Last Monday evening, members of the Community for Eagle Pride committee held a kickoff session for the Big Walnut Local School District’s 8.3-mil, $133.9 million Bond Issue that will be on the November 8 General Election Ballot.
Liana Lee, who chaired the school district’s successful 5-year, 6.9-mil, $4.9 million Substitute Levy in early 2015, is chairing the bond issue campaign with assistance from the non-profit Support Ohio Schools.
In opening the Aug. 29 session, Lee said the bond issue definitely has to pass, and the November ballot presents the best statistical opportunity for success.
“We’re experiencing two times the rate of growth over five years ago,” Lee said. “Next year we will bus students outside the district of the school they should go to because of overcrowding, the year after that we’re going to be using trailers.”
Lee said it would take two years to build elementary school, an immediate need, and four years to build a high school serving 1,800 students.
District superintendent Angie Pollock walked audience members through the process leading up to the decision to go on the ballot: a 2015 enrollment study showing 62- to-79 percent student population growth by 2025, and a facilities committee exploring the financial impact of three options – do nothing and use modular classrooms to absorb growth; add on to existing facilities as student populations grow; or build a new elementary building and a new high school.
The committee’s final recommendation for meeting student population growth was to build a new 1,800 student high school on a new site; move the middle school students to the high school; move intermediate school students to the middle school; and turn the intermediate school into an elementary school and consolidate in-town preschool at that facility. The recommendation also includes the construction of one new elementary building; additions to the middle school; and renovations to the district’s other school buildings.
“The time is now, and even if we start now we’re behind,” Pollock said. “The longer we wait, the more we’ll feel growing pains. Right now we have 3,652 students. We’ll likely be at 6,000 students by 2025. We just graduated 212 students, one of our smaller classes in recent years. Our fifth grade class is 310, and that class will grow as it moves through high school.”
Pollock said local builders can’t keep up with the demand for new housing; and as new homes are built and student populations grow, Pollock said the district’s challenge is to keep class sizes down.
“It’s hard to provide individualized instruction when you have over 25 students in a classroom,” Pollock said. “We have decent class sizes now, but that will change soon because we don’t have anywhere to put additional students.”
Pollock said modular trailers are a security issue, and without a new high school and without a new elementary building, the district would need up to 67 trailers by 2025 – leased using general fund monies.
The current high school was built in 1991 and is starting to age, and Harrison Street Elementary School has an old steam heat system and needs major electrical upgrades. Pollock said it would be impossible to address those major facilities needs out of the district’s $37 million operating budget.
“Our facilities committee looked at addition options, and that was clearly more expensive,” Pollock said. “There are several reasons that we need to do this now. I would love to wait. I live in the school district and pay taxes here, but as a mother I don’t want my kids to suffer the crowded consequences.”
District treasurer Terri Eyerman led audience members through a PowerPoint presentation she called Bond Issue 101. Eyerman said with the district’s income tax equivalent included in her numbers, Big Walnut’s total millage from all sources with the additional 8.3-mil bond issue included would be 45.41-mils.
To put that number in perspective, Eyerman the Olentangy Local School District’s total millage is 52.36, Delaware City is 52.54-mils, nearby Westerville 59.34-mils. Eyerman said those three school districts do not have a .75 percent income tax; that it would take an additional 7.31-mils to replace the revenue the Big Walnut district receives from its income tax. (Eyerman said Sunbury Meadows residents pay an additional 4 mils into a Permanent Improvement Fund that is not reflected in the above numbers.)
Eyerman said district property owners would pay taxes on 35 percent of a home’s market value as determined by Delaware County Auditor George Kaitsa’s office, and millage would likely go down following each triennial reappraisal because of board revision filings and/or new construction.
The bottom line number Eyerman gave last Monday evening was $290.50 tax on $100,000 valuation.
Lee said the district’s bond issue campaign would focus on a door-to-door strategy, with five weeks of canvassing.
“Face to face contact is most effective,” Lee said. “Our biggest need is for phone callers and canvassers.”
Lee also said school district levy and bond issue campaigns typically cost $1.51 per voter. With 14,522 registered voters in the school district, Lee said the campaign committee needs to raise $22,000.
Lee said for additional information about the Big Walnut Local School District’s 8.3 mil, $133.9 million Bond Issue, to become a campaign volunteer, or to donate to the campaign fund go to eaglepride.org.
Reporter Lenny C. Lepola can be reached at 614-266-6093.
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