By Tony Brown | For Ohio Watchdog
LEWIS CENTER — It’s no fun being a loner.
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.”