Messenger photo by Dianne Garrett
Whitehall School Superintendent Judyth Dobbert-Meloy, left, accepts surveys from Deja Bailey and Charles Kamer at the first community engagement gathering on a possible bond issue Jan. 14 at the home of Walter and Jean Armes.
The Whitehall school district has an opportunity to receive state funding for replacing all of its buildings, and is testing the waters for a possible bond issue through a series of informational coffees.
On Jan. 14 the first coffee was hosted by school board President Walter Armes and his wife, Jean, at their home. They invited neighbors to attend to hear a presentation by Superintendent Judyth Dobbert-Meloy, and have the chance to ask questions.
The Ohio School Facilities Commission has done two assessments of all school buildings in recent months, and determined that it would be more cost-effective to demolish and rebuild schools instead of renovating them.
Eligibility for state funding is based on the property wealth of a local district, and districts are ranked each year by the Ohio Department of Education, based on property values. Districts with the lowest property values are funded first. Whitehall ranks 240 out of 612.
The cost to rebuild would be about $65 million, with the state funding 62 percent of that amount. The community would be required to approve a bond issue for the remaining 38 percent.
A 5.4-mill bond issue would cost the owner of a $100,00 home $189 a year in additional taxes. Senior citizens are eligible for a Homestead exemption that would reduce the amount they would pay.
Dobbert-Meloy explained how assessments were conducted throughout the district, focusing on conditions of the buildings and their infrastructures. The district spends $600,000 to $750,000 per year just to maintain the deteriorating buildings, and soon she anticipates that cost will rise to $1 million.
A growing concern is the fact that programs and services are expanding, enrollment is up this year by about 100 students, and space is becoming more limited.
When surveying employees about barriers in their teaching environments, some of the other responses were leaky roofs, lack of sufficient restrooms, poor air quality/ventilation, no security, lack of storage and locker space, plumbing and electrical problems.
When Dobbert-Meloy came to the district in 2000, the graduation rate was at 73 percent, and is now over 90 percent. She noted that Whitehall is in a good development stage right now, and the schools could jump on board with that, too.
Better facilities tend to attract new families to a district, as well as teachers who will remain for many years, she added.
In 1995 voters approved a 13-mill levy, that has stretched longer than was anticipated. The superintendent wants residents to understand that when property values increase, that does not increase the amount of money going to the schools. They only pay the dollar amount approved at the polls.
Over the past 10 years the amount of state and federal support the district receives has increased to $14.5 million. That has helped the district keep another levy off the ballot.
It is anticipated that the district will remain financially stable until 2011. The superintendent does not plan to ask for any additional operating funds.
The money generated from a bond levy must be used for the sole purpose of constructing school buildings. A permanent improvement levy is required to purchase capital assets or maintain existing assets.
It is their hope to have 40 or more coffees throughout the city in neighborhoods and with focus groups in the community engagement process.
If anyone is interested in hosting a coffee or attending one, call Brian Hamler at the administration office at 417-5003.