Reynoldsburg City Schools embarked on a roller coaster year in 2012, beginning with an effort to save taxpayer dollars by letting an old levy lapse and implementing a controversial move into open enrollment.
The district strengthened partnerships with local organizations and worked to expand school choice, but lost out on a Race to the Top grant and mourned the loss of an Encore Academy student.
Tricia Moore, director of partnerships and shared services, said letting a 2-mill permanent improvement levy expire at the beginning of the year "modestly reduced taxes."
She said permanent improvement funds pay for maintenance, repairs, school buses and technology. The district currently collects from a half-mill levy approved by voters with the 2008 bond issue but let the 2-mill levy lapse on Jan. 1, even though it has been renewed by voters every five years since 1976.
Moore said the levy generated about $1 million each year.
She said maintenance and technology needs were funded instead by savings from the construction of the Summit Road schools and renovations at the Livingston campus.
The district was praised for its "green initiatives" while hosting the nation's first United States Green Building Council's Ohio Green Schools Rally in February.
The Green Building Council members said Reynoldsburg's new Summit Road High School was an exemplary "green" and LEED-certified school, built by using strategies designed to improve energy savings and efficiency.
Open enrollment generated a lot of controversy in the district early in the year as school leaders promoted it as a way to create revenue and avoid another operating levy, but some residents thought it might erode property values.
A Facebook group called, "Reynoldsburg Residents Against Open Enrollment" still exists, where residents post comments about the school district and city issues.
Board members approved the open enrollment policy on May 15, although only one other school district in Franklin County, Columbus City Schools, allows open enrollment. Under the new policy, students from other districts are allowed to enroll in Reynoldsburg schools. The district received a total of 245 applications for the 2012-13 school year and approved 187 placements, many from Columbus City Schools.
Moore said the open enrollment process brought in close to $1 million this year.
A three-year certified teachers' contract was also approved early in the year, with raises in the first year granted only to employees who did not receive step increases and with step increases frozen for the remaining two years. Changes in health care coverage and the employee share of premiums netted a $1 million savings to the district, Moore said.
District partnerships blossomed later in 2012, with Columbus State Community College and the district paying together for renovations at the Livingston Avenue campus, so that Columbus State could open a new learning center. Reynoldsburg high school students will be able to take college classes at a reduced rate starting in January, and area residents will also soon be able to attend classes in that location.
"We moved very swiftly to get that agreement in place and the renovations plan finalized and now it is ready to go," Moore said.
A partnership with BalletMet was expanded this year, she said.
"BalletMet teachers are helping us manage the performing arts center at Encore Academy," she said. "Teacher Sarah Sherman has the expertise to run the lights and sound for the center."
Moore said another new program was implemented, called "Bodies," at the Health, Sciences and Human Services (HS2) Academy on the Livingston campus.
"That program put us in partnership with Columbus State, Metro Early College High School, Mount Carmel Hospitals, Ohio Health and the OSU Medical Center," she said.
"It is an early college experience in which students can earn credit for two college level biology classes, some taking classes from OSU and some from Columbus State. They may also get high school science credit, English credits for technical writing and an art credit."
Moore said the Bodies program was developed by Metro and that a Metro teacher has been teaching with Reynoldsburg teachers this year.
Reynoldsburg received a $60,000 grant from the Educational Council for the program.
Another big plus for the district was an "A-plus" from the state. District officials learned in October that Reynoldsburg schools earned an "excellent with distinction" rating for the first time on the state report card.
Moore said Reynoldsburg's 101.3 performance index score was the highest the district has achieved. It improved over last year's PI of 100.3.
Also in October, however, the district mourned the loss of an Encore Academy student, when Jasmine Sadiq, 17, was killed when she was hit by a vehicle while crossing Hamilton Road near Thompson Road.
The district is in the process of planning for a second elementary school of choice, Moore said. Summit Road STEM Elementary was the district's first elementary school of choice.
"We are planning to open Herbert Mills Elementary as a school of choice next fall," Moore said.
The year ended with another loss, though, as the district lost in the federal Race to the Top program. Reynoldsburg was one of three Ohio finalists for a share of $400 million in federal grant dollars. The district had applied for $20 million to implement a web-based tool that instantly lists interventions and school services within a "data-analytics" program that would allow the district to more accurately measure student knowledge.
Moore said the district will continue to work on the project with its partners, Battelle and KnowledgeWorks.