Olentangy Schools leaders might sound like a broken record when they say the district's unremitting growth will be a major concern in the coming year.

But the details of the conversation about growth, at least in 2020, will be shaped largely by what happens at the polls March 17.

The district will have a three-part tax issue on the primary ballot: a no-new-millage bond issue to fund the construction of a new middle school and two elementary schools; a 0.5-mill permanent-improvement levy to fund the maintenance and improvement of facilities throughout the district, including technology upgrades; and a 7.4-mill operating levy for such ongoing expenses as salaries.

Voters will cast one vote for or against the combined measure, which Superintendent Mark Raiff called "our most pressing issue."

Raiff said he believes it's impossible to separate the financial, operational functions of the district from the schools' primary mission to provide "maximum learning for every student."

"Everything we do starts with continuing our academic excellence and improvement," Raiff said, adding that, without the funding he hopes will be approved on the March ballot, "it will be difficult to maintain that."

School board Vice President Mindy Patrick said the first three months of 2020 will include "a lot of educating of the public in a short amount of time," as well as, she hopes, the formulation of a concrete course of action in case the issue is defeated.

"I don't like to put out a 'cut list,' but we do need to have an idea what will happen if it doesn't pass," Patrick said. "We have a precise blueprint of what we'll do if it passes. We need to be just as clear for if it doesn't."

"We have a very robust academic program. It's part of how we strive to meet the expectations of the community," Raiff said. "There's a difference between the state minimum learning requirements and our program at Olentangy. Everything that's not required becomes part of the conversation (if the ballot issue fails). Everything we do is valuable to somebody."

Each part of the ballot issue addresses a significant piece of support for learning, Raiff said.

The bond issue directly addresses projected growth as reported by the district's facilities committee, he said.

In the next 10 years, the committee projects an additional 2,200 students at the elementary level and 1,300 at the middle school level.

The district's current buildings just can't accommodate that, Raiff said.

The permanent-improvements levy will allow the district to maintain its facilities, he said, adding within five years, seven Olentangy buildings will turn 20 years old, with more to come in the following five-year period.

Patrick focused on the technology piece of the permanent-improvements levy, saying "supporting technology directly impacts students."

The operating levy will, in part, Raiff said, allow the district to hire and retain high-quality teachers, administrators and support staff.

Staffing, in particular among teachers, is impacted by another of the district's goals: to continue to become more diverse, Raiff said.

"As our student population becomes more diverse, we're always looking to match that with our staff population," he said. "It's another one of those things that falls under the umbrella of alleviating or eliminating barriers to learning."

Recent initiatives in the areas or resiliency, mental health and safety and security, Raiff said, also are part of that effort to reduce learning hurdles and will continue to be among the district's priorities in 2020.

Patrick said she would continue her efforts as a board member to visit every building in the district to see efforts in those areas as well as curricular initiatives.

She said she believes the district's overall "A" grade on the recent state report card issued by the Ohio Department of Education is a reflection of the district's commitment to improving learning via each of these efforts.

editorial@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNews