RISING CITY - Don Carley and Clint Hohndorf of rural Rising City say they have questions and they want better answers.

The two men have been raising concerns about the quality of education for students and the accountability of the school board at Rising City Public Schools.

"My motivation for getting involved with all this has evolved over time," Carley said. "My initial motive was that if we're going to a state-mandated levy of $1 and then over that, we should begin to look seriously at consolidation. I encouraged consolidation at that time. It makes sense to me to join the economies of the school districts together.

"Sometimes my motivation is the watchdog thing; sometimes it's just the principle of it all."

He said he once favored keeping kindergarten through eighth-grade going.

"What angers me is that the motivation of the school board is all about self-preservation.

"The premise is, that without the school, Rising City is going to die; the truth is I don't believe keeping the school operating will make any difference unless things change dramatically," Carley said.

Hohndorf, who attended the school, has attended all but two school board meetings since July 2002.

"I started to attend the board meetings after the previous principal resigned under allegations of misconduct with a student," Hohndorf said.

"The core issue to me is, why am I responsible to provide transportation and many other costs for students to come here from out of the district? The truth is without the option students we wouldn't have enough students in the upper grades to keep a high school running."

Carley and Hohndorf aired their concerns in a series of interviews over the past several weeks.

"How can you have a man hired at $40,000 per year and not define what days of the week he's going to be at the school?" Carley asked.

His question is about the schedule kept by Rising City School Superintendent Dan Alberts, who is contracted as a part-time superintendent and part-time elementary school principal.

"Dan Alberts' responsibilities with the district are not absolutely etched in stone," said Gary Novak, vice president of the Rising City school board. "We have a great working relationship with Mr. Alberts. Whenever something has come up, he's always right there to help."

Carley and Hohndorf also raise questions about the credentials of Mark Nebuda, the industrial arts instructor, and Dan Prososki, the school counselor. Both are currently working under provisional certificates. Dan Potter, school board president, said both teachers are working toward full certification.

The issue of recruitment and the high percentage of option students at the high school is another item of concern to the two men.

One example: a high school student who is optioning in from David City for a second year. Carley and Hohndorf contend the rules say a student can option into a district only once without changing residence.

Alberts said he couldn't address the issue because his comments might violate the student's right to confidentiality.

The rule cited by Carley and Hohndorf upholds their opinion, they said.

In January, Carley asked why the district accepted students who were expelled from other districts. He said the enrollments went forward without any record of board approval required by law.

"There is no reason for us to be the alternative school for Butler County or Columbus school districts," Carley said.

Board member Novak responded to the question.  

"The school board has given authority to the principal and superintendent to make these kinds of determinations," he said. "This is what we hired them to do."

We trust Cletus (Arasmith, high school principal) and Dan (Alberts) to decide what is in the best interest of the school and the student whenever option students are being considered."

Perhaps the biggest problem the two critics have is about Rising City's "unacceptable" rating for its Department of Education quality assessment, part of federal "No Child Left Behind Legislation." The district rating assesses the materials used by the local school to test students according to state mandates. The current assessment quality rating was listed as unacceptable. The rating was listed as very good for grades four, eight and 11 in the 2001-02 school year.

"This quality rating is not magic," said Alberts. "The rating is a very mechanical thing. This last time we tweaked a few items and it wasn't what the state wanted. We'll work to make sure it's fixed when the time comes to submit it again," he said.  

Local assessment materials and the school's improvement plan are submitted annually to the state. Districts receiving an unacceptable rating two consecutive years could face sanctions by the department of education.

Carley said he also is concerned that Alberts is listed as principal of four other schools in other districts. Of those schools, two received unacceptable ratings, one of the schools never submitted the proper materials for review and two of them failed to submit school improvement plans.

One of the four districts received an exemplary rating, which is the best rating available.

Alberts said that his involvement with those schools is primarily in the area of legal counsel and budgeting assistance.

State officials confirmed that others in those districts were responsible for submitting the required materials.

The district critics also questioned recent board actions, including a budget amendment in July 2003.

Potter said the purpose of the amended budget was to include some needed facility improvements, pay outstanding bills that had been overlooked and to add a half-time teacher.

Hohndorf said the law only allows the district to hold an amended budget hearing in the case of unforeseen circumstances.

"The main reason we amended the budget was to update the phone system to make it more efficient and for security purposes," Potter said.

Carley and Hohndorf said they would continue to monitor the board's actions and the operation of the school.