Pickerington may see new school levy

Pickerington Local School District treasurer Daniel Griscom told school board members at their Oct. 13 meeting they need to place a levy on the spring ballot.

Last March, when voters approved a 7.9-mill renewal levy, Superintendent Dr. Karen Mantia promised that the schools would "continue to tighten our belt to stay off the ballot for instructional dollars a long as possible."

The new levy would not raise "instructional dollars," she said. It instead would generate funds for building maintenance.
Pickerington recently learned it would receive $50 million in state money from the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) to renovate Central High, Ridgeview Junior High and three elementary schools – Fairfield, Pickerington and Violet.

To receive the state money, the district must secure a 23-year levy for the upkeep of its buildings.

If voters approve the issue, it would extend an existing 0.5 levy originally passed in 1997 by 10 years to meet the 23-year requirement, Griscom said.

Annually, residents would not see their taxes increase, board member Lori Sanders said.

Griscom also said that due to current economic conditions, budget cuts would need to be discussed.

Acknowledging the district’s budget issues, technology director Walt Podgurski nevertheless recommended that the board purchase 250 to 300 new computers for the junior highs and high schools.

"Technology just has to be funded," Podgurski said. "There is no other choice."

Podgurski said while new computers would not solve the district’s troubled electronic grade book, it would help.

In August, Podgurski told the board that by the time interim reports were sent home, parents of students in grades 5-12 would receive usernames and passwords to enable them to view their children’s grades online.

The district refers to the online grade system as Parent Assistant. As teachers post grades to their electronic grade books, parents would be able to check their child’s progress.

In September, Podgurski told the board that the system kept crashing to the frustration of teachers, and it would not be ready for parents to access.

The district tested an older version of the software last school year, but implemented an update.

At the board meeting, Podgurski said many of the problems are associated with the new software, but the service provider, Treca, recommended against reverting to the older version because data may be lost.

Treca was able to access another district’s grades using the new version of the software on Pickerington computers.

Treca could not explain why it worked for the other district, Podgurski said.

Mantia said the software needed to be fixed and the board meeting was "neither the time nor the place to discuss new computers."

"Until the software problems have been resolved, talking about anything else is rather useless," Mantia said.

Mark Ames, director of information technology for Treca, said he would have "liked to have (the crashing) resolved two weeks ago and there are a lot of resources to throw at the problem."

Podgurski did not have an estimate on the cost for new computers.

Also in August, Podgurski along with consultant Mark Souders proposed that the schools purchase a fiber optic cable network.

The network would increase the bandwidth from 10 megabytes to 100, Souder said.

Although there would be a set-up fee of $256,000 to $390,000, the district would eventually save money because it would no longer pay AT&T for Internet service at a rate of $100,000 per year.

Souder said the fiber optic cable carried a 20-year warranty, but would last longer.

At the Oct. 13 meeting, Podgurski told the board that a fiber optic cable would not be cost effective for the district.

If the cable became damaged, the district lacked an expert to fix it. To pay an expert would cost the district more money than its current lease with AT&T.

Podgurski said the network would "definitely be doable" if the district found a partner such as the city of Pickerington to share the cost.

"I don’t think that ultimately the school district should do this alone," Podgurski said.

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