A pause in the construction of its planned consolidated campus and a return to the ballot are likely after a court ruling invalidated the result of the Delaware Area Career Center's last levy bid.
While Delaware County voters in November 2015 overwhelmingly voted to renew a 10-year levy, an error by the county's elections board kept the issue off ballots in portions of Franklin, Marion, Morrow and Union counties. While the number of voters who reside outside the county but within the career center's boundaries are far too few to overturn the election results, four of seven justices on the Ohio Supreme Court last week ruled the mistake invalidates the election result.
"Here, because the election results have not been properly certified to the tax commissioner, he could not determine that the tax had been authorized to be levied," states the ruling, which justices Patrick DeWine, Sharon Kennedy, Terrence O'Donnell and William O'Neill concurred on.
Mary Beth Freeman, superintendent of the career center, said center officials now are "looking at all other options available to us to secure a levy."
"We're disappointed," she said. "At the same time, we respect the decision that the Supreme Court made."
The loss of funding from the 1.7-mill renewal levy puts the future of the center's $45 million consolidation and expansion project in jeopardy. Center officials had hoped to close its northern campus east of Delaware and move all students to an expanded southern campus off U.S. Route 23 in Liberty Township by the second semester of the 2018-19 school year.
"Unless there's a miracle, it will not be finished on time," Freeman said last week.
Julie Wagner Feasel, who serves on the career center and Olentangy school boards, said she hoped to reach out to state legislators to see if they could be the authors of such a miracle. Feasel said she's "very afraid of voter fatigue and voter confusion" if the career center has to go back on the ballot this year.
"This was not the fault of the career center," she said. "I don't want our voters to think that in any way, shape or form."
Freeman said construction of the new building at the south campus will pause at some point this year as the work the center already has contracted for is completed. At that point, the unfinished structure will be sealed off to prevent damage from animals and the elements.
Center officials do not expect the loss of funding to negatively affect instruction in the near future.
Freeman said discussions about millage and timing are ongoing, but a return to the ballot seems inevitable.
"At some point, there's going to have to be a levy," she said. "That's the only thing I can say for sure."
While she said the financial future of the career center is her chief focus right now, Freeman said she eventually would like to help find a way to prevent other school districts from going through similar situations.
"Certainly, something should be looked at as to how this could be prevented in the future, not just in Delaware County but across the state," she said.
Feasel said any district that stretches into multiple counties should be concerned by the current election process.
"This should be something that everybody should be interested in fixing," she said.
In the Supreme Court case, Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor dissented in an opinion joined by justices Patrick Fischer and Judith French. The opinion states Ohio Tax Commissioner Joseph Testa exceeded his authority by asking for additional documentation "or otherwise (conducting) an investigation into election proceedings."
The opinion states "even if every excluded voter had cast a ballot and voted against the levy, it would have still passed by about 9,618 votes."