. There’s plenty of evidence of that – for better or worse – all over Summit and Cuyahoga Counties. And, today in Nordonia, we’re definitely getting what we pay for – for better.
But, the current performance of our schools will not sustain on a budget that was designed for a 2011 economy. They’ll survive, sure. If nothing else, the law dictates certain minimums. But is that what we want – minimum? Are we comfortable watching our district backslide to a point that our future tax base of young families opts for the suddenly greener pastures of Hudson or Solon or Stow? Declining schools are the start of a self-perpetuating cycle that concludes with a less desirable community. As more affluent homeowners flee – or avoid – the area, property values will drop. Reduced tax revenues will bleed into other public services, which will, in turn, lower property values further, leading to even less tax revenue. And so on.
On the other hand, passage of the levy means continuation of the programs that are so important to my family and so many others like ours. It means the district will be able to retain top teachers and staff members who might otherwise be forced to continue their careers elsewhere (nearly 40 layoffs are already planned if the levy fails). It means improved safety and security across all six campuses. It means waterproof roofs and fully-operational HVAC systems. It means young families will actively seek to settle in Macedonia, Northfield and Sagamore Hills.
It also means all of us will be able to continue taking pride in developing the region’s brightest young minds by providing the absolute best educational experience we can.
And, honestly, doesn’t that alone make it worth the investment?
Learn more about Issue 3, and how the added funding will be used, at https://nordoniastrong.org.
Full disclosure: At the conclusion of the 2018-2019 school year, my family is moving out of the Nordonia Hills district. This is due to changes in my both my and my wife’s professional circumstances and has nothing to do with any lack of affection for Nordonia – strong enough affection that we only made the decision to relocate when every alternative effort to stay had been exhausted. Nevertheless, we will continue to love and support our Nordonia brethren long after we are nothing more than a distant memory. Go Knights.