Southwest Licking superintendent pitches Reynoldsburg Schools on annexing development site

Craig McDonald
Newark Advocate
The Eastwood development is planned for East Main Street and Summit Road in Licking County. The development will have more than 700 homes and apartments, a community center with an outdoor pool and park space.

A large, mixed-use development planned for land in western Licking County has resulted in a Licking County school district asking its neighboring, mostly Franklin County-based school district to change its boundaries to includes the site.

The recent annexation by the city of Reynoldsburg of 137 acres on East Main Street at Summit Road for a large residential and retail development “blindsided” Southwest Licking and Reynoldsburg City schools officials, according to both districts’ superintendents.

“I feel like Reynoldsburg and Southwest Licking were left out of the conversation regarding the housing units,” Kasey Perkins, Southwest Licking Schools Superintendent, said March 3.

The potential enrollment impact spinning out of those more than 700 homes and apartments planned for the "Eastwood" development has inspired administrators in the fast-growing Southwest Licking Schools District to propose to Reynoldsburg City Schools the concept it annex the development site.

Such a move would effectively bring any new students resulting from the Eastwood development into the Reynoldsburg City Schools system.

Central Ohio builder Joe Ciminello is proposing a mix of more than 700 homes and apartments, in addition to 11.5 acres of commercial property fronting East Main Street.

The entire property is presently within the Southwest Licking School District. 

In phone interviews conducted March 3 and 4, Perkins and Reynoldsburg Superintendent Dr. Melvin J. Brown both confirmed they were “blindsided” by the Etna-to-Reynoldsburg annexation.

Perkins said SWL already is facing a flurry of major residential developments within its district footprint. The district currently is engaged in a massive building project – including construction of a new high school – to try and accommodate spiking enrollment.

Perkins said a letter recently was sent from SWL to Reynoldsburg Schools proposing the latter annex the land for the development site and take any students located within the planned development into Reynoldsburg Schools.

Both Perkins and Brown confirmed there has been at least some brief discussion between their districts regarding the annexation proposal.

On March 4, Brown said, “We have a finance committee meeting on March 17,” and the annexation concept “will be one of the points of the discussions” at that gathering.

While its neighboring SWL and Licking Heights school districts are both grappling with fast-growing enrollment, Reynoldsburg City Schools is presently comparatively limited in terms of significant future residential development.

Reynoldsburg, which currently offers open enrollment, has “a handful of new developments,” to come Brown said. Brown also said that as older housing stock passes from empty-nesters to young families, the district does experience some added enrollment growth.

Conversely, Perkins said SWL presently faces, “Upward of 1,600 housing units spread across 11 developments that are planned between Etna Township and the city of Pataskala, with some expected to come to fruition as early as next year, and others continuing to come online five to seven years out.

“We’re growing faster than we can keep up,” Perkins said.

That rapid growth is one reason for SWL’s keen interest in seeing the Eastwood site annexed into the Reynoldsburg City School district.

Geography is another reason, Perkins said. “That community will be in Reynoldsburg city.”

Perkins noted that if things remain as they presently stand, SWL would actually be busing students past existing Reynoldsburg schools to reach SWL school sites substantially east of the Reynoldsburg corporation line.

“As a community member of Reynoldsburg, that would be confusing to me,” Perkins said. “In addition, we’re a ‘cap’ district – we don’t get funding per pupil. We’re capped at where we are.”

Pointing to Reynoldsburg’s current ability to offer open enrollment, Perkins said of Reynoldsburg Schools, “I think they have a unique ability to take those additional students.”

Looking toward that March 17 Reynoldsburg meeting, Perkins said she hopes discussion will continue and eventually result in an annexation.

“I’m really looking forward to working with Reynoldsburg City Schools to find the best placement for these students,” Perkins said.