Updated Mon, Aug 12, 2013 9:59 am
Through threats of consolidation, precarious budgetary issues and administrative investigations, two departing Trimble Local School Board members provided what some say was consistent, level-headed leadership. Without it, at one time, could have meant the demise of the district.
Terry Holbert, 76, has spent 26 years on the board. For Stephen Miller, 63, it’s been 23 years. The two recently reminisced over their combined 49 years of service. While they say they’ll miss the community interactions and the challenges, both have decided to not seek re-election. Their terms will end later this year.
Serving on the board means “a lot of headaches and hard work,” explained Holbert. “I can’t do it justice anymore. If anybody is doing it, they need to give 100 percent, and I didn’t feel I could give 100 percent anymore.”
For Miller, who is expecting his sixth grandchild in December, he said he hopes to spend more of his free time with his family. He said even as a retiree, serving on the board is no small task, especially with new mandates.
It “quickly becomes part of your identity,” said Miller, who serves as the current president. “Working for the district becomes a part of your life.”
Besides, they said, the timing is right. They’re confident in the school district’s leadership. Although the school system is not “rolling in the money,” as Miller puts it, the district’s finances are in the black for now.
“I understand their decision,” said Supt. Kim Jones. “They’ve set such a good example for other people who will step forward, but they will have big shoes to fill.”
Holbert and Miller have seen a lot over the years, which proved helpful in problem-solving issues at the district, Jones said.
“A lot of situations we’ve faced, they’ve seen something similar before,” she said. “That experience is helpful.”
At just 27, Holbert was appointed to the board in 1964, the same year the district — under orders from the state — was consolidating schools in Jacksonville, Trimble and Glouster.
“But the state wasn’t done with us,” Holbert recalled.
For the next 10 years, with the support of the community and administration, the board fended off what the Ohio Department of Education really wanted, which was for the district to consolidate with either Nelsonville-York or Athens City Schools.
Why consolidate? They weren’t just up against the state. During that time, consolidation was a trend across the country, recalled Jones.
“We were poor and our tax base low,” Holbert said. “We didn’t have all the accommodations that they thought we should have. We went through a lot of fighting to keep the school. Our kids deserved a school, even though we were poor.”
“It was the hub of the community,” added Miller, who came to the district in 1973 as a middle school social studies teacher. “It’s no different today.
The threat at that time was very real. Investigators from the state department of education inspected the school up to three times in one year. Back then, under normal circumstances, inspections only happened every two to three years, Holbert recalled. But through quick thinking and lobbying folks in Columbus, the district was saved.
By the late 1980s, after 22 years of service, Holbert left the board and recommended Miller to finish out his term. Miller, who had spent six years teaching with the district, was working at Hocking College at the time.
“Once he accepted the position, as a joke, I hauled all the minutes from all the meetings I had attended over to his house,” Holbert recalled with a laugh.
Over 20 years of paperwork, stuffed in sacks, greeted Miller at the door. It was funny to them then just as it is now, as the two have grown to be close friends over the years.
When Miller left the board in early 2000s, both had thought their school board days were over. But in 2010, with the district heading to fiscal emergency and questions looming over the effectiveness of their superintendent at the time, they returned.
“That was a pivotal time,” recalled Miller. “I’m understating it. It was not a time for rookie board members. We needed someone with experience to help stabilize things. The public needed that.”
Ultimately, the superintendent, Cindy Johnston, was let go from that position; an interim superintendent was brought in; and 17 jobs were eliminated. They weren’t popular decisions, Miller said, but they were needed to keep the district intact.
“I’ll never regret that decision,” Miller said. “Somethings I look back on (something), and I think I would vote differently, but not that one.”
Both Holbert and Miller stressed that while they’re not seeking re-election, they won’t be lame ducks. They still have five months of hard work left, but they said it’s time for someone with a fresh perspective to take the reigns.
“I think it is time to allow others the opportunity to become a school board member,” Miller said. “It is challenging at times and becoming more complex in some ways. Never has education been under such scrutiny. My advice would be to listen carefully to all sides of an issue, keep an open mind and ultimately make a decision with the best interests of the student in mind. In addition, engage the community as much as possible to achieve this goal.
“If there’s ever a good time (to leave), the time is now,” Miller continued. “I think it’s going to be a good school year."