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Published: Friday, 7/15/2005

Bellevue group eyes ouster of 4 school board members

BY STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Angered by the dismissal of a popular junior high band director, a group in the Bellevue, Ohio, school district plans to circulate petitions seeking the ouster of up to four board members.

"The plan is just to regain control of the district and not have a board that's going to be swayed by every wish of the superintendent," said Martin Shelley, a leader of the removal campaign.

Mr. Shelley said more than 100 residents attended a meeting Tuesday night at the Bellevue Recreation Center to discuss how to proceed with the effort.

Ohio does not allow the recall of public officials, but a removal hearing can be held before a judge or jury if petitions supporting such an action are signed by 15 percent of the number of voters in the last gubernatorial election.

The Huron County Board of Elections said 1,420 district residents voted in November, 2002, meaning the group would need at least 213 valid signatures.

Ohio law states a public official can be removed by a judge or jury in that county's Common Pleas Court if the judge or jury finds that person guilty of misconduct in office. Such actions are rare, but a judge in Madison County removed three members of the Madison-Plains Local school board in September, 2004, after a petition drive by residents.

In his ruling, the judge found the officials violated Ohio's Open Meetings Act and illegally employed teachers who were not certified, including a daughter of one of the board members.

The Bellevue school board sparked the local controversy last month with a 4-1 vote to terminate Jeffrey Buchanan, a district teacher for 21 years.

According to a board resolution passed June 16, Mr. Buchanan falsely claimed the band room used by junior high and elementary students had acoustics that caused unsafe decibel levels and possible hearing loss. The resolution alleged that he made the statements to try to force the school board to renovate the room.

Mr. Buchanan has appealed his dismissal and will have a hearing with an officer from the Ohio Department of Education at a yet-to-be-determined date.

Even if the hearing officer rules in Mr. Buchanan's favor, "that's not binding, it's a recommendation," school Superintendent James Lahoski said.

The district has hired Steve Hessler, a junior high band director for Delphos City Schools in Allen and Van Wert counties, to replace Mr. Buchanan. Mr. Hessler is a 1998 Bellevue graduate.

Vicki Schoen, a former Bellevue schools track and cross country coach, said residents are upset by the district's treatment of Mr. Buchanan and what they see as a continuing effort to silence critics.

"We've all been griping for years about the things that go on in the Bellevue school district," she said. "If you know this man, he is the most lovable, lovable person. He is a male version of Mother Teresa. He goes beyond the call to do nice things for the kids and the community."

Mr. Shelley said the removal campaign will not target William King, the sole board member to vote against terminating Mr. Buchanan.

He also said removal petitions might not be filed against board President Dave Kowaleski and board member Mick Dwyer, whose seats are both up for election this fall.

The other two board members who voted to terminate Mr. Buchanan are Beverly DeBlase and Robert Regula.

Mr. Regula declined to speak with a reporter yesterday; Ms. DeBlase, Mr. Dwyer, and Mr. Kowaleski could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Lahoski called the drive to remove board members "quite unfortunate."

"They've been a very stable and solid board," he said.

Contact Steve Murphy at:

smurphy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6078.



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