Pickerington Schools: District to regroup, reassess after failure of bond issue

Nate Ellis
ThisWeek group
Pickerington Schools

Pickerington Schools officials will reassess strategies for managing projected enrollment growth and classroom overcrowding following the failure of a 2.9-mill bond Nov. 3. 

The bond issue failed 15,193 votes to 13,320 votes or 53.28 percent to 46.72 percent, according to unofficial results from the Fairfield County Board of Elections. 

"We are disappointed that the bond issue did not pass," said Gayle Saunders, chair of Vote for Pick Kids, the campaign committee for the bond issue. "District leadership will assess where we are, and take a long, hard look at what we do going forward." 

The bond issue would have funded construction of a new junior high school as well as upgrades to existing buildings and athletics facilities.

According to school district officials, the bond issue would have cost owners of a approximately $102 per year per $100,000 of home value. 

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 showed the issue would have generated about $4.4 million annually.

The school board went to the ballot after an enrollment study during the 2018-19 school year projected the district is expected to increase from 10,600 students to 12,400 within 10 years. The study also found the district likely will see an increase of 1,000 students by the 2023-24 school year.

Revenues from the bond would have financed construction of a new junior high school, serving up to 1,100 students. It would have been built on 66 acres, known as the McGill property, that the district owns on Lockville Road south of Opportunity Way.

The bond also was designed to bring expansions and other upgrades to several buildings, including Ridgeview STEM Junior High, Heritage Elementary and both high schools. 

Additionally, a new stadium for Pickerington High School Central would have been built on the McGill property. 

Ryan Jenkins, district treasurer, said it's difficult to determine why the bond issue failed but noted economic uncertainty surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic likely was a factor. 

"What we do know is that just like other Americans, our community members are dealing with the uncertainties of the COVID pandemic as it relates to all aspects of their lives – health and wellness, employment, economic security, etc.," Jenkins said. "Our data showed that many of our constituents understood the (district's) Plan4Progress and our facility needs. 

"But some factors and circumstances that we are experiencing as a community and a nation made the request not feasible to the majority of our residents at this time."

As a result of the bond's rejection, Jenkins said district leadership will have to identify ways to address "critical needs facing our facilities needs." 

However, he said plans to build a new junior high or other school building will be delayed until the district can pass a local bond issue. 

"The fact remains that our district continues to grow and our schools are crowded," he said. "In fact, Ridgeview, Central and Tussing are crowded, and Fairfield and Sycamore are, as well.   

"Overcrowding affects every student in the district. So the need still remains and the district's goal is to look at where we are, look at what we can do with the least impact to the experience we provide to students. We will work as a district leadership team to address the best approach to dealing with crowded buildings in the short term, but firmly believe that the best solution for our longer term needs remains the Plan4Progress and its proposed bond issue."

Jenkins said it's unclear when the district might bring another bond issue to the ballot. He said the school board will make that decision based on ongoing evaluation and recommendations from the district's administrative team. 

"We believe the Plan4Progress addresses our future facility needs, and we expect that we will indeed ask our community to support that plan again in the near future," he said. "The district leadership team will be working to determine the best timing for that question to be asked."

Violet Township roads and bridges levy

In Violet Township, trustees placed the renewal levy on the ballot to fund the construction and maintenance of the township's bridges and 108 miles of roadway.

The five-year renewal of a 1.5-mill roads and bridge levy was passed 7,886 votes to 4,852 votes or 61.9 percent to 38.1.

The five-year levy renews one initially approved in March 2016.

Each year, the township collects about $770,000 in property-tax revenue to maintain its roads, providing for resurfacing work, snow and ice removal, street-sign maintenance, culvert replacement and mowing the rights of way.

The existing five-year levy expires in 2021. The renewal levy, which according to the Auditor's Office will cost township residents about $42 per $100,000 of property value each year, will go into effect January 2022.