West Side News

South-Western City Schools

Issue 8 passage a highlight of 2012 for schools

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The South-Western City School District's major accomplishment in 2012 was gaining approval of Issue 8, a $148-million bond issue that cleared the way for the district to move ahead with its ambitious school building renovation plan.

When the bonds were sold in August, favorable interest rates allowed the length of the bond issue to be reduced by eight years.

Here is a list of some stories that made news over the past year in the South-Western district:

* Audit recommendations save district more than $3 million a year

School officials told the South-Western school board Jan. 23 that the recommendations of a performance audit issued by the Ohio Auditor's Office in 2010 have led the district to cut expenses by at least $3.2 million a year.

The district had addressed 26 of the 28 recommendations made in the audit. While most of the audit's points deal with cutting costs, it also recommended spending $700,000 annually for five years to fund a technology replacement schedule. SWCS communications director Sandy Nekoloff told the board the district would have to wait to see if its upcoming facilities bond issue would pass before completing the technology recommendation.

* Voters approve Issue 8

South-Western City Schools voters March 6 approved Issue 8, clearing the way for the district to move forward with its large-scale renovation plan.

With the approval of the 38-year, $148 million bond issue, the district qualified for an Ohio School Facilities Commission program that will use state money to pay about half the cost of building 13 new elementary schools, replacing Franklin Heights High School and making minor renovations to Buckeye Woods and Darby Woods elementary schools.

The school board April 16 unanimously approved the issuance of $148 million in bonds, marking the start of the voter-approved rebuilding project. On June 11, the board voted to accept conditional approval of $124 from the OSFC for the project.

Construction on the project is expected to begin in spring 2013.

* Wise: new principal evaluation system will create 'huge' costs

While he had no specific estimate, Superintendent Bill Wise told the board April 30 he expects a new state-mandated principal evaluation system to create "huge" costs for the district in time and human resources.

In accordance with Ohio House Bill 153, passed in 2011, the State Board of Education must have procedures for principal evaluations in place by July 1, 2013. The evaluations would start in the 2013-14 school year.

The district would be working with the South-Western Administrative Association -- the administrators union -- during the 2012-13 school year to meet the legislation's requirements, said Carl Metzger, assistant superintendent of personnel.

* Board adopts new and revised policies

In its last meeting prior to the start of the new school year, the board approved several new and revised district policies Aug. 13.

The board approved a number of new policies pertaining to the suspension of administrative contracts, diploma deferral, personal information systems, head lice and anti-fraud practices as well as revisions to its policies on the evaluation of administrators, vendor relations, staff use of board-owned cell phones, student records, environmental health and safety issues, student abuses and neglect and home education.

On Aug. 27, the board approved a revision to its policy on harassment, intimidation and bullying. The new language included electronic acts of bullying and defined an electronic act as an "act committed through the use of a cellular telephone, computer, pager, personal communication device or other electronic communication device."

* Sale lowers term of district bond issue

Treasurer Hugh Garside told school board members Aug. 27 the sale of the bonds voters approved in March lowered the term of the district's bond issue by eight years.

Because of historically-low interest rates when the bonds were sold earlier in August, the expected term of the bond issue was reduced from 38 to 30 years, saving taxpayers about $26 million, Garside said.

The favorable results were helped by the district having a strong AA credit rating and the fact that "more people wanted to buy than there were bonds to sell," he said.

In another positive for the district, for the week during which the bond sale was held, only about $5 billion in municipal bonds were available when on average, about $6 billion are sold each week, Garside said.

"So supply and demand kicked in for us," he said.

* District enjoys unprecedented success on state report card

The preliminary data regarding the state report card was expected to show unprecedented results for the South-Western City School District, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum John Kellogg told the school board Aug. 24.

The data would show that more South-Western students passed more tests at higher levels, he said.

While the information the state would be releasing would not include performance index data, earlier indications were the district would earn its highest-ever performance index score of 95.1, an increase of 1.2 points, he said.

The performance index measures student performance on state tests.

South-Western was also expected to meet 20 of the 26 indicators on the report card, an increase of two and again the highest number the district has ever reached, Kellogg said.

The data will also show improved performance of student groups, he said.

When the preliminary data was released in October, it showed that 22 of the district's schools would earn one of the two highest rankings on the 2011-12 state report card.

* District will not be on ballot in 2013

In the updated five-year financial forecast presented to the board Oct. 8, Treasurer Hugh Garside said the district was on target to keep its promise to voters that it will not need to return to the ballot in 2013.

The forecast showed the district will have a projected cash balance at the end of fiscal year 2013 of $81.6 million, Garside said.

"To have a good financial position, it's good to have three to six months of operating cash and that's roughly $45 to $90 million," he said.

South-Western is not projected to dip below that amount until fiscal year 2016, Garside said.

"Actually, this forecast in its entirety shows a positive cash balance all the way through 2017," he said.

When the district passed its last operating levy in 2009, it promised the community it wouldn't be back on the ballot through 2013, Garside said.

* District to join Central Ohio Compact

The board voted 4-1 Nov. 26 to approve the district joining the Central Ohio Compact.

The compact is a partnership of school districts, adult career-technical centers, colleges and universities and business and civic leaders with the goal that by 2025, 60 percent of adults in the region will have earned a post-secondary certificate or degree.

Board member Jo Ellen Myers cast the only vote against the resolution, expressing concern that while it's good to help students go to college, the compact and its goals could be considered as being "almost social engineering."

The district has a commitment to make sure its students are college or career ready when they graduate, and the compact "will allow us to partner with everyone who will help us do that," board member Cathy Johnson said.

The compact is not legally binding.

* Most elementary schools improve reading test results

Eleven of the 16 elementary schools in the South-Western City School District increased the number of their students who earned at least a proficient score on the state third-grade reading achievement test administered in October.

Patrick Callaghan, the district's executive director of elementary education, reported on the results of the third-grade test at the Dec. 10 school board meeting.

The percentage of South-Western students with a proficient or better score jumped by 4.04 points over last year's fall test results, Callaghan said.

"This is the highest percent (of students scoring proficient or better) we've had" on the test given at the beginning of the year, he said.

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