Pickerington Schools: Board mulls third ballot request within year
The Pickerington Schools board likely will decide by June 28 whether to ask voters for the third time in a year to approve a bond issue to fund a new junior high school and additions to buildings.
According to Pickerington Schools officials, the district's classroom space already is maxed out and its student body is expected to grow by another 1,800 students by 2028-29.
It's a quandary, the officials say, exacerbated by the defeats of bond issues last November and again May 4 that were designed to generate $95 million to build a new junior high school and add classroom space at buildings throughout the district.
By June 28, board members are expected to decide if they will ask voters for a third time to approve a 2.9-mill bond issue that would cost $101.50 annually per $100,000 of home value, according to Ryan Jenkins, district treasurer.
The board also could decide to return to the ballot this fall but reduce the bond amount.
Conversely, the board could choose to scrap the request altogether and employ alternative strategies to reduce school overcrowding. Possibilities include redrawing attendance boundaries, continuing the hybrid model used during the pandemic, through which students rotate between receiving instruction in person and online, or installing temporary, modular classrooms.
"I think regardless of the bond issue, it's incumbent upon the administration to start to develop how we're going to handle overcrowded buildings," said district treasurer Ryan Jenkins.
According to results from the Fairfield County Board of Elections, the November 2020 bond issue was rejected by a vote of 15,434 (53.15%) against it to 13,602 (46.85%) in favor. On May 4, the elections board reported the issue was defeated 3,723 (60.96%) to 2,384 (39.04%).
Given those results, board member Cathy Olshefski said, she's "a little gun shy" about returning to the ballot in November.
"Part of me says wait," she said. "I know that's harsh because I know we need the buildings, but I don't know what is going to get our community to support us at the ballot."
Board member Vanessa Niekamp went further.
"I won't be in favor of proceeding," Niekamp said. "I think we asked our community, and we thought it was a close-enough margin to ask for a second time, and that just got farther apart.
"I want to focus on finding those solutions. What I'm hearing over and over from our constituents is, 'Find something else, but don't ask me for money.'"
Niekamp said she doesn't yet know what is the best course of action to address enrollment growth, but she doubts a third bond request would convince voters there is a crowding issue.
"I don't really think I need the community to tell me for a third time that they don't believe me," she said.
Board member Lori Sanders said she believes there is a philosophy in the community that "it takes three times to pass something."
She said examining alternatives to addressing crowding without additional, voter-approved revenue would be "a great exercise" but said the district needs the 2.9-mill bond.
"We've asked for what was needed," Sanders said. "I can't imagine we would change anything at all if and when we go back on the ballot."
As the board mulls the decision, the district has hired Fallon Research & Communications Inc. to help analyze voters and help shape a possible third bond issue.
The $15,500 contract provides that Fallon conduct a telephone survey of 300 registered voters throughout May and June.
In addition to collecting demographic information about voters, the survey is seeking to capture sentiments about the May 4 bond issue and test views about specific aspects of that request.
"(I)t may also be useful to explore any potential changes that can allow the district to recast the plan in a way that warrants reconsideration by the community’s voters in light of the two successive defeats," Paul Fallon, president of Fallon Research & Communications Inc., said in a May 15 email to the district.
The district's total enrollment for 2020-21 is 10,602, according to the district's At-a-Glance section online at pickerington.k12.oh.us/at-a-glance/.
The district's total capacity is 11,655, not including Pickerington Alternative School, which has a capacity of 200, according to the June 2020 Comprehensive Annual Finance Report.
By grade categories, total enrollment and capacity are as follows:
• Elementary schools: 3,825 students and 4,279-student capacity
• Middle schools: 1,609 and 2,149
• Junior high schools: 1,764 and 1,829
• High schools: 3,387 and 3,408