Gary Knepp leaves the Milford BOE

December 16, 2011 was Gary Knepp’s last meeting as a member of the Milford school board.  He chose not to run for re-election but instead will be focusing on several books he is writing.

Gary was presented a plaque for service from the Ohio School Boards Association by Dr. Farrell and President George Lucas.  Gary has contributed a tremendous amount to all areas of district operations, and he will be missed greatly.

The following is the farewell speech Gary gave at the meeting:

Five years ago, we were in a very different place.  The district was in a state of crisis.  Angry residents filled every meeting.  Their complaints were met by a hostile or apathetic board and administration.  The school was the topic of conversation in barbershops, beauty salons and grocery stores.  Many of us spent more time on the Fix Milford Schools website than we did playing with our dogs.

Six parents formed New Options for Better Schools – NOBS – internally known as NO BS.  We found that the district operations cost per student was the highest of any of our state cohorts.  Our transportation cost per student was among the highest in the state.  We proposed a simple yet revolutionary idea:  apply a business model to the operations side of the budget and transfer the savings to the academic – an idea which has proven to be very successful.  We were brash, at times confrontational, because the District wasn’t listening.  We were vilified by some.  Some predicted doom for the district if any of us were elected to the BOE.  And yet, the skies haven’t fallen, the walls haven’t collapsed.  The district is solvent, academics are improving and confidence has been restored.

We began to heal the minute Bob Farrell was hired.  Despite an obvious character flaw – he’s a Notre Dame fan – Dr. Farrell is a leader.  He came here in the midst of a crisis, and quickly gained the confidence of the community.  He has shown an ability to deal with troublesome issues without getting people mad at him – a trait I can admire.  Once the financial situation stabilized, he concentrated on academics, with impressive results.  It’s been a pleasure working with you, Bob.

Unfortunately, the Farrell era will end; however, we shall continue to reap the benefits of the Farrell legacy – primarily from the team of people he has assembled, starting with our new Assistant Superintendent, Tim Ackermann – the obvious heir apparent.

Because of the demands and complexities of curriculum, Dr. Farrell divided the position into elementary and secondary.  The wisdom of that decision was demonstrated by the appointments of Jill Chin and Nancy House.  Their work has been impressive and can readily be seen in student achievement.

Once we had made the initial cost savings from cuts and improved efficiencies from operations, we decided to hire a full-time person to manage operations.  We wanted someone with a business degree and real-life experience, and therefore decided not to add a business manager with its counterproductive state-imposed regulation.  A new position of Operations Manager was created.  We hired Jeff Johnson for that position.  Due to his efforts, with an able assist from President Lucas, we were able to leverage a soft construction market to the tremendous advantage of the district.  We were able to bring the high school construction project in on time, under budget, with no follow-up litigation.  We were able to save money for other worthy projects – repair the crumbling high school façade, put in energy saving windows, improve the high school swimming pool, making it both healthier and more cost efficient, improve education technology, and fixed part of the high school roof.  Despite the significant amount additional space, our energy cost is what it was before – it’s tremendous.  We also added new classrooms and AC at the Junior High and new electronics controls to save more money.  We achieved a big bang for the tax buck, and Jeff is now turning to other operations projects with good results.

Public education is entering a transformational era.  In the near future, it will look very different than it does today.  The schools will face continuing fiscal challenges – with reduced state funding, never-ending state and federal unfunded mandates and a tax-weary public, still suffering from a poor economy.  To survive, districts will not only have to squeeze every dime from each dollar, but will need to become more entrepreneurial – developing new income streams within the parameters of their core mission.

We are ahead of the curve.  Our award-winning food service department is “profitable,” subsidizing our general fund.  We have capitalized on our excellent education reputation with our open enrollment.  We have now made Milford Main self-sustaining.  I would suggest that we develop a business plan to expand the lease opportunities.  By converting a financial liability into an income producer, not only do we add to the bottom line, but we also reserve a much-loved community resource.  We can turn our summer school, by expanding our enrichment offerings and aggressively marketing it to surrounding districts that don’t’ have summer school, into a positive income stream.  We might put some of our classes on line, especially AP, and market them to districts with fewer resources.  In short, the district has to be open to non-traditional means to supplement declining revenues.

To my fellow board members – a few observations.  We need to always represent everyone in the district, not just one segment or another – because when times get tough, that attitude may descend into an “us against them” mentality.  We must remember there is no “them,” there is only “us.”  There is a small number of the school community who believes that the school is infallible – when someone questions or offers criticism, he or she is labeled anti-school.  This intolerant and ultimately self-defeating attitude, when it gains control, can be very damaging, as we have seen.  The school should always be a uniter, not a divider.  And finally, there is a belief that the BOE should not engage in an open debate of the issues – that somehow a bobblehead BOE is preferable.  I disagree.  True, debate can be messy and heated – but more often than not, it’s within that heat that better policies emerge.

To my fellow BOE members, thank you for your service, your support and, at times, your heated debate.

To the staff – especially those with whom I worked closely, thank you for your dedication.  You made it harder for me to not run for re-election.

To the members of the Milford community, thank you for giving me the honor of representing you.  I hope I have lived up to your expectations.  My for years in office have reaffirmed my conviction that Milford is a very special place and that when we are pulling together, we can accomplish great things.

I leave office confident that we are on the right path and at this time, are in good hands.

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One Response to “Gary Knepp leaves the Milford BOE”

  1. Larry Deel Says:

    I am sorry to see Gary Knepp leave. He did an excellent job representing the voters. What a great farewell speech.

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