Olentangy Valley News

No new buildings, but new challenges for schools

Olentangy's 2013 focus: Providing good education in increasingly cramped space

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Olentangy Local School District officials will grapple with a still-growing student body and plan for the future of the district in 2013.

No new buildings will be added this year, even as enrollment continues to climb -- but at less than the 1,000-students-a-year pace of the past decade.

Thanks to the relative slowdown, the district will repeat the no-building feat of 2012 in 2013 -- just the second time since 2002 and fourth time in the last 19 years that no new schools will be built in a year.

Superintendent Wade Lucas said the change will enable the district to shift the focus to maintaining its existing buildings.

"Now the challenge is that we've built 20 buildings in 20 years," he said. "We need to go back and look at the capital improvements piece and start dealing with the little things: roofs, heating systems, air conditioning and so forth.

"Now the question is: How do we continue to provide the educational product that we currently provide without building any new buildings?"

Efforts to plan for the future of the district will get a special focus in 2013. In February, the Project 2020 committee, consisting of parent volunteers, teachers and administrators, will address the school board for the first time.

For more than a year, the task force has been exploring ways to delay the need for new buildings by embracing new opportunities and technology, including the possibility of renting space in other existing buildings, strengthening partnerships with local community colleges and expanding online course offerings.

"We want to take a hard look at whatever is determined to be most efficient and effective, given our financial resources and our pledge to make the levy last four years," said school board President Dave King.

In 2012, the school board pledged to extend the life of the current school levy, passed in May 2011, through at least the 2014-15 school year.

Last year, officials took steps toward that goal with new contracts for district employees -- but about $1 million in additional savings must be identified this year to make the board's pledge viable.

While the school board hasn't yet identified what cuts might be made, Lucas said the district will look for ways to share services with local municipalities, streamline school programs and consolidate its staff roster.

"When you're talking about a million in savings, for the most part you're talking about personnel attrition," he said. "As people leave and retire, we continue to look at our staff and ask how we can do things differently to provide the same types of opportunities for kids (without replacing staffers)."

The district will use technology to expand its course offerings this year, Lucas said. In 2012, an Orange High School teacher used video-conferencing technology to allow students at Liberty High School to enroll remotely in her computer science course. Lucas said it was a big success and likely will be replicated.

In the fall, teachers will make the full transition to the new Common Core curriculum standards, which officials say are more rigorous.

The state mandates all Ohio districts fully implement the curriculum changes for grades K-12 by the start of the 2014-15 school year, but Olentangy is making the switch ahead of the deadline.

"I think we are giving our kids a leg up on a lot of other districts by implementing it early," Lucas said.

"I feel very good about where the district currently is, and where the district is going -- better than I've ever felt in the four years I've been here," he said. "If you look at the overall pictures, our finances are solid, our academics continue to just get better, and we're making transitions ahead of the curve.

"I think that our students are going to be successful and our staff is prepared to take that step."

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