Westerville City School District Superintendent John Kellogg said facilities, school finance and creating opportunities for students are the district's top three priorities in 2020.

He said facilities would be in the forefront in the coming year.

"We just were fortunate enough the community supported a bond issue for us," he said, referring to Westerville residents' approval of a 1.95-mill bond issue and 5.9-mill operating levy Nov. 5.

"We're in the starting phase of the first five years of a 10-year facilities master plan. Westerville South is moving along in great fashion. That's a big part of the project. We're in the design phase of the new elementary school and work on Annehurst. Behind that we'll start on the other parts of the project," he said.

The bond will finance safety and security updates districtwide, as well as a new middle school, new elementary school, renovations and additions at Annehurst and Whittier elementary schools, renovations at Hawthorne Elementary School and facilities-assessment needs at Hanby, Emerson and Longfellow elementary schools.

Greg Viebranz, the district's executive director of communication and technology, said some of the funds are dedicated to modifying some school building entrances so visitors will have to go through the office for a face-to-face interaction with school staff before having access to areas with other staff and students.

Kellogg said the district would bid out this spring the project of reconfiguring the entries at nine buildings, with the easiest ones scheduled for completion by the end of summer.

"There will be a lot of construction going on as we go into 2020," Kellogg said. "That's an exciting opportunity for us as a school district to start to bring greater safety features to our district and create more space capacity for us as a district. I'm really looking forward to that hard work. That will be part of 2020 right off the shoot."

Kellogg said facilities work has a ripple effect to all kinds of other pieces in terms of distribution of students, size of buildings, programming and personnel.

"There's a lot of operational considerations for that piece," he said. "One of the major outcomes of this is increasing the number of families that are going to really fall into that neighborhood school concept. We know that's a high priority for our community. We know we have pockets of our community where that's not the case."

He said the facilities master plan will enhance the district's ability to meet that goal for more families.

"It gives a more personalized and engaging presence for us as a school district with parts of our community," Kellogg said.

"I think that's really, really big in ways that people understand."

He said the first phase of the Westerville South project is scheduled to be completed in January 2021; the new elementary is scheduled to open in August 2022 and the new middle school in August 2023.

Financial components

Kellogg said another important aspect in the district would be school finance.

He said the community voted in favor of the operating levy in November that will continue the district's progress, and the schools want to be good stewards of that funding.

"As we enter 2020, we're facing some unique state challenges that don't work in concert with where the community wants us to be -- for example, the state's continued delay in getting to a funding formula that's clear and transparent that makes it easy to plan that's understandable," Kellogg said. "In the absence of that, we're really kind of working blindly on what do we think as we project forward what our state revenue is going to be and what can we put that toward and how does that fit into our five-year forecast."

He said, most recently, the other piece of that is the change in the EdChoice Voucher Program that provides students from designated public schools the opportunity to attend participating private schools.

The district has scheduled a public information session at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 6, at the Early Learning Center, 936 Eastwind Drive, to explain the impact of the EdChoice expansion.

"It has significant implications because of not just what it is, but how it came to be," Kellogg said. "This change will essentially syphon off local property tax dollars to private and parochial schools for tuition was done in a way that wasn't very transparent and not very fair," he said. "So, lack of a change, lack of legislators' efforts to make a change there for us, added to a state funding formula that, at this point, isn't clear or transparent makes it very difficult for us to project what we're going to be able to do in the future."

He said the local community is willing to support the district, but the schools have to be thoughtful about how often and how much is asked from them.

"We just were successful in coming off a long-time period of no ask, and then asking for something that was significant," Kellogg said.

"We want to stretch that as far as we can go, but we need the state to do its part, too. Advocating in this area of school finance is going to be very, very big for us in '20, not just us but for school districts across Ohio. I'm hopeful that component of school finance starts to get worked out, both of them, hopefully, in the near future."

Student opportunities

He said the third and most important priority, and one that will always be on the list of looking forward, is the opportunities the district creates for students and the outcome that means for them.

"We want to continue putting in programming and supporting students and providing access for all students to curriculum and instructional practices that are meaningful to them and engaging to them and will prepare them for this very different society than I grew up in," he said. "As we enter 2020, we look at the world of work and how people are living today. It's very, very different. We need to respond to those changes in ways that are meaningful in classrooms for our kids.

"What we're teaching them, how we're teaching them, how we're preparing them are going to be critical components."