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OH: Board tells parent, ‘We do not answer questions from the public’

By   /   August 13, 2012  /   22 Comments

By Tony Brown | For Ohio Watchdog

LEWIS CENTER — It’s no fun being a loner.

Taxpayer advocate Adam White often finds himself on the losing side of 4-1 votes on the Olentangy school board.

Adam White is one because he refuses to be another go-along, get-along spendthrift on the board of the Olentangy Local School District.

Last week, Ohio Watchdog reported on the waste of taxpayer money by the Olentangy schools and the weird lies told by a lawyer to cover it up.

But White seems to be the one public servant on the five-member board who actually tries to serve the public by opposing things like six-figure pay for teaching a single class. His cost-saving measures regularly get voted down 4-1, but he’s out there and he keeps on swinging.

White, 34, is Ohio born and bred, with a bachelor’s in psychology from Ohio Wesleyan and an MBA from Capital University.

He knows fiscal responsibility. He’s in charge of roughly $120 million as an accounts-receivable manager for a nursing-home firm.

“I deal with the government a lot on my job,” White said. “Which means it’s high stress.”

While he works in Columbus, his heart is in suburban Lewis Center, where he has lived with his wife and two kids since 2004, and where he’s on the Delaware County Republican Central Committee.

Lewis Center is also the home of the Olentangy schools, one of the fastest-growing school systems in the state, with an annual operating budget of $150 million and growing.

One of the things that got White involved in local government was a list of required reading titles the schools had ordered. The list included Robert Shetterly’s “Americans Who Tell the Truth,” which White said is “anti-American” in its portrayal of the country’s founding fathers and “gives tips on expressing sympathy for illegal immigrants.”

It’s a book of quotations and portraits of the likes of Bill Moyers, Dennis Kucinich, Noam Chomsky, and Howard Zinn.

White also began to question the tax levies that he said doubled his property taxes since 2004.

“I now pay $6,000 a year on a house that’s valued under $300,000,” White said. “It’s not a mansion. It’s 2,000 square feet, and I was just angry that my taxes were going toward a curriculum that was anti-American.”

But it wasn’t just the curriculum. White said he wouldn’t mind paying taxes if “public-school education in this country weren’t the laughingstock of the world. We spend more money on education than any country in the world and yet we’re consistently ranked near the bottom of accomplishment in basic subjects like math.”

White took to writing letters to the editor of local newspapers and speaking out at school board meetings. But he found he was being ignored.

“When I approached then-board president Julie Feasel about the books, she just said, ‘We do not answer questions from the public’,” White said. Feasel, who is still on the board, declined to return calls seeking comment.

So White decided to fight the system by joining the system, and ran for school board in November 2011. He won his four-year term by a bare 99 votes.

“I didn’t expect to win, and judging by the reception I’ve received from the staff and the rest of the board, they didn’t expect me to win either,” he said.

When he took office in January, he tried to call a principal at one school about a request for money. Instead of hearing back from the principal, he heard from Superintendent Wade Lucas.

“He left a voice mail that I’ve kept till this day that said: ‘You can’t call people. You’ve got to go through me,’” White said. “By the end of the message, he was clearly exasperated with me, and was yelling, ‘You’ve got to go through me!’“

Lucas and current board president Dave King also declined to return calls for comment. But plenty of White’s supporters did. One of them is Jim Fedako, a school board member from 2000 until 2006.

“Someone on the board needs to be the person who questions the administration,” Fedako said. “It takes a lot of work to ask detailed questions, and a lot of courage to ask them, and I’m not so sure the other board members are willing to do that.”

White shows his courage at nearly every meeting, when he is more often than not voted down 4-1, pitting himself against the rest of the spendthrift board.

The public record shows that:

  • White cast the only the only vote against a perk that gives teachers who rack up sick leave worth more than a year’s worth of free salary. “The teachers can carry over and accumulate sick leave up to 300 days, and get a cash payout when they retire or leave the system,” White said. “That’s ridiculous. I don’t know about you, but as an average Joe, I get to carry over 40 hours from one year to the next, and I can’t keep accumulating, and I certainly don’t get a cash payout.”
  • White voted in a minority of one against spending $700,000 left over from a bond issue toward a future undetermined project. “We had some extra money, money that should have been returned to the taxpayers in the form of paying down the debt incurred from the bond referendum,” White said. “Here we had a debt of up to $20 million, and we’re spending that extra money. I was horrified.”
  • White was the only board member to vote against a new contract for Lucas, who makes about $250,000, a large chunk of it in perks like a fully paid tax sheltered annuity. “He gets between $900 and $1,000 a month for using his own cell phone and his own car,” White said. “He lives next door to the school district office and drives a Porsche. He should try living in the real world like the rest of us.” (White called after this story was first published to say that Lucas drives a BMW, not a Porsche.)
  • White found himself alone in opposing student fees for basics that he believes should be paid for by the taxes that are supposedly for education. “This is unbelievable, but according to the student handbook, students have to pay fees for basic math and science classes,” White said. “What are we paying taxes for? Instead of paying for classes, those taxes are paying for automatic light switches to save energy. If people responsible for our kids’ educations can’t turn off a light switch by themselves, I don’t know what.”
  • Finally, White was the sole vote against a new three-year teacher contract. “The average teacher pay at one of our schools is higher than an average Ph.D. makes at Bowling Green University,” White said. “Teacher salaries have gone up 50 percent or more in the last 10 years while private-sector pay has risen 15 percent. There’s a union leader, the president of the Olentangy Teachers Association, who gets paid $103,000 to teach one gym class. It’s madness.”

White’s relations with the rest of the board and with the superintendent reached a low point after the revelation that two athletic departments had misspent a combined total of $11,000.

After White filed a criminal complaint against the athletic directors with the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office, he said, Lucas threatened him in a closed-door session of the board. “He said that somebody was going to be coming to get me,” White said. “And after the meeting, a van followed me home.”

For the next few meetings, White showed up with a bodyguard and a sheriff’s deputy, a practice he has since dropped. But he hasn’t dropped his commitment to his cause.

“The taxpayer waste around here boggles the mind,” White said. “And if I’m the only one willing to say so, I guess I better keep on doing it.”

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Jon Cassidy is the Texas bureau chief for Watchdog.org. He also writes a weekly column on politics for The American Spectator. He was formerly a reporter and editor for The Orange County Register in California and a reporter at The Hill in Washington, D.C. His work has been published by Fox News, Reason, The Federalist, Human Events, and other publications. He is a 2014 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow and a graduate of the University of Southern California. He and his wife Michelle live just outside Houston with their two children.

  • mevans56

    Thank you sir, keep up the good work, if only one will stand, then stand, continue to publish these abuses, and the people will stand with you

  • Ohio Mom

    Who do they answer questions of if not the ones who pay the taxes?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-J-Churlin/100001395846087 Michael J. Churlin

    Karl Marx would be proud of this school system.

  • Doc

    And this waste repeats itself in every city, town, and state around the country. At best government still wastes 50% of all tax money. The real problem, and I see this from a planning commission standpoint, most “public servants” still serve their own needs and are disconnected from the source of the tax dollars they spend. Most have never run a business, made a payroll, or been responsible for a bad financial outcome. Amazing….but folks….you can be sure this same stuff is happening in your location. My rural county spent tax payer dollars on a new volunteer fire station and installed an industrial kitchen that rivals a restaurant!!! Crazy. God Bless Mr. White.

  • Jim Beck

    Thanks for your hard work. Please keep it up.

  • Confused

    I want to know why Olentangy School makes you PAY for your diploma? Yes to get a diploma you have to pay for it!! It is something you earn not pay for!

  • Bruno

    We need more like you Adam, you are a very courageous young man.

  • Concerned taxpayer

    I have seen this board in action and have been absolutely astounded at their arrogance and lack of fiscal responsibility. At times I feel asthough the teachers run the school system. It appears the superintendent and board make every attempt to move OLS down to medocritity. They want to lower grade standards for athletes from 2.0 to 1.5. (D plus) why would a board want to lower standards? The board appears to work for the superintendent instead of the other way around. I have seen Mr white in action at meetings and need to say that without him this district would be a disaster. They spend $$ like drunken sailors. The teacher salary and benefits in this district are out of control. Retirement of debt seems the last thing On this boards mind. If not for Adam White, the board would have spent $ $1.7 million on artificial turf for the football fields. How absurd for a distriçt who is preparing for another levy in 2013? This board listens to the Superintendent ONLY. They do not represent the taxpayers in the district. They represent the superintendent!!!!

  • Bob Finnessy

    I think Adam is doing a great job for the taxpayers in the community!!

  • Joy

    Great profile of courage.

  • Concerned Olentangy Resident

    But the Board is stil passing votes as he is the only One standing against them

  • Lynne

    excellent article…you have the admiration and gratitude of so many in this district.

  • imoutofherebeeches

    Great job Mr. White, standing up for what is right. Don’t let those A-holes get you down. Stay strong.

  • AndyKatona

    Congrats to Adam White. All elected officials could learn something from him. A fair amount of school officials are embarrassingly lazy. It is past time to break the public school monopoly by allowing the money to follow whatever school a parent chooses, not just being funnelled automatically to public schools. What a diff competition would make.

  • JCE Parent

    Thank you for your courage Adam. I will vote for you and only you on every ballot I see your name on.
    God forbid a levy should get shot down! You would think the world is coming to an end. Instead of freezing salaries or lessening benefits, they try to hit parents where it hurts….busing, arts programs, sports. When was the last time a levy was voted down? I certainly can’t remember and don’t think it has ever happened. What ever happened to negotiation or making them go back and crunch their numbers again?

  • jeanne

    wow, this is just unbelievable what I just read. Although our children are long gone out of school I will pay more attention to some of the school issues and also some of the people I just read about. We do live in the Olentangy school district and our taxes for our home value is way out of line. Keep doing what you are doing Adam.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.egats.9 ThePatriot Constitutionclub

    Mr. White, you have a titanium spine. Keep up the great work! My families prayers are with you!

  • lalaland

    no surprise really that another school is all about appearances and not the student.Keep up the great work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/frances.renner.7 Frances Renner

    We sometimes wonder if what we are told by others is the truth.
    Some people lie outright or tell only some of the facts. Some withhold
    information and give a false impression. Sometimes, people remain silent when
    they know the truth. Is there anyone we can believe anymore? We have to admit,
    at one time or another, we all have been guilty of telling lies. Some times
    because we are unaware of the facts.

    Is this play truly a travesty? “Only Drunks and
    Children Tell the Truth.”

    When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live
    your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice. Humankind has
    not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to
    the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect;
    we are a part of the earth and it is part of us.

  • Nana

    It is a sad commentary on our nations school system that this is now Standard Operating Procedure in our school districts. We have too many Administrators. School Boards and Teachers have forgotten that they work for the children’s parents and guardians and the residents of a community not for some bureaucratic cooperative.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lynn.p.jackson.1 Lynn P Jackson

    The citizens need to have this mans back and be at meetings to support his fight of this waste!

  • Holly

    Keep up the terrific work!

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