GM Schools’ levy/bond issue: an interview with the superintendent

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By Rick Palsgrove
Southeast Editor

Groveport Madison school district voters will decide on a combined operating levy and bond issue on May 6.

The five year, 6.68 mill operating levy (which includes a .5 mill permanent improvement levy) would generate $4.5 million annually. The $33.3 million, 38-year, 2.24 mill bond issue would fund construction of a new high school.  The annual cost for the owner of a $100,000 home for the combined ballot issue would be $312.

The proposed $62.9 million, 235,000 square foot high school, would be paid for  by Ohio Schools Facilities Commission funding of $29.6 million and the local taxpayer share of $33.3 million. If the proposed bond issue is approved, the high school, located at 4475 S. Hamilton Road, would be torn down and a new high school built in the existing parking lot area.

The Southeast Messenger interviewed Groveport Madison Schools Superintendent Bruce Hoover about the levy/bond issue.

The levy/bond issue campaign has stated the high school was designed to hold 900 students but now houses 1,400 students. When the high school was built in the late 1960s/early 1970s there were about 1,000 more total students in the district than there is now and the high school housed just as many students or more back then as now. Why do school officials say the high school is now overcrowded?

Bruce Hoover: “The 900 student figure is based on the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission’s study on how many students our high school could serve today as well as the educational space needed. The OSFC said the building needs to be 56 percent bigger to bring it up to code and state specifications. In the late 1960s, when the high school was built, the building codes and educational requirements were different. Back then you could have a restroom with one stall and two urinals. Today in the district we have to have six classrooms for autism students with a maximum of six students in each room. That’s six rooms that in the 1970s would have 25 students each. Those kinds of required provisions changed how we use educational space. According to a study done by Warner Concepts in 2009-10, the high school has a gross square footage of 149,851. The Ohio School Facilities Design Manual states the square footage per student should be 166 square feet. According to these figures and current educational requirements, our high school is now designed to handle only around 900 students.”

Has the district been performing structural maintenance on its buildings?

BH: “We maintain all our buildings as much as we can through our annual $2 million permanent improvement fund, which can only be used for things like structures, books, technology, and equipment. Over the years we’ve had to augment that fund with money from the general fund, which in turn took funding away from other programs. It’s a balancing act. Because of their age and condition, all of our buildings need work. At the high school we replaced sections of storm plumbing, electric, roofs and HVAC systems.”

Where is the money coming from to fund the levy/bond issue campaign?

BH: “The Committee for Better Schools, made up from citizens from the community,  raised funds for the campaign by obtaining donations from local vendors and businesses, the GMLEA and individual donations.”

Why doesn’t the district sell the 35 vacant acres it owns located near Noe-Bixby Road and Sedalia to raise some money?

BH: “We’re looking at selling it and we are in talks with an interested party.”

Why does the district continue to lease its administrative offices rather than housing the offices in a building the district owns?

BH: “It’s a good deal for the amount of square footage. But, if the levy/bond issue passes and we can get enough bond investment and local fund initiative monies, we’re looking at moving the administrative offices into our own space on the site of the proposed new high school.”

Why was high school busing cut when the buses go back and forth daily to the high school anyway since the bus garage is located there?

BH: “The busing cut involves more than just the high school. The cut includes transportation for charter schools, private schools, community conversion schools and digital academies within a 30 mile radius. We cut 20 bus routes along with salaries, fuel and maintenance, which can cost $40,000 to $50,000 each.”

Why run an operating levy with a bond issue rather than running a levy by itself?

BH: “The bond issue eliminates the $1 million per year maintenance costs for the existing high school. It frees up money for the levy to be smaller than the one we asked for last year. This ballot issue is the best opportunity to grow the district and community and to provide the opportunities our kids need in a fiscally responsible way.”

Since 1969, 66 percent of the levies and bond issues the district has placed on the ballot have failed. Why does the district continue going back to the ballot?

BH: “Because of need. Two years ago we had to close the high school for a couple of days because a 40-year-old drainage tile collapsed. Bond issues are hard to pass anywhere. But it’s important to have the educational space necessary to offer students the programs they need.”

Why aren’t more cuts made to administrative staff in the district?

BH: “The average number of administrators in school districts our size and larger in the county is 60. We have 28. We have made reductions, such as going from two curriculum directors to one and going from 10 literacy coaches to four. Plus, if we have too few administrators in our buildings, safety becomes an issue.”

If the levy/bond issue passes, will the district come back to the voters to ask for another levy to operate the new high school?

BH: “There are no plans for a new operating levy if the new high school is built. Our goal is to not come back and ask for more money for five years.”

Has the district sought other alternative sources for its funding?

BH: “Yes. We obtained a $1 million Race to the Top grant, a $1.8 million Straight-A Fund grant, and we pursue other grants. We also obtained $10,000 from the Spielman Challenge and hold fundraisers.”

What are your thoughts regarding the levy/bond issue’s affect on citizens living on fixed incomes?

BH: “I understand the additional costs and that this is not a wealthy community. We work to keep our costs as low as possible and to segment our requests for money so taxpayers do not take hits all at once.”

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