Olentangy Berlin High School's industrial-technology department offers nine classes to students.

Teacher Jim Cornett said many students take all nine, beginning with CAD 1, in which students learn the fundamentals of design and project planning using computer design and 3D printing. Then they'll move on to higher courses, such as Engineering 2, Advanced Woods and Architectural Drafting, which see many students taking ownership of projects, designing and building items to be used in the school or community.

Some students have become so adept, Cornett said, that they have started their own businesses in sign-making and electronic gaming.

"They come out of here problem-solvers," he said. "We give them tools, and early on there are some basic assignments they have to complete, but once they have those basic skills, we put them to work on the same equipment and software they would use in the various industries."

"They're prepared whether they're going straight into a trade or to study at MIT," he said.

Just as important, Cornett said, is that, for students, woodworking or industrial design might be what keeps them in school or provides their peer group.

"For some students, this is their bridge not only to high school but to their future," he said, "and I've seen, when other districts fail a levy, this kind of thing goes away."

Olentangy Schools voters will see a three-part tax issue on the March 17 ballot.

The three parts are a no-new-millage bond issue to fund the construction of a new middle school and two elementary schools; a 0.5-mill permanent-improvements levy to fund ongoing maintenance and improvement of facilities throughout the district, including technology upgrades; and a 7.4-mill operating levy for such day-to-day expenses as staff salaries and program costs.

For residents, approval of the issue would increase property taxes by about $277 annually for every $100,000 of home valuation. For the district, it would generate about $31 million each year for operations and $2.1 million for improvements starting in 2021.

Although district leaders have not announced specific program cuts that would be made should the issue fail, the Olentangy For Kids campaign group's website lists increased class sizes, reduction in academic programs, elimination of middle school extracurricular activities and state-minimum bus service as potential outcomes.

"Everything we do is valuable to somebody," Superintendent Mark Raiff said.

Raiff said although the operating portion of the three-part ballot issue is the most costly, "it's the most essential to pay for our academic program."

"There is a big difference between the state-minimum academic program and our academic program," he said.

"Everything we have that's not required becomes part of the conversation" when considering cost reductions, he said.

Raiff said the district has shown fiscal responsibility, operating at a "lower per-pupil cost than any district we're comparable to."

The Ohio Department of Education reports the per-pupil cost in Olentangy at around $11,000 -- lower than most suburban central Ohio districts, including Westerville, Dublin, Hilliard, Pickerington and Worthington.

Despite advocacy efforts to encourage the state of Ohio to reconsider how it allocates state taxes to local schools, Olentangy relies on local property tax for 94% of its annual revenue, board member Mindy Patrick said.

Berlin principal Todd Spinner said there is evidence throughout the school of the contributions of industrial-tech students -- from wooden bear logos in the cafeteria and commons area to emblems for merchandising in the school store to trophies designed and manufactured for sports banquets.

Students even are designing a special piece for installation inside the school's main entrance.

"I could go to a sign-maker or a trophy shop when we need these kinds of things, but why would I when we have students who can do the work and be learning in the process?" Spinner said.

"We have a very robust academic program," Raiff said. "It's part of how we strive to meet the expectations of the community."

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