Proponents of a Reynoldsburg school bond issue on the March 4 ballot emphasized its benefits at a town meeting Feb. 26, while some of the same residents who opposed a similar issue two years ago continued to argue that it is unnecessary.
Voters face a 4.9-mill bond issue when they go to the polls. If approved, the $56 million bond package would be matched by the state with $55 million and fund the construction of a second high school and seventh elementary school on Summit Road, with the remaining 60 percent of the project dedicated to upgrading other buildings throughout the district.
The Livingston Avenue high school was designed for a student population of 1,289 but is nearly double that capacity at 2,226.
Principal Diane Mankins told the audience at Hannah Ashton Middle School the building houses more people in one place than any other location in Reynoldsburg.
An open microphone afforded parents, residents, retirees, and students the opportunity to ask Business Manager Ron Strussion, Superintendent Steve Dackin, and levy committee members Len Hartman, Ginita Kirksey, and Roger and Linda Scheetz questions regarding overcrowding, land price, growth, and community involvement.
"This is a completer bond on a plan that began in 2002," stated Hartman, "and this is the third part of this plan. It will allow us to officially tap into a fund that will raise $56 million locally and let us take $55 million from the state in free money. There are 130 other districts on that list that would like to have the money. It’s money that’s already on the table."
The issue takes care of more than the high school students, Hartman said.
"We’re going to build a new elementary school and new high school, but the largest portion will be spent on upgrading facilities we already have," he pointed out. "Every child is going to benefit. There is severe overcrowding at the high school. It is double-booked. We have kids leaving the building to go outside to modulars. We want to alleviate overcrowding and have students go to school in a manageable building."
Resident Joan Curnutte felt her group, who publicly opposed the unsuccessful 2006 bond issue, did not have enough opportunity to share their input regarding the bond issue.
Voicing the same argument as two years before, she said her group opposes the 2008 issue because they do not believe there will be a big enough increase in the number of students to warrant another high school.
Curnutte contends that booster organizations would be forced to raise money for two sets of sports and activities, two sets of law enforcement would be needed at games, and students would continue to park in residential areas.
"Education is about teaching and learning," remarked Curnutte. "Not every bond issue is in the students’ long-term best interest. By the time you open a new school, it would be opening to empty classrooms with duplicate sets of administrators. More properties will be for sale. There will be blight in neighborhoods. It’s not a question of sacrifice for people on a fixed income. There are so many downsides."
Hartman admitted there are pros and cons to anything, but when it comes down to voting for or against the issue, the campaign organizer said ultimately, a voter has to do what is best for them.
"Basically, I’m on a fixed income," commented Scheetz, a retiree, "but someone paid for my education when I was in school and I need to pay back."
When asked about the cost per acre for the Summit Road site, Strussion reported the district paid $41,000 per acre, which was $1,000 less than the appraised value. He said Reynoldsburg paid over $60,000 per acre for the Waggoner Road site, where a middle school and junior high are located.
"There’s not much land available in the amount needed for a high school (50 acres) and elementary school (15 acres)," continued Strussion. "They wanted $72,000 an acre for the land across the street. When you don’t have land, the price goes up. They (property owners) were more interested in giving up the land across the street and they came back at $41,000 an acre. It was the cheapest land available. There’s just a shortage of land in Reynoldsburg. Period."
One resident asked organizers and administrators why the district wants to continue building new schools when the city is at the threshold of new housing developments.
Dackin acknowledged growth projections were revised by the state from 8,300 students to 7,300 by 2015, but the superintendent pointed out the reduction does not eliminate overcrowding at the high school and does not take into account land that could be annexed into Reynoldsburg in the future.
Assistant Superintendent Dan Hoffman emphasized the promise made by the school board to involve the community in deciding what direction the district should take with a new high school if the bond issue is approved by voters.
The board has promised that, within 60 days of passage of the bond issue, a community engagement process will begin to determine the configuration of the high schools, that may be something other than the traditional structure for grades 9-12.
Hoffman said Reynoldsburg needs to broaden its horizons and look at high school designs around the nation. By soliciting community input, the district would have the opportunity to listen to the community and learn together about best practices.
"Everybody can have their say, but not everybody will have their way," added Hoffman.