SWCS considering two issues this fall

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Voters in the South-Western City School District may see two issues on the November ballot this year.

One issue would be to build new buildings; the other, an operating levy for existing buildings. The options were discussed at a special Board of Education meeting on May 19.

Recommended facility plan

The Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) has offered the district 47 percent of the cost to fund a facilities project to build new schools and bring the district up to 2008 design standards. The board has to update the master plan next month in order to receive the money.

The recommended facility plan includes replacing 13 elementary schools with minor renovations to Buckeye Woods and Darby Woods.

Franklin Woods, Galloway Ridge, Holt Crossing and Park Street intermediate schools would receive minor renovations. Hayes Intermediate would also get minor renovations and a 37,000 square foot addition estimated at $10.3 million. Another intermediate school, yet-to-be determined, would also receive an addition. That school would be decided based upon enrollment growth.

The recommended plan would replace four middle schools. Jackson Middle School would get minor renovations.

At the high school level, the plan would replace Franklin Heights. Grove City and Westland would receive major renovations and additions. Minor renovations would be made at Central Crossing and the Career Academy.

All modular units would be eliminated. The plan also sets aside space for all-day everyday kindergarten at the elementary schools. The grade configuration would remain the same.

The estimated cost

Deputy Superintendent Phil Warner explained that community members want to know one thing – cost.  

"We are getting our arms around this and still working on the final cost," said Warner.

He told the board that a "comfortable number," including the project cost and locally funded initiatives, would be about $476 million.

"We are closer to confidence with that number but we hope it will come down," Warner remarked.

Locally funded initiatives include additional costs for land acquisitions, swing space and technology. Warner explained that the architects working on the project have estimated that the district will need two or three additional sites where a school would be relocated.

The site and infrastructures up to that site would be locally funded. Warner said the plan is economical and it minimized the number of additional school sites.

The community would be responsible for funding 53 percent of the project, including locally funded initiatives.

SWCS Treasurer Hugh Garside guessed that the plan would require a six-mill bond issue, or a little above. This would cost the owner of a $100,000 home approximately $184 a year. The owner of a $150,000 would pay about $276 annually and the owner of a $200,000 home would pay roughly $368.

Safety

Board President Cathy Johnson said safety and security would be enhanced in each of the buildings.

Warner explained that all the new schools could go on lockdown with the push of a button.

"Our buildings are safe now but they are not as safe as they could be," said Warner.

Superintendent Dr. Bill Wise said the buildings would have interior and exterior cameras.

"The designs were done with safety in mind," he commented.

Wise said the buildings would flow and limit hard corners.

Board action

"This plan offers a lot of pluses for this educational community," said Warner.

The board could vote on the plan at the June 9 meeting. If they pass the master plan, they will need to place a bond issue on the November ballot.

The plan was recommended by the community and a steering committee.

Current operating needs

Garside told the board that in 2010, the district will have a negative cash balance.

"We need to decide what to do," he said. "We have made cuts where we can."

 In 2007, the district made approximately $13 million in cuts.

"To make another cut like that would be really hard," said Garside.

The treasurer explained that in fiscal year 2010, the district will have a negative cash balance of about $8 million. He explained to the board the difference in passing an operating levy in 2008 versus 2009.

Garside said if voters pass a levy in November 2008, the district would start receiving the funds in 2009. If the board waits to place the levy on the ballot until 2009, they would not receive funds until 2010. According to Garside and Wise, by that time they would have already been forced to make cuts.

Garside said a five-mill levy would only buy the district one year and a six-mill would give them three years of a positive cash balance. If the board decided to pursue a six-mill operating levy, it would cost the owner of a $150,000 home approximately $284 a year.

Garside explained that the district will lose a tangible personal property tax in 2009. The district also received less state aid this year.

Wise said another factor is the rising fuel costs. He explained that in one day, the buses travel the distance it would take to get to Los Angeles and back two and a half times.

"We have been fiscally conservative," said Wise.

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