A levy next spring, a new learning-center building project and a state budget crisis are among the issues facing the five candidates vying for three Gahanna-Jefferson school board seats.

A levy next spring, a new learning-center building project and a state budget crisis are among the issues facing the five candidates vying for three Gahanna-Jefferson school board seats.

Incumbent Jeff Carson, answering from his deployment in Afghanistan, said the board has been cost-sensitive to the building, trying to pay for much of the project with additional property-tax revenues, projected money from property leases of the retail space in the building, state grants and Ohio Schools Facilities Commission funding.

"And we continue to look for additional sources to fund the project," Carson said. "To that end, 50 percent of the project will come from these sources."

The other incumbent, Claire Yoder, chose not to directly answer the questions, which were sent to her twice. Instead, she sent her election brochure.

In the brochure, she wrote, "My vision for Gahanna Jefferson School District is to continue to provide our students with the highest quality education, preparing students for the 21st century, in a safe environment, while continuing to keep the school district financially solvent. I will continue to be accountable to the community for the district being fiscally responsible."

ThisWeek tried three times to contact challenger Miles Herbert but was unsuccessful.

Challenger Scott Mounts said the district has not yet figured out the operating costs for the new center.

"The district will be negotiating a lease agreement with a developer that is intended to offset the operating cost of the learning center and contribute to the cost of the development," he said. "The increased property value will also generate additional tax revenue, which will be paid by the developer. The intended use of the learning center is to provide additional space for the high school.

"This should not require a significant addition of administrative staff or teachers," he said. "As such, the operation of the new facility will not greatly affect the overall budget of the district. We should incorporate those operating costs into the existing budget."

Mounts said he thought the partnership between the school district and Mo Dioun's Stonehenge Co. has been a success.

"The site appears to be commercially viable, and I suspect that in an improving economy, finding tenants will be successful," Mounts said. "In a worst-case scenario, the district could divest the property."

Jill Schuler said she thinks the partnership between Stonehenge and the district has the potential to be an innovative solution to the high school's need for more classroom space and the district's need to watch the bottom line during difficult economic times.

"As someone who is running for the school board for the first time, I was not a part of the decision to move forward on this project and can only speak from the perspective of an extremely interested taxpayer and mother," Schuler said. "The current board and superintendent have assured the community that operational costs will be funded in large part by rents from nonschool tenants. It is critical that as planning continues, the community is kept up to date on the progress for securing tenants."

Carson said asking the voters for money is a difficult task in good or bad economic times. "However, it gives the board members the opportunity to gauge how well we've spent the taxpayers' money," Carson said. "We have an excellent fiscal reputation in the Gahanna-Jefferson community and one I'm proud to bring to the citizens' front door step when we begin the levy campaign. I believe our community cares about our children's education, but expect us to remain fiscally sound."

He said the district is among the lowest-taxed communities in the county. He said the district regularly looks at programs.

Carson said Gahanna-Jefferson promised not to return with a levy for three years and was able to get four years out of the most recent levy.

Mounts said the chance for an operating levy renewal is good, based on what he has heard from the community.

"A proposed tax increase in the district may be received with more uncertainty than a renewal," Mounts said. "There are a lot of questions being asked about the new development, and many in the community are afraid of this proposed facility being no more successful than the Creekside development."

Mounts continued: "Any plan for this learning center has to be thoughtfully developed and clearly discussed with the community. We'll have some work to do."

Schuler said, "Gahanna voters have traditionally been willing to support levies to ensure the quality of our schools. At a time when many families are already working overtime to make ends meet, I think that the school district will have to make a clear, strong case to the voters as to why they should support the levy this time. More than ever, Gahanna residents deserve and will expect a full accounting of district resources and spending so they can make an informed decision."

As for where the district will be in five years, Carson said enrollment could increase slightly.

"If the governor's new financial program is funded, our community will certainly see a longer space between levies," Carson said. "However, the board and administration have to continue the formula that has made our district successful in being good stewards of the funds. I hope to further leverage an ROTC program and increase our environmental culture and operations."

Carson said he is not a great believer in the state report cards.

"I have heard personally from colleges and universities, the work force and military recruiters that Gahanna-Jefferson continues to produce well-educated, prepared, disciplined students. This is what motivates me."

As for the future of the district in five years, Mounts said, enrollment is stable.

"Funding will be a challenge as the implementation of H.B. 1 progresses," he said. "The financial impact on the district and just how we will respond remains to be seen. The good news is that Gahanna and Jefferson Township are being recognized as a great place to live and as having an excellent school system. I think we should build on this positive foundation. Given the difficulties that other central Ohio school systems have encountered in the past couple of years, I believe that Gahanna will continue to attract more families, which will in turn maintain or increase property values."

Schuler said she is concerned about new unfunded mandates from the state and the effect they will have on Gahanna-Jefferson's budget.

"Unfortunately, because of this uncertainty at the state level, it is difficult to predict what school finances will look like five years from now, though I do suspect enrollment will remain steady," she said "It makes it more critical that the school board be fiscally conservative with locally raised dollars, not to mention vocal at the state level when we determine that mandates will needlessly drive up our costs."

Schuler continued: "As for state report cards, it is my hope -- and one of my highest priorities should voters elect me to the board this November -- that we meet the state's 'excellent' standard. Our children deserve no less."

gvickers@thisweeknews.com