By Rick Palsgrove
A citizens’ effort to transfer an Obetz neighborhood from Groveport Madison Schools to Hamilton Township Schools has hit a road block.
According to the Franklin County Board of Elections, a citizens’ petition requesting the transfer did not have enough valid signatures to be presented as a territory transfer request before the State Board of Education.
“The Ohio Revised Code requires those signing a petition for such transfers to be registered and to have voted in the previous General Election,” said Ben Piscitelli of the Franklin County Board of Elections. “We found a total of 351 signatures from registered voters but only 216 voted in the previous General Election. A total of 345, or 75 percent of the General Election turnout (for that area), was needed for the state board of education to consider the request.”
Jeff Mackey, elections operations manager for the Franklin County Board of Elections, said the transfer of property between school districts is complicated by one line in the Ohio Revised Code.
“Generally, when we calculate the number of signatures required on a petition, we just take the number of qualified electors who voted and calculate the percentage of signatures required from that,” said Mackey. “Then any qualified elector in the district who signs the petition is counted towards that total. The State Board of Education informed me that only the signatures of voters who actually voted at the last general election should be counted under ORC 3311.24(A)(1)(b). That shrinks the pool somewhat. So, although we found signatures of 351 qualified electors, only 216 of them had actually voted at the 2015 General Election.”
According to the Ohio Revised Code, school district property transfers can only be requested in even numbered years and the request must be submitted by April 1 in an even numbered year. Because it is now after April 1, 2016, petitioners may make another attempt prior to April 1, 2018.
The neighborhood in question is located west of Alum Creek Drive, north of I-270, east of Charlotte Road, and south of the railroad tracks. Streets in this neighborhood include Sandridge, Bridlewood, Stegner, Lindsay, East Howard, Ethel, Charlotte, Rodger, Maureen and Jermoore. Properties west of Charlotte Road are in the Hamilton Township school district. There are 119 students and 85 households in the neighborhood.
On March 1, 2016, Obetz residents Gary and Robyn Hensley presented to Groveport Madison Schools a letter and a petition containing the signatures of 363 neighborhood residents requesting the transfer.
Additionally, Obetz Village Administrator Rod Davisson sent a letter dated March 1, 2016 to Groveport Madison expressing the village of Obetz’ support of their residents’ efforts to transfer their neighborhood from Groveport Madison Schools to Hamilton Township Schools.
“We’re not against Groveport Madison,” said Obetz resident Bill Perry in March. “This is all about the kids. We want to unify the neighborhood. This will unite our community into one school district instead of being split in two.”
Davisson said “all but this small portion of homes that are west of Alum Creek Drive are located in the Hamilton Township school district, which makes absolute sense as Alum Creek Drive provides a clean dividing line.”
“We’re trying to do what’s best for us,” said Gary Hensley at the July 13 Groveport Board of Education meeting.
Groveport Madison Superintendent Bruce Hoover said the district forwarded the petition this spring to the board of elections and the district’s attorney for signature verification. He said at the time the petition was forwarded it had appeared the petitioners had the necessary signatures. The district also sent the petition to the State Board of Education before signature verification.
Because of the board of elections ruling, the Groveport Madison Board of Education approved a resolution on July 13 stating the petition seeking transfer was inadvertently sent to the State Board of Education and that Groveport Madison no longer authorized the filing of petition for transfer with the State Board of Education because the petition did not meet signature requirements.
Had there been enough valid petition signatures, Groveport Madison Schools and Hamilton Township Schools would have each submitted position papers regarding the transfer request to the State Board of Education for its review and hearings.
Hoover said the final decision on whether the transfer would have taken place would have been up to the district that would receive the properties, which in this case was Hamilton Township Schools.
“We weren’t standing in opposition to the transfer request,” said Groveport Madison Communications Officer Jeff Warner. “We were just following the Ohio Revised Code. We had no reason to prevent the transfer or cause ill will. We understand the logic of the petitioners and their reasoning for the request.”
Warner said Groveport Madison sent the petition to the State Board of Education before the board of elections had ruled on the signatures.
“The board had to approve this resolution after it found out there were not enough valid signatures,” said Warner. “Regardless, it would not have changed the result because in the end there weren’t enough valid signatures.”
Brittany Halpin, associate director for media relations for the Ohio Department of Education, said a petition certified by the board of elections is a required part of the territory transfer process.
“Eventually they must be certified,” said Halpin.
However, Halpin said the State Board of Education has started to process the territory transfer request and will send letters to the Groveport Madison and Hamilton Township school districts seeking information. But, she said, no hearing date has been scheduled regarding the requested territory transfer.
Hensley said he is not sure when another petition attempt for the transfer process will be made. He said transfer supporters could attend a hearing if the State Board of Education decides to hold one on the issue in spite of the petition problem.
“We started this two and a half years ago and we’ve put a lot of effort into it,” said Hensley. “We got every signature we could get, except for a handful of people, based on the numbers we were told we needed.”
Hensley questioned the Ohio Revised Code regarding the petition process.
“If a majority of people want something like this the law shouldn’t make it so difficult,” said Hensley. “It should be taken into consideration when people are behind something. It seems unfair not to.”
Hamilton Township Local Schools did not respond to request for comment.