Pickerington Schools officials considering third shot at bond issue

Nate Ellis
ThisWeek group

Will the third time be the charm or will Pickerington Schools take some time off before asking the community to fund a new junior high school and additions to existing buildings? 

That's the question district officials face after a 2.9-mill bond issue was rejected May 4 by a vote of to 3,688 (61.01%) against the bond and 2,357 (38.99%) for it, according to unofficial results from the Fairfield County Board of Elections. 

Ryan Jenkins, Pickerington Schools treasurer.

It was the second defeat in six months for a package that would have generated $95 million for the district for building projects to address enrollment growth, as well as related athletic facilities upgrades. 

Had it passed, it would have cost homeowners within the district's attendance boundaries $101.50 annually per $100,000 of home value – or $8.46 a month, per $100,000 home value – according to Ryan Jenkins, district treasurer.

"We are disappointed with the outcome of the bond issue vote," said Crystal Davis, district public relations director. "District leaders will continue to listen and work with the community to identify ways in which we might be able to address the critical needs facing our district."

Since spring 2019, school officials have pointed to a study conducted earlier that school year that said the district's overall enrollment would grow by 1,800 students by 2028-29.

In addition to the May 4 defeat, voters last November turned down the first request for the 2.9-mill bond by a vote of 15,434 (53.15%) against the bond and 13,602 (46.85%) in favor, according to the board of elections. 

Board member Lori Sanders said the board hasn't decided if it would bring the bond issue back to the ballot this year.

If a new request is brought forward, Sanders said, she doesn't currently envision reducing the bond issue to see if it would be more palatable to voters. 

"There were no additional items presented other than current needs," she said. "We would not anticipate changing the issue."

Jenkins said the district has asked only for what it believes would accommodate the enrollment growth projections. 

"We believe the facilities portion of the (district's) 'Plan4Progress' effectively addresses our needs," he said. "We did not put extra 'fluff' in the request.

"We asked for what we believe we needed. While we will always take a step back and review our plans, we do not anticipate major changes to the plan to address our needs."

The district's plan called for: 

• Building a new junior high school that could serve up to 1,100 students on the former McGill property, a 66-acre tract the district owns on Lockville Road, south of Opportunity Way.

• Expansion of the cafeteria and addition of 24 classrooms at Pickerington High School Central, and the construction of 18 classrooms at Pickerington High School North.

• Security upgrades at district buildings. 

• The conversion of Ridgeview STEM Junior High School into a K-4 and 5-6 building and the renovation of Heritage Elementary into a prekindergarten learning center to free up classroom space at Sycamore Creek, Tussing and Violet elementary schools.

• The completion of an auxiliary stadium for Central on the McGill property, including the installation of a synthetic-turf field and lighting. 

• Construction of a softball complex at North and the installation of synthetic turf and lighting at North's existing stadium. 

Officials said they still were analyzing factors that might have led to the defeat but believe the low turnout hurt. According to the board of elections, 6,045 voted on the latest bond issue. Last November, 29,036 voted when state and federal races, including the presidential election, also were on the ballot. 

"We believed that in order for us to be successful, we needed a great number of our school supporters – parents, staff members, alumni, etc. –  to vote at the polls," Jenkins said. "Primary turnouts are indeed typically much lighter than general elections, and the success of the levy depended heavily upon all of our supporters.

"We believe that some in our community believe that building schools is merely treating a symptom of the perceived issue, which is dealing with growth and development. It is important to remember that schools do not control the rate of community growth and expansion. Schools do not issue building permits, nor are they responsible for planning and zoning, and while entities like townships and cities do have the oversight of planning, zoning and permitting, in many cases existing zoning codes cannot preclude the development of multiple single-family homes on what used to be agricultural land."  

Exactly when the next campaign will is yet to be seen, but Jenkins said the district needs addition space "to educate our students safely and effectively."

As for how the district will address enrollment growth without the benefit of a bond, he said the district is exploring several options. 

"We plan to continue conversations on options, such as re-drawing school attendance boundaries to alleviate some of the overcrowding at existing buildings," he said. "We will also seek to develop alternative scheduling options for students, which may include virtual components, to reduce overcrowding.

"Finally, we may also address overcrowding by seeking alternative spaces to educate students. In the past, this often meant modulars, but this option is so much more expensive now due to the safety and security issues that districts must address. So we are open to seeking space that may exist throughout the community, if possible."

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate