The Delaware Area Career Center and several allies have asked the Ohio Supreme Court to rethink a ruling that invalidated the district's last levy and put the future of a $45 million expansion project in jeopardy.
Voters overwhelmingly passed a renewal levy for the center in 2015, but an error by the Delaware County Board of Elections kept the issue off the ballot in portions of Franklin, Marion, Morrow and Union counties. A split court earlier this month ruled the board's mistake prevented the proper certification of the election results to the state tax commissioner, invalidating the 1.7-mill renewal levy.
The center's board March 20 filed a motion for reconsideration with the high court. The motion states the election board's error already led to a "devastating impact" on the career center, but the court's ruling could lead to negative outcomes for municipalities, regional agencies and school districts throughout the state.
"The consequences of the majority opinion will compound that harm, certainly for (the career center), but potentially for every taxing authority that has worked through the numerous and lengthy steps of a bond or levy election, otherwise unchallenged, only to have the ... Tax Commissioner refuse to provide a routine tax calculation," the motion states.
According to the motion, the ruling "creates a dangerous new precedent" by allowing the state's tax commissioner -- in this case, Joseph Testa -- to "unilaterally reject the results of an election."
The high court's ruling has clouded the future of a $45 million expansion and renovation project at the center's southern campus off U.S. Route 23 in Liberty Township. Career center officials had hoped to close the northern campus east of Delaware and move all students to an expanded southern campus by the second semester of the 2018-19 school year.
Career center Superintendent Mary Beth Freeman after the ruling said the project will not finish on time "unless there's a miracle." Workers likely would pause construction efforts at some point this year and seal off the unfinished addition at the southern campus if the motion to reconsider is rejected.
Freeman said Testa's actions and the subsequent court ruling "disregarded the will of (Delaware County) voters."
The career center is not alone in its push to reverse the high court's ruling.
The Delaware County Board of Elections and the Ohio Association of Election Officials filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of reconsideration. The Buckeye Association of School Administrators, the Ohio Association of School Business Officials and the Ohio Municipal League filed a joint brief in support of reconsideration.
According to the joint brief, allowing the tax commissioner to determine the validity of an election "(flies) in the face of the statutory election process and all legal precedent."
Career center spokeswoman Alicia Mowry said she's not surprised multiple allies have joined the fight to reverse the decision. She said seeing a successful levy result invalidated is "a terrifying prospect" for many government and school officials.
"A lot of local government agencies are watching this with bated breath and fear," she said.
Freeman said it makes sense that the career center's response has drawn a crowd.
"They can see their constituents being at risk with the decision being made," she said.
Three of the high court justices agreed with the center's argument when the first ruling was issued. A dissenting opinion authored by Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor states Testa exceeded his authority by asking for additional documentation "or otherwise (conducting) an investigation into election proceedings."
The opinion notes "even if every excluded voter had cast a ballot and voted against the levy, it would have still passed by about 9,618 votes."