Delaware News

Money, security on Big Walnut's mind this year

Sunbury leaders also mull budget issues, consider long-term plan as village grows

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Finances and school security top the list of issues facing the Big Walnut Local School District in 2013, while the village of Sunbury also will work through budget concerns and continue to manage its growth.

"The funding of schools is always a source of discussion, whether it's state, local or federal," Big Walnut Superintendent Steve Mazzi said. "The funding of schools by property tax is a tough way to go."

After several failures at the ballot box, Big Walnut passed a five-year, 7.5-mill operating levy in 2010 that has helped to keep the district financially stable.

Mazzi said he expects revenue to stay flat in the district during 2013. The 3,000-student district has a $28 million general fund budget, so Mazzi said officials need to keep an eye on expenses.

Unexpected expenses could be the result of unfunded mandates from the state or federal government, enrollment increases requiring more teachers to be hired, as well as concerns a severe winter could cause utility and maintenance costs to rise higher then expected.

"You just don't know," Mazzi said. "These are things you can't predict."

Security will be paramount in the district following the deadly shootings late last year at a school in Newtown, Conn.

"With the recent tragic events, all schools will be looking at this with a different eye," Mazzi said. "It will also impact school budgets."

As 2013 began, an architect took a look at Big Walnut schools to see if any entrances should be reconfigured for better security. All school doors will be locked and visitors will have to buzz the school office to enter. Security cameras are a new feature that will be added at entrances, Mazzi said.

"Security upgrades are things people are going to see," he said. "It's a cost to the district, but we are not going to put a price tag on the security of our children."

A couple of educational issues for 2013 include preparing for a reconfigured state report card and the institution of a curriculum based on new Common Core state standards.

The new report card -- likely to be instituted in the 2013-14 school year -- will rate schools and districts with grades from "A" to "F," rather than the current ratings that range from "excellent with distinction" to "academic emergency."

While educators don't know yet what the new report cards will focus on as far as academic standards, Mazzi said one thing is clear.

"The A-F ratings are what most people are going to recognize," he said.

Big Walnut was rated "excellent with distinction" this year, so Mazzi said the district will continue to strive to be at the top.

The Common Core standards will be a shift in the way instruction is conducted and will be a move away from some existing testing standards.

"As we transition as a state to these, it will impact every district in the state," Mazzi said. Full implementation is expected for the 2014-15 school year.

2013 in Sunbury

In Sunbury, Tommy Hatfield is finishing up his first year as mayor of the village. He said the No. 1 priority is the budget and expenses.

"In the past three to five years, as the economy turned downward, we did a good job of deferring expenses and were cautious on spending money," said Hatfield, who served six years on council before being named mayor.

Now the village must prioritize how it spends money, he said, whether it's on new equipment or on street-repair program expected to cost $400,000 to $500,000 in 2013.

The village received no grant money in 2012 and spent only $24,000 on street repairs. Many village streets are in poor condition.

Implementing a village master plan to deal with growth and development is next on Hatfield's list to accomplish this year.

The village of about 4,400 residents could become a city of more than 5,000 by 2020.

"Sunbury is a very desirable place to live and raise a family," Hatfield said. "I'd like to have a completed and approved plan by the end of 2013 ... as something to use to work through this growth and make decisions."

The Delaware County Regional Planning Commission is helping village officials and the council put together the master plan.

A couple of other areas of interest to Hatfield are learning more about how the village works and making sure the historic Town Hall remains in good shape. The building has a leaky standing seam metal roof and needs tens of thousands of dollars in repairs, he said.

"I've tried to work cautiously and slowly and learn more about the (village) operations," Hatfield said of his first year as mayor.

"I want to work with the different departments to do strategic planning," he said. "I have ideas that I'd like to do, but I'm not revealing them yet."

An engineer has inspected the Town Hall roof and the current plan is to replace it, along with gutters and other related repairs, to reflect the historical nature of the century-old, three-story brick building.

Hatfield said he had hoped to have the work done in 2012, but time ran out.

"There's no question this building and what it represents to the town is a jewel," he said. "We have to strike a balance between the financial aspects of what we can do and the historical" significance of the building.

The windows and doors also could be replaced if there is money for the work. Hatfield said he wants Town Hall restored to its original beauty.

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