Groveport Madison questions Win-Win Agreement


By Rick Palsgrove
Southeast Editor

Groveport Madison Schools officials are taking a long, hard look at the 30-year-old Win-Win Agreement to see if the terms of the agreement are in the district’s best interests.

“There is a great deal to consider and regardless of the decision we make, our main objective is protecting the educational and financial integrity of our school district,” said Groveport Madison Superintendent Bruce Hoover.

The Groveport Madison Board of Education heard presentations regarding Win-Win from two attorneys and a former Groveport Madison superintendent on April 27.

What is Win-Win?

Established in 1986, Win-Win is a legal agreement between Columbus City Schools and suburban school districts that settled disputes regarding which school districts students would attend and which districts would collect tax revenues in unincorporated lands being annexed by the city of Columbus. Under the agreement, which was amended in 1992:

•Shared educational programs and services were cooperatively developed and provided through the establishment of the Franklin County Education Council (which is now defunct with what remained of its responsibilities folded into the Educational Service Center).

•School district boundaries remain as they were at the time of the agreement in 1986. Any areas that were within the city of Columbus limits, but were in a suburban school district prior to 1986 remain in that suburban school district.

•Unincorporated land is automatically transferred to the Columbus school district if and when it is ever annexed into the city of Columbus after 1986.

•Suburban districts agreed to share tax revenue with Columbus City Schools. Columbus receives 1 percent of tax growth (with a limit of around $1 million per year) from new commercial development in the areas served by the suburban schools.

•Districts can decide whether to renew or drop out of the agreement every six years.

History of Win-Win

Attorney Melissa Carleton from Bricker and Eckler, the law firm working with the county Educational Service Center which is overseeing the current Win-Win negotiations, said an annexation occurs when a city takes in township land and that a territory transfer is when property is moved from one school district to another.

According to Carleton, until 1955, whenever a city annexed land, students in that area automatically became students of that city’s school district. However, after 1955 that changed when the state mandated that any school district territory transfers had to be approved by the State Board of Education. She said that, by the 1970s, the city of Columbus’ territory was bigger than the Columbus Schools’ territory and the city school district began requesting territory transfers. This raised concerns from suburban school districts who were losing students and tax revenue with these transfers. These concerns resulted in the Win-Win Agreement between the suburban schools and Columbus Schools in an effort to relieve the turmoil.

For Groveport Madison, Win-Win meant the areas within the district that were already in the city of Columbus in 1986 would remain in Groveport Madison Schools. Carleton said this primarily includes the northwest and northeast corners of the district and the neighborhoods of Independence Village, Abbie Trails, Three Rivers, Madison Mills, and the Berwick area.

“Areas in the borders of the city of Groveport cannot be annexed by Columbus, so those will always be in the Groveport Madison district,” said Carleton. “However, unincorporated land in Madison Township after 1986 under Win-Win automatically goes to Columbus Schools if the land is annexed by the city of Columbus.”

Attorney Adam Miller of the Taft/ law firm, which is Groveport Madison’s legal counsel for Win-Win, said, for a city to annex property, the city border must be contiguous to the land and that land owners have the right to initiate annexations.

“Remember, it’s not just Columbus that can annex unincorporated township land,” said Miller. “Other cities like Canal Winchester, Pickerington and Reynoldsburg can also annex land. You can’t predict when and where an annexation request could come from.”

Regarding school district territory transfer requests, Miller said such transfers must be made in April of even numbered years and that the process is a lengthy, months long process.

Win-Win benefits to Groveport Madison

Hoover said the benefits of Win-Win to Groveport Madison are that the agreement protects the residential and commercial annexation of more than $128 million in property valuation in the district, particularly in the northeast and northwest corners of the district. It also minimizes legal challenges regarding educational equity and segregation across area school districts. The agreement also provides opportunities for programs like Mosaic, Kids Connect, and Metro for the district.

Impacts of Win-Win on Groveport Madison

Hoover noted these impacts of Win-Win on Groveport Madison:

•It allows the automatic transfer of school district territory upon annexation by an adjacent city. Five of the district’s school buildings (Asbury, Dunloe, Madison, Sedalia elementaries, and Middle School North) and the majority of residential property owners in the Madison Township portion of the district are unprotected from annexation by the city of Columbus and would transfer to Columbus Schools if annexed.

•Annexations of Groveport Madison territory into Columbus over the last 30 years have resulted in a total loss of more than $107 million in property valuation to the district.

•In addition to the loss of tax revenue, Groveport Madison pays $854,000 annually to Columbus Schools to protect those areas in Columbus that were within the district prior to 1986. These annual payments offer no annexation protection for the unincorporated areas of Madison Township.

•The district loses $37 million annually in taxable revenue from commercial, industrial and public utilities and this figure is increasing, which equates to at least $1.5 million in actual tax loss annually.

•The district has no ability to challenge land transfers before the State Board of Education under the Win-Win Agreement.

Additionally, Groveport Madison Treasurer John Walsh noted that the pre-1986 annexation properties in the district generate $12.8 million (tax year 2013). He said this makes Groveport Madison’s $854,000 annual payments to Columbus Schools seem askew when compared to what other suburban districts are paying.

For example, according to Walsh, South-Western City Schools pay Columbus Schools $1.1 million per year, yet receive $45.4 million in tax revenue for its pre-1986 properties. Hilliard City Schools pay $1.1 million and receive $62.3 million in tax revenue for its pre-1986 properties.

“These other districts collect more proportionately than Groveport Madison,” said Walsh. “It doesn’t make sense and makes you scratch your head.”

Former Groveport Madison Schools superintendent Mark Stevens, who was superintendent from 1981-87 and was involved in the original Win-Win negotiations, said, “When I heard Groveport Madison was paying, I was aghast.”

Stevens said Groveport Madison should not have to pay Columbus until the state per pupil spending for Groveport Madison exceeds what Columbus Schools receives.

What happens if Win-Win is terminated?

Carleton said she wanted to dispel a myth about Win-Win regarding where students attend school.

“You hear people say, ‘Send the students back to Columbus,’” said Carleton. “That’s not accurate. These students have always been your students. They’ve never been in Columbus Schools. You can’t give them back.”

Carleton said that, if Win-Win is terminated, land in the city of Columbus in the Groveport Madison district would not automatically shift to Columbus Schools.

“Columbus Schools can ask for a territory transfer, but it would need approval from the State Board of Education,” said Carleton. “Columbus Schools could request a territory transfer for anything within the city of Columbus borders. You can’t predict what Columbus may do.”

Also, if Win-Win ends, Groveport Madison would no longer have to pay $854,000 annually to Columbus Schools.

If a suburban school pulls out of Win-Win by May 31, Columbus Schools has a window in June to pull out of the agreement with the rest of the suburban districts if it so chooses.

“Don’t forget,” said Groveport Board of Education member Bryan Shoemaker, “if Win-Win goes away, if we choose to leave by May 31, on June 1 all those students and parcels are still ours. Everything’s a question mark.”

What’s next?

The board has until May 31 to decide if the district will continue participating in the agreement. The board plans to make a decision at either its May 11 or May 25 board meeting.
“It’s a challenge for us,” said Hoover. “It’s hard to see degrees of winning and losing. This agreement needs some tweaking.”

Hoover said if the district remains in Win-Win it cannot protect all its families’ rights to attend Groveport Madison, nor can it safeguard the commercial revenue for the district. Residential property taxes would have to increase to maintain district services because of the continuing loss of valuation due to annexations into the city of Columbus and Columbus Schools.

Hoover said if the district leaves Win-Win, it can assume there will be additional annexations in the protected areas of the district, but the district would have the right to challenge those territory transfers before the State Board of Education. Opting out of the agreement would save the district $854,000 per year in payments to Columbus Schools.

“In either case, the risk of losing our buildings in the unincorporated areas of the district and many of our families remains a very real threat, as the buildings go with the territory transferred,” said Hoover. “Pursuing a modernization of the agreement would make districts like Groveport Madison (whose commercial tax base is being eroded through annexations to Columbus) benefit from a more thorough discussion and re-evaluation of the agreement.”

Added Stevens, “Nobody is happy with Win-Win, but everyone is afraid of the alternatives.”

Groveport Madison Schools will hold a Win-Win Agreement public information and input session on May 4 at 7 p.m. at Groveport Madison Middle School North, 5474 Sedalia Drive.

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