District gathers input on new buildings

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Should the South-Western City School District add a fifth high school? Should it house grades K-3 in one building and grades 4-6 in another? Should there be a ninth grade learning center?

These were some of the questions asked at the March 26 SWCS community meeting at Central Crossing High School. District officials held the meeting to gather community input regarding future facilities.

“It is not uncommon for a district this size to have five or six high schools,” said Superintendent Dr. Bill Wise. “But is that what we want? We are not advocating a solution; we are gaining community input.”

The Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) has offered the district 47 percent of the money to fund a $325 million project, which could build new schools, remodel existing schools, demolish older schools, and bring the district to 2008 standards. The project could also eliminate modular units, provide all-day, everyday kindergarten and update laboratory facilities. The OSFC oversees rebuilding of Ohio’s public schools. It serves as a funding partner in financing construction projects.

The district was originally scheduled to become eligible for OSFC funding in 2012. As the result of a state tobacco settlement, the district has become eligible for the money earlier.

“This is too good of an opportunity to ignore,” said Deputy Superintendent Phil Warner.

In order to become eligible for funds during the 2008-09 school year, the district will have to update its master plan by June. The last time the master plan was evaluated was in 2004. Once the plan is updated, the board of education will vote on whether to proceed with the funding that would likely involve a November levy.

Debbie Jones is a kindergarten teacher at Buckeye Woods Elementary School. She said the issue is one people could support.

“This is the best deal we’ve had since I’ve been here,” she commented.

If the board approves the master plan and they are eligible for the funds, the district will have the funds locked in for one year. If they cannot pass an issue in that time, the district will drop off the funding list and OSFC will move on. If the district is successful in passing a levy after a year, they could reapply for funds.

Wise said the district has already engaged a few hundred people in the community input process but he hopes to gather additional public opinion. 

Dawn Scott was born in the district and works as a secretary at the central office. She was at the meeting to offer her views on the future of the district.

“Eventually we will need another high school,” said Scott, “but our top priority should be elsewhere.”

Residents said the district has some elementary schools that are over 50 years old. Almost all the elementary schools have portable units that serve as classrooms.

“Buckeye Woods has over 800 students and it’s built for about 600,” said Jones. “We don’t even have an assistant principal.”

Warner explained that the schools they would focus on would have a minimum of 350 students.

“We have some elementary schools below 350 and some with over 800 kids,” said Warner. “We need to balance that out.”

Some residents say the enrollment has not increased that dramatically and building new schools would be a waste of money. The district has approximately 20,500 students and is the sixth largest school district in the state. Warner said he expects enrollment to increase approximately 2 percent over the next ten years.

The district has formed a steering committee that represents “all aspects of the community.” The committee’s recommendations, along with the community input, will be presented to the board at their May 12 meeting. The board could adopt a resolution as early as May 19.

The district has scheduled four additional community meetings in April: April 21 at Grove City High School at 7 p.m., April 23 at Central Crossing High School at 7 p.m., April 23 at Westland High School at 7 p.m. and April 24 at Franklin Heights High School at 7 p.m. All members of the SWCS community are welcome to attend.

“This is a great opportunity for the community to make sure we get it right,” said Wise.

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