Chelsea Miller and Steve Fogarty, The Chronicle-Telegram
AVON LAKE — When Avon Lake Schools Superintendent Robert Scott was contacted by GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign Saturday, he knew it would be a good opportunity for Avon Lake students to experience the election process.
The campaign had expressed interest in possibly using the school earlier last week. Romney, who canceled a stop in Virginia because of Hurricane Sandy, made the scheduled stop in Avon Lake just before noon Monday.
About 1,000 Avon Lake High School students attended the speech after providing the school with a signed permission slip from a parent. The 300 students who opted out or did not turn in a permission slip had a study hall.
Scott said Romney’s visit during school hours did disrupt the school day, but he said he felt the educational opportunity was worthwhile. The students have been studying the election process in classes, he added.
“It was a good experience for all of our kids,” he said. “We knew there was some disruption to the school day, but having them see what a presidential election is like was important.”
Patrick Smith, a 15-year-old Avon Lake High School student, attended Romney’s speech and said the event was “pretty cool.”
Smith said despite his young age, he likes to be informed on the issues he will vote on in three years.
“It’s going to come up soon, so we need to know what’s going on,” he said.
Steady rain and chilly temperatures did little to dampen crowds or enthusiasm Monday.
In addition to the 1,000 students who attended the rally, another 1,500 people filled the gym — many waiting outside in the cold, windy rain to get a glimpse of the presidential candidate. Romney spoke to an additional 400 people, who did not fit in the gym, in an overflow room before his speech.
“We hope the future president is here,” said Melinda Schwab, who waited outside Monday afternoon.
She and her husband, Dan, drove from Lakewood for a chance to see the GOP standard-bearer.
“It’s our civic duty,” Melinda Schwab said.
“We’ve got to get our country back on track,” she said. “We have hope now.”
Dan Schwab cited the nation’s mounting debt as one major reason for his dissatisfaction with Obama.
“That, and all the regulation put on small businesses, and the higher costs of social programs,” he said.
A veteran of the U.S. Navy, Schwab also criticized President Barack Obama “for the way they tried to sweep the Bengali operation under the rug. That’s not the sign of a leader.”
Schwab’s remarks referred to the recent attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that took the lives of four people including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. The attack led to a heated exchange between President Obama and Romney during one of the presidential debates over the handling of the attack.
Standing near the Schwabs was Jerry Grakauskas, a Ford worker at the Avon Lake Ford plant who said he was backing Romney because of disappointment with Obama’s policies regarding the coal industry, and the controversial Keystone pipeline.
“I’m a staunch union guy but Obama has cost us coal and pipeline jobs,” Grakauskas said, referring to Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline proposal, a $7 billion project that would move crude oil from Canada to refineries in Texas, over environmental and safety concerns.
The remark about lost coal jobs was a reference to new governmental regulations imposed under Obama on toxic mercury pollution that could force dozens of older coal-fired plants to close or spend billions of dollars on upgrades.
On Monday, Romney blasted Obama’s budget, as well as what he called a poor job-creation effort. Romney addressed the high school students in the room, saying they would be hit especially hard by debt, which he blamed on the president’s policies and poor job record.
“I have some news, that’s not very good news, for our college-bound young people. And that is when they graduate, under the president’s administration, half of them won’t be able to find good jobs,” he said. “I would make sure people coming out of college are able to get good jobs.”
In September, the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent, the lowest since Obama took office in January 2009. The unemployment rate reached 10 percent in October 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Romney’s running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, has said the decline is too slow, and the numbers don’t account for the amount of people who have given up looking for work. Romney said there aren’t enough high-paying jobs in the U.S. — he mentioned a Wisconsin resident who cannot find a job that pays more than $8 an hour and another 23 million Americans, who he said are struggling to find a good job.
It was the first time seeing Romney for Avon resident JoAnn Barelka, who said she has only watched his speeches on television.
Barelka is a fan of Romney’s “five-point plan,” which Romney says will create 12 million jobs by expanding the trade of goods overseas and using energy resources in the U.S.
She said she hopes Ohio residents, who have been in the middle of a political attention this election, choose to vote for Romney in November. She said she hopes Romney fulfills his promises if elected.
“I just want to see … that he’s going to take Ohio, to know he’s got our back,” she said.
Stephanie Waldron, a Bay Village resident and Catholic who opposes the president’s stance on providing free birth control to employees of church-related hospitals, agreed.
“Ohio is going to be huge in this election,” she said. “There are a lot of passionate people here. I’m glad I came.”