SWCS looks to spring ballot

The South-Western City School Board of Education will not go forward with a February ballot issue, but May is still on the table.

At the Nov. 17 meeting, board members discussed a plan for another issue. On Nov. 4, district residents voted against the combined 9.69-mill bond issue and operating levy by about 58 percent.

Superintendent Dr. Bill Wise said that if the board wanted to pursue a February ballot issue, they would have to file the paperwork with the Franklin County Board of Elections by Nov. 20.

Board member Randy Reisling said the turnaround time is too quick. It would not give the board the time to reflect or further discuss the issue.

"I don’t think it’s in our best interest to proceed with February," said Reisling. "It’s too quick for me to say ‘yes, let’s go.’"

Board Vice President William McCarty agreed and said in the past the district has not had a great success rate with February issues.

"We need to look at our position and reflect," he said.

The board agreed and decided to review the issue and get further public input before they put another issue on the ballot.

Some residents think that is a mistake.

"We should take advantage of every election opportunity," said Rick Redfern of Grove City. "Just try, try, try."

Redfern suggested that they board run a bond issue in February then deal with a tax levy later since right now, the district still has state money for facilities.

"It may not be the chance of a lifetime, but it’s a golden opportunity."

The bond portion of the issue would have allowed the district to construct 13 new elementary schools to replace 15 buildings. It would have also funded four new middle schools and a new Franklin Heights High School. The facilities project would have provided technology and security upgrades, provided space for all-day every-day kindergarten, and eliminated all modular units.

The Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) offered to fund about $206 million, or 47 percent, of the building project. The taxpayers would have funded the remaining $260 million over a maximum of 28 years.

The tax levy would have helped keep the district out of trouble through 2012. Wise explained that by the end of the next school year, the district will face a $5.4 million deficit. The following year, it faces a $33 million deficit.

Wise asked Hugh Garside, district treasurer, to review the operating finances with the board at their Nov. 24 work session. He said the district may have to look at making cuts next year.

Terry Jones, who is a member of SWAT, a levy opposition group, said Issue 81 was defeated by uncertain financial times.

"Given the state of this economy, I don’t see the district passing a levy anytime soon," said Jones. "Voters are safeguarding their resources."

Other residents are not ready to throw in the towel.

"I believe education is a priority in the community, said Ed Palmer, former Central Crossing High School principal and levy chair of Citizens for South-Western City Schools.

Palmer told the board, "We know you’ll do what is right for the children."

The district has secured OSFC funds until June 2009. After that, the state will move on and offer funding to other school districts. The district could still try to pass an issue then reapply for the funds at a later date.

Also at the meeting, the board recognized the volunteers and campaign chairs.

"We appreciate your effort, time and energy," said Board President Cathy Johnson.

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