Rocky Fork Enterprise

July 7 deadline

School board weighing fall ballot options

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The Gahanna-Jefferson Board of Education met into the late hours of June 25, debating over what might be the best option for a November ballot measure.

The board faces a July 7 deadline to file a resolution with the Franklin County Board of Elections if it wants to proceed with a bond issue to construct one new building, district treasurer Julio Valladares said. If the board wants to proceed with a permanent-improvements levy, the deadline is Aug. 6.

Valladares said the resolution due July 7 wouldn't commit the board to going on the ballot, but it would leave the option open.

Based on the findings of SHP Leading Design, a firm that was hired in February to establish a five-year capital-improvements plan at a cost not to exceed $10,000, the total over the next five years to just upgrade and remodel all buildings would be about $26 million.

Superintendent Francis Scruci said building needs include such items as HVAC, lighting and windows.

The board is considering a permanent-improvements levy or combination bond and permanent-improvements levy.

Board president Jill Schuler said no permanent-improvements levy would get the district a building.

"In addition to a PI, we have to entertain a bond," she said. "I think we're charged with looking further down the line than just this issue. We need to consider the message, the needs that exist and how we could pay for them."

Board member Matt Campbell asked if Lincoln Elementary School would have to be replaced in any long-term plan if the board waited a year to put together a comprehensive plan.

"That truly needs to happen," Valladares said.

Scruci said the district has the luxury of land available to relocate the school near Middle School South.

"For three years, we can keep them in that building," he said. "That's the luxury we have with that. We'll always have that opportunity."

A guideline that sets the replacement-versus-renovation standard for school facilities is two-thirds of the cost of a new building, according to the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission.

"Based on OFCC standards, eight buildings should come down," Scruci said. "If we put money into them, it could bring it down to three. A PI (levy) can only be used for anything lasting five years or longer."

He said the permanent-improvements levy component is important to the district because of an immediate need for bus replacements and technology needs.

Board member Lew Griffin said as much as he would like the district to build a new elementary school, he doesn't want to follow the same model as the past.

"It's out of date," he said. "We need to look at how we want to house our kids. On the PI, I'm probably 50-50 on that right now. I haven't had an opportunity to look at what we'd be doing to all buildings. Having a facilities plan is the only way to sell to the community. What's our master plan for our elementary schools? To me, it's a Band-Aid approach to rebuild that school. I think it's short-sighted."

Board member Jason Phillips said he also doesn't like the lack of a big picture.

"My concern is the more responsible route," he said. "Will slowing down (the process) cost more money? What does it look like? What's the cost of waiting to have conversations?"

Veteran board member Windy McKenna said if a bond and PI are proposed separately, people will vote for the one that costs the least.

"If you combine them, you have a greater chance of passing them both," she said. "That's our experience."

Valladares said a new building is a problem with some board members because no capital improvement plan is in place.

"I think what you need to do is a continuous PI, 2 mills or 3 or in between," he said. "We need a continuous PI to help with the buildings."

He said a proposed bond was brought back to the board for consideration because the district has 0.4 mill of debt dropping off next year.

"You can tear down and build a building without taking from taxpayers' pockets," he said.

John Payne, principal of Bradley Payne LLC, has served as the district's financial adviser the for the past 13 years. He previously told the board the district currently is collecting 2 mills for bonds.

As some of that debt is poised to fall off, Payne said, a 24-year bond could be set up to continue to collect 2 mills and nothing more for a "no net additional millage."

If the district were to go with a PI, Valladares said, the board needs to act as soon as possible so the marketing process could begin.

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