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Back to the ballot
What’s next? Leaders in the South-Western City School District wanted that question answered on Jan. 8 at a community meeting at Central Crossing High School.
By the Jan. 12 Board of Education meeting, leaders had their answer.
Board President Cathy Johnson announced that the board would move forward with an operating only issue for the May ballot.
“We are not abandoning the building project,” said Johnson. “We are just not going to pursue it this spring.”
Johnson said the community told the board to “tighten its belt.”
“That is what we’re doing,” said noted.
The majority of voters turned down a combined 9.69-mill bond issue and operating levy in November.
Treasurer Hugh Garside explained that the district faces a $5 million deficit next year.
The following school year, that number jumps to $22 million. If residents vote in favor of another tax levy, money would not be collected until 2010. For this year, the district faces $5 million in cuts.
“We have some holes to fill,” said Garside.
At the community meeting, Superintendent Dr. Bill Wise laid out five options the district was considering.
The first option was to go to the ballot with a bond issue only. It would have been the same building piece as voters saw in November, which was a 6-mill bond issue, though Garside said the district would have only collected just over 3-mills. It would have replaced 13 elementary schools, four middle schools and Franklin Heights High School.
The district could have put the same combined bond issue and operating package as November. It combined the 3.69-mill bond issue and 6-mill operating levy. Wise said the issue was problematic because now the district faces delayed collections so reductions would still be needed.
This is similar to option two, only with increased operating millage. Wise said now the district would need to pass a 9.5-mill tax levy to make up for the delayed collections of 2009.
This would have allowed the district to ask voters for additional operating money and construct some buildings.
The Ohio High School Facilities Commission (OSFC) offered a new segmentation program that allows school districts to break building projects up into pieces. The state would fund 47 percent of the facilities project; the local share, 53 percent.
Wise explained that this would permit school leaders to choose what schools to rebuild. He said the older schools would be addressed first, such as North Franklin, which is 88-years-old, and Franklin Heights, which is over 50.
Renovations to newer school buildings, like Central Crossing, would likely be put off until the last segment. Wise said the segments could be broken up over 10 to 15 years. Money would not be collected until the building was ready to commence.
Wise said the last option was to go to the voters with operating needs only. This is what the board chose to do.
“Operating money is a priority in this district,” said Wise. “We can’t keep up with expenditures.”
The superintendent said there were benefits and complications with each option. With the operating levy only issue, the district could lose state money. The state won a tobacco settlement and set aside funds for the district to build facilities. The district has until August 2009 to pass a bond issue. After that, there is no guarantee the funds will be available.
Wise stressed the need for operating funds.
“We run a lean ship,” he said.
Wise explained that the district spends below average on facilities and administration. He said they spend $4,000 less per pupil than Columbus City Schools.
Some community members are not in favor of any issue. They believe that this is the wrong time to ask residents for additional funds, as the economy continues to struggle.
Some residents feel that the facilities need to be addressed.
Ed Palmer, former principal at Central Crossing and Franklin Heights, said there are a lot of differences between the schools.
“They’re on a complete continuum,” he said. “Some are nice, some are not so nice. I spent 19 years at Franklin Heights then went to Central Crossing. There is a lot of difference in those two high schools.”
Grove City Councilman Greg Grinch said residents drive by the buildings and everything looks fine from the outside. Inside, he said, things are not always up to par.
If the voters were to pass a bond issue after the state funds have expired, they could reapply for funding.
Johnson said, “We are all watching the economy.’
The board said this is why they need to address operating needs first. The millage rate for the May tax levy has not been determined.
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