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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Senate President Stivers Visits Johnson Elementary to Tour Facilities

Senate President Stivers Visits Johnson Elementary to Tour Facilities   

State Sen. Will Schroder and Senate President Robert Stivers.   

By Mark Collier

Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers visited Johnson Elementary in Fort Thomas Thursday to tour the school's facilities with school officials, stakeholders and elected officials.

The group, led by Fort Thomas Education Foundation Chair, Amy Shaffer, aimed to demonstrate the need for state funding for the school.

Their main goal: a new school.

Amy Shaffer, Ashley Dikeos, Holly Collinsworth and Karen Cheser listen to Stivers talk about the budgetary process.

Johnson Elementary, which boasts the second oldest school building in the entire Commonwealth,  has perennially been named to the "Parsons List", a running group of schools that are in need of upgrading. In 2014, Moyer Elementary received state funds that paid the bulk of the $20 million dollar project that is currently underway.  During the last budgetary cycle, Johnson was also very high on the School Facilities Construction Commission list, however Moyer Elementary was given a higher priority due to the utilization of mobile classrooms on its campus.

While the facilities are in desperate need of updating at Johnson, the school's student population, now at 465, continues to excel. In 2014 the school won it's second blue ribbon award, the district's fifth such award since 1997.  The district has since added its sixth award when Moyer won last year.

Fort Thomas Independent School Superintendent, Karen Cheser, said the work of the foundation is crucial in showing Frankfort that the district is committed to continuing its national reputation for academic excellence.

Aside from the bonding capacity the district has for raising funds, the private money raised by FTEF helps bridge the gap, but Cheser noted that state investment is crucial to be added as the first dollar into the pot.

"This is a priority of the district and we are on it with every resource that we have at our disposal. We are pulling out all the stops," she said. "The building does not make the programming, but we know that Johnson is in dire need of transformation."

Shaffer said that the FTEF is eager to work with district leadership, state legislators and our community to help get a new Johnson school.

"We are excited have President Stivers here to show that our staff and students are excelling despite the building where they learn. We hope that this visit helps to influence the decision to receive funding for a new Johnson," she said.

This year it's going to be a battle in Frankfort for budgetary discretion dollars as the pension crisis looms large. State Senator Wil Schroder said that when he heard Stivers was going to be in northern Kentucky, he made it a point to ask him to tour the blue ribbon school in Fort Thomas.

"This is an extremely important issue to my constituents in Fort Thomas so it was my top priority to bring him here," said Schroder, who is on the Senate's Appropriations and Revenue committee.

"I know how those meetings work in the Senate and know what goes into those decisions for how state money is awarded. President Stivers has a lot of say in those decisions and I wanted to make him aware of these concerns in my district, specifically with Johnson. The infrastructure concerns for the school and what the teachers bring out of the students is remarkable."

Shaffer noted that getting Stivers to Fort Thomas was a big step forward in helping the district to obtain the state funding to build a new school.

"We realize that a presence in Frankfort is necessary for this community to be able to get the work done that we need done. It's the reason why Moyer could be funded. The district and the foundation's relationship with our local legislators is key to helping this district in its goal of creating global leaders," she said.

Stivers spent about 30 minutes touring the facility and asked probing questions to the group, which included Shaffer, Schroder, Cheser, Assistant Superintendent, Jamee Flaherty, Johnson Principal, Ashley Dikeos, House Representative, Joe Fischer, board members, Karen Allen and John Weyer as well as Fort Thomas Education Foundation member, Holly Collinsworth.

The former and current Johnson Elementary Principals, Jamee Flaherty (now Assistant Superintendent) and Ashley Dikeos.

“As the Senate President, part of my statewide mission is traveling with fellow Senate members to learn about the important issues in their respective districts," said Stivers.

"The visit to Johnson Elementary School made me realize the legitimate concern parents have, and it is an issue that we will continue to monitor moving forward."

Collinsworth recalled similar tours she took with the School Facilities Construction Commission before the Highland High School renovation.

"Words or numbers aren't going to be able to describe what kind of shape a building is in," she said. 

"You've really got to get legislators to come and see it or feel what it's like to be there. The condition of the building of that age only allows our teachers and district to do so much. The faith the community has put into its schools is phenomenal but at some point you feel you're swimming upstream."

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