The Canal Winchester Times

Levy renewal atop schools' 2014 agenda

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Canal Winchester Superintendent Jim Sotlar is ringing in 2014 with three main goals.

Beginning his second year at the helm of the school district, Sotlar has set financial stability, academic growth and future growth and development as his top priorities.

With the current three-year emergency levy that generates $5.83 million a year set to expire Dec. 31, 2014, the renewal of the levy is "critical to the financial health of the district," Sotlar said.

The school system's five-year financial forecast indicates that without the renewal of the emergency levy, the Canal Winchester schools face a $5.3 million negative cash balance by June 30, 2017 and $13.9 by June 30, 2018.

"I firmly believe that a strong community equals a strong school system equals a strong community," Sotlar said. "We will continue to provide a quality education program, while being good stewards of taxpayers' monies, but will need the support of the community to keep the district in good financial standing."

If the current emergency levy expires without being renewed or a substituted, "The district would no longer have the ability to renew the levy and take advantage of the state continuing to pay the 12.5-percent rollback.

"This means that the taxpayers would have to pay the full $5.83 million instead of the approximate $5,101,250 that they are currently paying," said district Treasurer Joyce Boyer.

At its November meeting, the Board of Education discussed the benefits of placing a substitute emergency renewal on the ballot for the same amount as the present emergency levy.

This substitute levy would allow the district to collect what it currently receives from existing homeowners and businesses, but would also generate monies from new construction in the district.

On Dec. 16, the board took the first step to place a levy on the ballot by unanimously agreeing to send to the Franklin County Auditor's Office three Resolutions of Necessity for a $5.83-million substitute emergency renewal levy.

While the three resolutions are seeking the same dollar amount, the levies would be in effect for either five years, seven years, or for a continuing period of time.

The school board will decide which one of these resolutions, if any, to place on the ballot at its meeting Jan. 13.

Both the Resolution of Necessity and the Resolution to Proceed must be taken to the Franklin County Board of Elections by the Feb. 5 filing deadline to be on the May 6 ballot.

Sotlar's second goal for the new year is to "embrace education today" and work toward changes to prepare Canal Winchester students for the future, college and career readiness.

"Incorporating technology, collaborative learning and engaging students in the classroom every day provides the skills necessary to succeed in the ever-changing world we live in," Sotlar said. "Blended learning, STEM, digital curriculum, and social and emotional learning are areas we will continue to focus on."

The third area of focus for Sotlar in 2014 is the district's master plan, which was last reviewed in 2008 and was developed by the Ohio School Facilities Commission.

The master plan looks at the building needs, improvements that have been made to the schools and future facilities needs of the district. While it was discussed at a board meeting last October, no formal action was taken.

"Later in 2014, the district will discuss the possibility of updating the plan to lay out a foundation for future growth and development," Sotlar said.

While the new year brings opportunity to set new goals for the school district, Sotlar also understands that there will be challenges ahead.

In addition to the need to pass a levy, the school district will be wrestling with the new state assessments for students that begin in the 2014-15 school year, new graduation requirements that first impact the 2014-15 freshman class and new items being added to the State Report Card.

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