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Published: Thursday, 5/29/2003

Head of Sylvania schools to retire

BY MIKE JONES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Les Schultz will soon be leaving his office as superintendent of Sylvania schools but may be returning to the classroom.

“My wife says I should take cooking classes,'' he said.

That and hanging around his backyard pool at home are about as far into the future as Mr. Schultz cares to journey at the moment, as he considers life after work.

Mr. Schultz will retire July 31 after six years as superintendent.

He said he believes he's left Sylvania schools in good shape. Since he arrived, the system's leadership is stronger and more effective, two tax issues have passed, and new systems for budgeting and collective bargaining are in place.

Still, there's work to be done, Mr. Schultz admits. The board of education is currently involved in a study of its real estate and facilities. At issue is a recommendation for renovation or demolition of existing buildings with the potential of having to replace some. In the next few years it's likely the board will have to approach the voters again for money to build a new elementary school in the fast-growing western portion of the district.

Mr. Schultz said ongoing challenges are the norm in most school systems. That, he says, is what makes the job enjoyable.

He had not planned on becoming a superintendent, having been satisfied working as assistant superintendent in Elyria, Ohio.

His focus there was curriculum and instruction.

“That's what I like,'' he said.

Nevertheless, the Elyria schools board asked him to become superintendent there, “and I found out I liked it. I loved it.

When he arrived in 1997, he found an often-contentious school board, which hired him on a vote of 4-1. The early months were difficult. He said publicly that the board was harming the system.

“They tried to can me,'' he said.

A vote on whether to renew his contract was postponed. Then a change in board members, primarily through resignations, resulted in his contract being renewed.

Since then, he has received high marks from the board.

Board President George Gernot said that as he has become familiar with the needs of a school system, “the more I respect him and the work he does.''

Mr. Schultz noted that it could be a difficult balancing act to weigh factors within the system and to be able to see how one decision may have effects on many other areas. That relationship between diverse parts of the system is an underpinning of a budget process, which Mr. Schultz has introduced to the system.

Various department heads come together with a wish list and begin to discuss how they can be financed and which might have to be dropped.

A program manager might say, “we need a literacy specialist in each building,'' Mr. Schultz said. “That's fine, but how does it stack up next to the need for fuel in all the busses.''

Not only are budgeting figures reached, but also the people in the system see how they were arrived at, he said. Mr. Schultz also invites members of the community who have certain areas of expertise to join the sessions, and he pointed out that it is a way for the public to learn what's behind the decisions.

Mr. Schultz and the board have been in agreement that the community should be part of the decision-making process.

He said open meetings for the public prior to the most recently passed levy and during the process of reviewing real estate and facilities have been important in gaining support for issues faced by the board of education.

Passing both measures on the first try was a blessing, he said. Having to return to voters for approval or renewal of a levy due to expire adds a lot of stress to the job, he said.

`'It's been the nature of the business for the last 15 years, and it has been a drain,'' Mr. Schultz said of the inordinate amount of time which has to be spent on levy campaigns.



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