During last Thursday evening’s Big Walnut Local School District Board of Education meeting, one item on the agenda for discussion was the school district’s $133.9 million, 8.3-mil Bond Issue that was defeated by voters during the November 8 General Election.
The bond issue, on the ballot because district enrollment projections indicate that Big Walnut would grow from an approximately 3,400-student school district this year to 6,000 students by 2025, would have allowed the immediate construction of one new elementary building, and started the four-year process of building an 1,850-student high school.
The bond issue would also have included funds to add on to the district’s current middle school building, and also fund needed renovations to the district’s older buildings.
Big Walnut Superintendent Angie Pollock said there were ongoing conversations about where the school district is currently at in planning for rapidly escalating growth in student populations, and what future issues the district would face with a return to the ballot.
“We’ve heard the voters’ message,” Pollock said. “Our primary goal is to have conversations with district stakeholders.”
Pollock also said a survey might soon be launched to gather additional information from district residents.
Board of education president Mindy Meyer said that when members of the community go to the polls and defeat a needed bond issue, members of the board of education and district administrators need to understand their concerns.
“When our community throws something down, we want community feedback,” Meyer said. “We need to come up with a way to move forward that’s convenient for our community. It would be great if the state would come in and build buildings, but they’re not going to do that.”
Pollock said to go back on the ballot in May of 2017 would constitute a special election, costing additional money; the other option would be to wait until November of 2017.
“Our needs aren’t going anywhere,” Pollock said. “We’ll have to add classes at General Rosecrans Elementary School next year, and we’re not going to pack 32 first-grade students in a classroom. Our options are modular classrooms or bus students to Hylen Souders Elementary.”
Pollock also said that Big Walnut High School is becoming uncomfortable as the building approaches its design capacity.
“Common spaces at the high school are already overcrowded,” Pollock said. “We have three lunch-periods now. If we go to four lunches we’ll have to start a lunch at 9:30 in the morning, and we’re on the cusp of a fourth lunch-period.”
Board member Allison Fagan said she is concerned about safety and security issues if the district is forced to install modular classrooms, essentially trailers on concrete pads. Fagan said because it takes two years to build an elementary school, the district likely has modular classrooms in its future.
“Putting a trailer on an elementary school campus is not only expensive, making that trailer secure is even more expensive. If it were my kids, I would not want them in a trailer. Security costs must be considered along with the cost of a trailer.”
Board VP Andy Wecker said he’s amazed that even some of his fellow elected officials can’t understand the difference between a Bond Issue and a Levy; that some folks thought the district’s last operating levy provided money for buildings.
Bond Issues are for building; Levies are for operating money.
“If we don’t pass a bond issue, the money for modular classrooms has to come from someplace,” Wecker said. “That money will have to come from the school district’s operating revenue.”
Board member Nicci Hess said there has been so many concerns from district residents that it’s important to get them on the table and address them directly.
“I encourage school district residents to bring their concerns forward before anything goes on the ballot,” Hess said. “We need to know what your concerns are before we go out on the ballot again.”
Board member Brad Schneider encouraged folks who want to see a bond issue succeed at the polls to, in his words, get behind the effort as the school district moves forward.
“This is a great community, but great communities don’t happen by accident,” Schneider said. “Stand up and make your voice heard.”
Pollock said the above concerns are issues the district is facing – overcrowded classrooms as new residents move to the district, communications with voters about their concerns, modular classrooms, security issues.
“These are the types of things we’re looking at,” Pollock said. “Do we have time for us to go on the ballot May, or wait for November? We’re really running out of time looking forward to the next two years.”
Meyer had the last word in the discussion.
“One of our biggest problems is how to get information out, and then get feedback,” Meyer said. “We’re more connected than ever on social media, but in many ways we’re not connected.”
Reporter Lenny C. Lepola can be reached at 614-266-6093.