For the first time in years officials from Lakota Schools, West Chester and Liberty townships met in an informal round table discussion Friday to talk over shared issues of interest. No votes or other actions were taken at the meeting, which was held at Liberty Township’s meeting room, but all agreed it was productive and worth repeating.

Historic meeting: Lakota officials meet with township leaders

The topic of discussion? Everything.

The open forum was designed that way, said Lakota Board of Education President Lynda O’Connor, who originated the idea and chaired the meeting.

Ohio’s eighth largest school district encompasses two of the state’s largest and most densely populated townships. The combined number of residents total more than 110,000 and the intersection of school and township strategic interests and service markets makes such a meeting a common sense move, said O’Connor,.

“We have common interests and this is a good way to make sure local government and schools are working together,” she said.

Topics discussed were wide-ranging and included: open enrollment questions; busing transportation; state funding changes in the coming 2017 biennium budget; private and charter school competition for Lakota and even opinions on the merits of President Elect Donald Trump’s recently appointed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

Trustees from each township gave generalized updates on how their respective communities were doing in the areas of business and residential growth.

Most of the discussions saw trustees asking questions of Lakota’s four board members present – member Ben Dibble was unable to attend – on the workings of the Butler County district, its particular challenges and its changing demographics among its 16,500 students.

Acting Lakota Superintendent Robb Voglemann fielded some of those queries and explained how the general impression in Southwest Ohio is the school system’s communities are uniformly affluent is false.

“Ten years ago 8 percent of families were listed as in economic hardship (meaning their children are eligible for free and reduced lunches according to federal education standards) but now we’re at 20 percent,” said Voglemann.

He then asked township officials “how can we work together to meet their needs?”

Lakota Treasurer Jenni Logan told meeting attendees for the first time in years the district’s finances “are running in the black” and that the district doesn’t project a budget shortfall until 2020.

Once roller coaster student enrollment numbers have leveled out and, said Logan, “our projected growth in enrollment has stabilized and our finances have as well.”

West Chester Township Trustee George Lang suggested a closer examination of intersections of school and township government businesses for possible “consolidation of services to save money.”

“We are really one major community and that is because we are all tied together by one school district,” said Lang.

O’Connor said afterwards she was pleased with the discussion and that she may propose holding the meetings quarterly.

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