During a brief interview at her office last week, Big Walnut Local School District Superintendent Angie Pollock reviewed the reasons for the district’s 8.3-mil, $133.9 million Bond Issue that will be on Tuesday’s General Election Ballot, and addressed the concerns of some local residents who oppose the bond issue.
One rumor that has persisted is that the district had a $44.8 million solution to accommodating increased student population numbers that the district was hiding from the community. The rumor circulating indicated the existing high school and intermediate school could be joined together to expand the high school.
“We looked at three things when we were talking about how to respond to student population growth,” Pollock said. “First was the safety and security of our students; second, how different options would meet our academic program needs; and third, fiscal feasibility.”
Pollock said the rumored joining of the high school and intermediate school was not seriously considered because it did not meet those parameters — students would be walking outside to get from one building to the other; the school would need a major exit on to State Route 37; and especially because of the cost.
“That option was never really an option, it was something thrown out in a facilities committee brainstorming session,” Pollock said. “Once we talked to the architect, it turned out it would cost $147 million because then we would need two new elementary buildings, we have to build a replacement for the intermediate school, and we would still have to build an addition to the middle school and make needed renovations to our older buildings.”
Pollock said the district resident who said there was a $44.8 million option on the table took his information from an early planning session’s incomplete notes, no dollar amounts were in those notes, they were taken out of context, and the statements he posted on social media were misleading.
She said if the rumored $44.8 million option were a reality they would have to have additional classrooms, plus the district would have to add a new auditorium, gymnasiums, music room, and cafeteria; and the more classrooms added to a building requires more common space – additional restrooms, larger cafeteria, larger gymnasiums, and a larger auditorium.
Pollock was also concerned about a resident who claims the school district is lying about projected enrollment numbers. Pollock said enrollment projects are explained in the Bond Issue’s Frequently Asked Questions section on the district’s website. Pollock encouraged all voters to log on to the district website at bwls.net, click Bond Issue on the home page, then click Frequently Asked Questions on the bond issue page for an explanation of how student enrollment projections are calculated.
“We’re doing everything that we can to keep kids in brick-and-mortar classrooms,” Pollock said. “We’ve made great advancements in providing personalized learning, project-based learning, and teaching reading and math at kids levels instead of all whole-group lessons. Over the last couple years there’s been so much emphasis on testing in education in general. Here at Big Walnut, we’re trying to teach in ways that are enjoyable and engaging at each student’s level and challenge them to move to the next level. But if we have to put 35 kids into a classroom, it’s much more difficult for teachers to meet their needs. You can’t give them the same type of experience with 10 more kids in a room – at that point we go to trailers.”
Pollock said the district is hoping to get by with the district’s existing buildings until a new elementary school and a new high school are opened.
“Class sizes will be larger than we like for two years,” Pollock said. “We would rather bus kids to another building before spending money on modular classrooms. Many parents in this district are concerned about security, and we feel modular classrooms are a step backwards because that solution creates safety and security concerns.
“When we talk about academics today, we want buildings that meet our needs and our kids’ needs for the 21st century and beyond,” Pollock added. “With this bond issue and the bond issue in 2008 we asked if it was feasible to do additions to the two existing elementary buildings. We had an architect assess that option. The architect did a cost analysis in real dollars and found that it was no then and it’s no now.”
Reporter Lenny C. Lepola can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.