Committee takes Pickerington Schools bond issue campaign to the Internet

Nate Ellis
ThisWeek group

Because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic that has scuttled many traditional opportunities to talk face-to-face with voters, a group supporting the upcoming Pickerington Schools bond issue is using a variety of means to spread its message.    

After more than a month of organizing, the leaders behind the campaign committee Vote for Pick Kids on Sept. 15 officially launched the campaign in support of a 2.9-mill bond issue that would fund construction of a new junior high school as well as other upgrades to existing buildings and athletics facilities.

Pickerington Schools district office

The group, which is headed by campaign chair Gayle Saunders, started its get-out-the-vote effort with a videoconference broadcast via its Facebook page, and it is planning to utilize social media, its website and direct mailings to drum up support for the Nov. 3 ballot issue.    

“We’re still growing, and we’re asking for volunteers to support us and to come and join us,” Saunders said. “This is a hyperlocal campaign.”   

According to the Fairfield County Board of Elections, a number on the ballot for the bond issue had not yet been set as of Sept. 23.    

The district is seeking a 2.9-mill bond issue that would generate $95 million, plus interest, that would pay for the construction debt over a 38-year period.    

According to the district treasurer’s office, the bond would cost owners of a $100,000 residence approximately $101.52 per year.   

“It’s going to cost $8.46 a month, per $100,000 in home value,” Saunders said.    

As of Sept. 28, the ThisWeek Pickerington Times-Sun had been unable to identify organized opposition to the bond issue.  

Ed Laramie of the Fairfield County Auditor’s Office said based on the current total valuation in the school district – which is a little more than $1.5 billion – preliminary estimates show the issue is expected to generate about $4.4 million annually.   

The bond would allow the district to borrow money to build a new junior high school that would serve up to 1,100 students. It would be built on 66 acres, known as the McGill property, the district owns on Lockville Road south of Opportunity Way.   

The project is a centerpiece of district officials’ plans to address projected enrollment growth.   

Also on that property, the district would build a new stadium for Pickerington High School Central.    

The plan includes converting Ridgeview STEM into a building that would serve students in grades K-4 who are attending Heritage Elementary School and fifth- and sixth-grade students and students from the district’s Gateway Academy, a gifted-education program for students with superior cognitive skills.  

Heritage would be converted into the permanent home of the district’s preschool program. It also would house the District Welcome Center, an office that processes students who are enrolling.  

Additionally, the plan calls for Central to be expanded to add 24 classrooms, renovation of the school’s main entry for better security and an expanded cafeteria.  

Pickerington High School North would see additional classrooms and construction of a more secure main entry.   

District officials have said the additional school building and upgrades to others are needed to make room for enrollment growth.    

According to the district, enrollment is projected to increase from 10,600 students to 12,400 within 10 years.   

“There’s housing developments popping up everywhere and they continue to pop up,” Saunders said.   

“In order to be able to address that, and at the same time take advantage of some of the lowest interest rates we’ve seen in some time, now is the time to support this.”    

District Treasurer Ryan Jenkins said the district is seeking the bond while also actively seeking ways to be “good fiscal stewards and to utilize taxpayer resources as efficiently as possible.”    

To that end, Jenkins said, the district last month took advantage of low interest rates to refund a portion of its existing, outstanding debt and “save taxpayers $593,153 in the process.”    

“In a refunding, existing outstanding debt in the form of bonds are retired or ‘refunded’ and replaced with new ‘refunding’ bonds,” Jenkins said.   

“In general, bond refundings can be compared to the refinancing of a home mortgage, where a homeowner obtains a new mortgage with a lower interest rate to pay off an older mortgage with a higher interest rate.”   

Jenkins said the district recently refunded a portion of the original debt from the construction of Toll Gate Elementary School, Toll Gate Middle School and Sycamore Creek Elementary School.    

That, he said, allowed the district to lower its interest payments by paying off or “refunding” those older bonds and will issue new bonds that have lower interest rates than the original refunded bonds.   

“The district is thrilled to report that this decision will save our taxpayers $595,153 in debt service payments over the next eight years, which equates to net present value savings of about 5.641% on the old debt,” Jenkins said.   

“While debt savings do not impact operational spending – wages, supplies, equipment, etc. – it does allow the district to pay less interest on its outstanding debt over time.    

“This may allow the district to pay its debt off faster, and it allows the Fairfield County Auditor to decrease overall millage rates collected for debt service in future years – both of which are beneficial to district residents and taxpayers.”   

Saunders said Vote for Pick Kids will continue to share those messages, as well as the district’s need for new space.    

That effort will include leaving campaign literature at residences through traditional door-to-door canvassing of neighborhoods. The group is seeking volunteers from each neighborhood.    

Election Day is Nov. 3. Oversees and military absentee voting began Sept. 18.    

Early, in-person and mail-in absentee voting begins Oct. 6, according to the Ohio Secretary of State's Office voting schedule, which is online at ohiosos.gov/elections/voters/current-voting-schedule/.    

If the bond is passed, district officials have said the new junior high would likely be opened by fall 2023.    

Upgrades to other buildings could begin as soon as 2021.    

nellis@thisweeknews.com 

@ThisWeekNate