The Canal Winchester Times

Board's next job: Deciding among 9 ballot issues

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

The Groveport school district is headed back to the ballot in May, but the board of education has yet to decide which of nine options it will pursue.

The board voted Jan. 9 to send all nine options to the Franklin County Auditor's Office for certification; the final choice will depend on whether the district will seek additional money for operations or to build a new high school, or both.

The list includes four levy proposals ranging in size from 6.18 mills to 8.96 mills; a 0.5-mill permanent improvement levy; a $33.3-million bond issue; and some combinations of options.

The levy proposals are for:

* An operating levy of 6.18 mills, which would cost $18.02 per month, or $216.24 a year, for every $100,000 of home valuation.

* An operating levy of 7.47 mills, which would cost $21.80 per month, or $261.60 a year, for every $100,000 of home valuation.

* An operating levy of 7.96 mills, equivalent to $23.21 per month, or $278.52 a year, per $100,000 of home valuation.

* An operating levy of 8.96 mills, equivalent to $26.12 per month, or $313.44 annually, per $100,000 of home valuation.

District Treasurer Tony Swartz said the smallest request, for 6.18 mills, would generate $4,485,000 for a bare minimum operating levy.

Some of the $2.4 million worth of cuts that were instituted after a $5.5-million emergency levy failed last year could be restored if voters approve a levy in May, Superintendent Bruce Hoover said, but details would depend on how much money the district has to work with.

Those cuts included 20 jobs and the loss of busing for high school students. In addition, a reorganization plan was implemented that realigned district middle schools and changed attendance boundaries for elementary schools to make transportation more efficient.

District officials said building a new high school would eliminate the overcrowding that exists at the current facility, where more than 1,400 students are housed in a building designed for 900.

According to a recent facility review by the consulting firm SHP, the high school building alone will continue to cost the district $1 million in maintenance each year for the next 15 to 20 years.

"That $1 million a year that comes out of our operating budget doesn't solve the overcrowding or improve the facility; it just repairs it as-is," Hoover said.

If the board decides to seek the $33.3 million bond issue and 0.5-mill permanent improvement levy -- and if voters approve -- the state of Ohio would provide $29.6 million toward building a new high school.

"If we do the high school project, then that will take care of a lot of the maintenance costs we currently pay out of our operating funds, which allows us to do a smaller operating levy," Swartz said.

"The last levy campaign asked for a 7.3-mill levy for about $5.7 million," he added. "So in terms of different options, if you go with a higher operations levy amount, you'll get to do more of the things you want to do and bring back more of the things from the cut, but without doing the high school project, we're going to continue to have the dark cloud of maintenance hanging over us."

However, Groveport Madison voters have rejected requests to rebuild schools in the past, including a $114-million bond issue in 2010 that would have provided money to overhaul all the schools. Hoover said a recent community survey suggests that most district voters don't see the need to renovate or rebuild the high school, and that will make the ballot issue a hard sell.

"Many of the voters thought the buildings didn't need any, or only needed minor repairs, so a large part -- about 72 percent of our voters -- need reconnected to the schools and we have to do a better job of that," he said.

High school Principal Aric Thomas said he's dealt with the same series of pipes breaking over the past eight years. He said securing the school facilities also represents a significant challenge.

"It's hard watching as the same main water pipe keeps getting patched over and over and buckets of water get dumped, day by day, over eight years of this," Thomas said.

"We have 27 entrances and exits in the main building, not including the 14 outbuildings that we have to open and close before and after each period. I invite people in to get the grand tour."

The school board has until Feb. 5 to choose what to put on the May ballot. A work session is scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 22.

Columbus Dispatch reporter Charlie Boss contributed to this story.

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