As the Olentangy Local School District prepares to open its fourth high school in 2018, district leaders remain focused on securing more state funding as enrollment continues to grow.
Superintendent Mark Raiff late last month said he was pleased with the headway workers had made at Olentangy Berlin High School. The district expects to open the building in time for the start of the 2018-19 school year.
"I'm very happy with the progress of the construction," Raiff said. "We are definitely on (schedule) and continue to be under budget, which is always the goal."
District residents in 2016 voted to approve a bond issue and levy package that included funding for the $69 million building, which sits just outside Delaware city limits off Berlin Station Road in Berlin Township.
The district last spring hired Todd Spinner, formerly principal at Westerville Central High School, as the new school's first principal. Olentangy a short time later announced John Betz, athletics director at Orange High School, would become Berlin's first athletics director.
The pair helped unveil the school's colors (blue and light blue), mascot (the Bears) and logos in 2017.
Raiff said he's proud of the work Betz and Spinner have done thus far to drum up excitement for the school's opening. Both administrators have children who are set to attend the school.
"I feel their great sense of pride of building a school community that's worthy to have their own children in," Raiff said.
As the district prepares to open the new high school, enrollment projections show Olentangy could grow from about 21,000 students to more than 24,000 students by the 2027-28 school year. Although Olentangy's four high schools should be able to accommodate that growth, Raiff said, the district may need to build two elementary schools over the next decade.
The superintendent said discussions of where, when and how the district would make room for an increasing number of elementary school students will continue this year.
Raiff said state-imposed caps on funding to affluent, growing districts have led Olentangy to seek property-tax levies much more frequently than if the caps were removed. The caps mean districts such as Delaware, Dublin and Olentangy see millions less in funding per year than the state's own funding formula prescribes.
Raiff said the community needs to contact legislators and rally behind the cause of getting what he calls "fair funding" from the state.
"Our No. 1 challenge will continue to be inadequate funding from the state," he said. "All of our residents, all of our taxpayers have to be engaged in that."
Delaware City School District Superintendent Paul Craft said leaders of growing districts are forming "a coalition" to push legislators for relief from the caps.
Craft said district officials and residents have more than a year to argue for changes ahead of the start of the state's biennial budgeting process.
"I wouldn't say we're getting pushback from anybody," he said. "On the other hand, I think we have a lot of work to do ... to get that story told and to find a broad base of legislators that understand (how many) school districts in their (legislative) districts are being impacted."