By Rick Palsgrove
The Groveport Madison Board of Education is considering its options following the voters’ rejection on May 7 of Issue 5, the district’s levy/bond issue.
Passage of Issue 5 would have renewed operating funds for the district as well as provided funding to build three pre-K-6 elementary schools and one middle school for grades seven and eight.
At the board’s May 22 meeting, Groveport Madison Superintendent Garilee Ogden recommended the district place a request on the Nov. 5 ballot to renew the existing, 5-year, 6.68 mill operating levy with no tax increase.
The current operating levy will expire on Dec. 31, 2019. According to school officials, if the levy is not renewed the district will see deficits of $2.7 million in 2020 and $5.6 million in 2021. Also, if the levy is not renewed, the district’s cash balance by June 2023 will be reduced to $3.4 million.
“We must go back to our voters for operating funds in order to continue our programs and operations,” said Ogden.
Ogden said she met with district staff as well as community members who supported the levy/bond issue and voters who opposed the issue to obtain feedback.
“Both those in favor of Issue 5 and those who opposed it felt like their hands were tied by combining the levy with the bond issue,” said Ogden.
Added board member Mary Tedrow, “I know some voters were upset because the issues were combined. I like the idea of not having a bond issue with the levy on the November ballot because I fear the levy would fail if it were combined with a bond issue again.”
Ogden also said both supportive and opposition voters do not like the idea of a continuing permanent levy and instead prefer a levy with a set time limit so voters have the opportunity to hold the district fiscally accountable.
Ogden noted Groveport Madison voters have only passed one continuing permanent operating levy in the past 25 years.
“Community feedback since the failure of Issue 5 is to separate the levy and bond issue and go to the Nov. 5 ballot with a 5-year renewal on the operating levy,” said Ogden. “I feel the voters would feel unheard if we went back to the ballot with a combined levy and bond issue.”
Ogden said if the levy is not renewed the “consequences could be severe” with potential cuts and reductions starting in the fall of 2020. What those cuts and reductions would be has not yet been determined.
“We will be as efficient and fiscally responsible as we can be,” said Ogden. “If the levy fails again, it will have drastic impacts on our curriculum and programs.”
Bond issue for buildings
Ogden recommended the district not pursue a bond issue for new buildings at this time.
“We need to take more time to plan, communicate, and determine what impacts any changes in state legislation and state budgets may have on our future projects,” said Ogden.
She said Groveport Madison is classified under the Classroom Facilities Assistance Program (CFAP) with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC).
“CFAP requires OFCC funding in its entirety before a project begins,” said Ogden, who noted the high school was the first segment of construction and the elementary schools and middle school would be the second segment.
She said potential new language in the upcoming state budget bill could allow Groveport Madison to switch to being in the Expedited Local Partnership Program (ELPP). Being an ELPP district would allow the district to begin building new schools with local revenue and then use state funding when it becomes available later.
She said if the district can become an ELPP district this summer, it is conceivable the district could build two schools with local dollars and then build two more once a bond issue is approved and state money is available.
But she added, “Right now the OFCC cannot commit to us as to when the state funding would be available.”
She said if Groveport Madison remains a CFAP district, it could be a five to six year wait for state funding for new buildings.
“It would be difficult to go to the voters with a bond issue when the OFCC won’t commit to when the state money would be available,” said Ogden. “It’s a moving target.”
Before pursuing a bond issue for new schools, Ogden said the district needs to establish an overall plan that includes the look of the buildings, where the building would be, the order the buildings would be built, and where students transition to attend schools while new buildings are constructed.
“We need a comprehensive plan of exactly what we’re going to do,” said Board President Bryan Shoemaker. “We have to have new buildings.”
High school addition
Ogden and district staff recently met with the OFCC to discuss the proposed four classroom addition to the high school.
Ogden said OFCC officials recommended the district wait to see what state legislative changes accompany the upcoming state budget because language in the budget bill could affect the district’s construction plans.
Ogden said the current high school enrollment is 1,638 while the building was built to hold 1,432. The latter figure was based on OFCC estimates prior to construction. The OFCC arrived at the number by using a combination of Ohio Department of Education numbers, the district’s 10 year enrollment trend, and the district’s current enrollment at the time.
Ogden said the approximately 200 student increase at the high school comes from about 100 former Eastland Career Center students returning to the high school to take advantage of the tech programs the new school offers; and about 100 students from local K-8 charter schools who are now of high school age.
The district has $2 million in savings leftover from the high school construction project, but must get OFCC approval before using the funds.
“The OFCC wants to see a three-year enrollment trend,” said Ogden. “They want to know that the current enrollment number will sustain over time.”
Shoemaker said he wants a letter from the OFCC acknowledging that their enrollment projections were incorrect.
“Somebody owes us an apology,” said Shoemaker regarding the enrollment projections.
Existing building repairs
Assistant Superintendent Jamie Grube is visiting the schools to determine the critical building repair priorities. He will present this information at the board’s next meeting on June 12.
“We’ll do what we can with what money we have in the existing allocation,” said Grube. “One way or another it’s a band-aid solution. The budget is what the budget is, but we still have to prioritize repairs.”
Added Treasurer John Walsh, “It’s about choices.”
To place an issue on the Nov. 5 ballot, the board must file a resolution of necessity to do so by July 8 and a resolution to proceed by Aug. 8. The board must decide if it will place an operating levy by itself on the ballot and wait to place a bond issue on a future ballot; or place a levy and bond issue on the ballot. The board’s next meeting is June 12 at 7 p.m. in the District Service Center, 4400 Marketing Place, Suite B, Groveport.