During last Thursday’s Big Walnut Board of Education meeting, board members took the first formal step towards placing a $135 million bond issue on the November ballot by approving a resolution requesting state consent to issue bonds in that amount.
On hand last Thursday to explain the process of placing a bond issue of that amount on the ballot was Becky Princehorn, an attorney with Bricker and Eckler.
“Ohio law is conservative about local government borrowing money; the law is older than dirt,” Princehorn said. “First you must seek state consent to borrow money; second, you must show special need. The first step is paperwork; you will get that if you ask. Special needs is discretionary – you have to jump through some hoops.”
Princehorn said Big Walnut has the Pickerington Local School District to thank for paving the way for special needs requests.
“Twenty-five years ago Pickerington was adding one classroom each month, and they couldn’t do it under existing debt limitations,” Princehorn said. “The state’s legislative solution is called the Pickerington Amendment.”
Princehorn said because of the Pickerington Amendment’s modifying effect, a school district showing a specific amount of growth over five years could gain permission to borrow more than the original legislation would have allowed.
“It’s very easy to look five years out and see you’re a growing school district,” Princehorn said. “Your cheapest option is a loaded bond issue done on a not-to-exceed basis, but if you don’t get in line now you can’t get on the (November) ballot.”
Board member Brad Schneider thanked members of the district’s facilities committee and Triad Architects for time spent studying the district’s facilities needs.
“There were 15 meetings that I attended, and the public forums provided a very good opportunity to have face to face conversations with members of the community,” Schneider said. “We saw some pretty good due diligence throughout this process. We have serious challenges facing the district; it’s not something we take lightly. While nobody likes adding onto our tax burden, like it or hate it,70 percent of our money comes from local sources. It’s the situation we’re in.”
Board member Nicci Hess said the entire facilities study process was thorough and diligent.
“Like (former superintendent) Steve Mazzi used to say: We can’t put up a ‘No Vacancy’ sign,” Hess said. “If we don’t do something now, where are we going to put the kids who are coming in? This is in the best interest of the school district.”
Board president Mindy Meyer said she’s grateful for the school district’s engaged citizens who worked on the facilities committee and shared their thoughts and expertise during the community forums.
“We really don’t have a choice,” she said. “This is the best way for the district to move forward. If people despise the way schools are funded in Ohio, our legislators need to hear from them. Our job is to do the best we can for the kids in our district.”
Meyer read a statement from board member Allison Fagan, who was out of town and unable to attend the meeting. Fagan wrote that she could not vote because she was not present at the meeting, but she would support the board’s resolution.
Meyer, Schneider, Hess, and board Vice President Andy Wecker voted in favor of the resolution.
Superintendent Angie Pollock said the board’s resolution does not place a bond issue on the ballot; it merely asks for state permission to move in that direction.
A 2015 enrollment study completed by Tracey Healey of FutureThink projected a 62 percent to 79 percent student population growth over the next 10 years; and district administrators have said current facilities would not accommodate the number of additional students expected over the next decade.
Over the past month and a half, members of the school district’s facilities planning committee have held a series of community forums to present options for meeting anticipated student population growth.
Members of that committee recommend building a new high school on a new site that’s centrally located where traffic would work, moving middle school students to the high school, moving intermediate school students to the middle school, and turning the intermediate school into an elementary school and consolidating the district’s in-town preschool students at that facility. The district’s bond issue would also include funds for building one new elementary school, and renovating the district’s existing buildings.
Reporter Lenny C. Lepola can be reached at 614-266-6093
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