During last Thursday evening’s (Feb. 16) Big Walnut Local School District Board of Education meeting, district superintendent Angie Pollock said the latest edition of the Eagle Examiner has information about a potential November ballot issue that was defeated at the polls last November.
Pollock said that before board of education members make a decision about going on the ballot this November, the district wanted to survey the community. Pollock also said board members would be at board of education meetings 30 minutes early during the next several meetings to speak with community stakeholders one on one about the need to return to the ballot.
“The survey is scheduled to be online February 20,” Pollock said. “The questionnaire will provide Big Walnut residents with an opportunity to provide feedback about a bond issue. The more we hear from the community the better decisions we’ll be able to make while we’re working on how we address growth.”
Pollock went on to explain that General Rosecrans Elementary School will be two classrooms short of space at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, Big Walnut Elementary will begin the next school year full, and Harrison Street Elementary is already at capacity.
“We want to get our options out to the community, because the growth we’ve been talking about is here now,” Pollock said. “Whether we decide to go on the ballot in November or not we need to make our decisions by May.”
Pollock then handed the meeting over to district assistant superintendent Mark Cooper, who reviewed four options the district is considering for the 2016-17 school year for accommodating the growth in student populations.
Cooper said options for accommodating the two classes at GRE that would need classrooms, 50 to 60 students, are: modular trailers, shuttling students to Hylen Souders Elementary, renting classroom space in the community, and increasing class sizes.
“Trailers would be $80,000 to $100,000 for used trailer that are at least 10 years old,” Cooper said. “Then there’s the cost to move the trailers, and installing utilities and a foundation — that brings up another $20,000 to $30,000.”
Cooper said some money might be saved using Big Walnut maintenance crews for site work, but that the modular’s would not have water service because that would cost an additional $10,000 to $20,000 per unit.
Cooper said shuttling two classes from GRE to Hylen Souders would require a new bus route that would pick up students in the grade level being shuttled from throughout the GRE district.
“These students would start their 20 minutes later in the morning, and lose another 20 minutes of instruction time at the end of the day,” Cooper said. “That’s 40 minutes, and sometimes up to one hour of instruction loss per day. And then we would have to decide which grade level we would select for those two shuttled classes.”
Cooper said another bus route would cost $54,000 for the school year, and students would have a longer bus ride because if the district buses students from a single grade level those students live all over the GRE district. Cooper said some students, those picked up first in the morning and dropped off last in the afternoon, would face a potential 50 to 60 minute bus ride.
Cooper said rental space is on the discussion list but hasn’t been priced; and an additional cost of rental space would be staffing a secretary and security costs.
“Last week we talked about increasing class sizes, but that would bring a pretty quick stall to the school district’s 2020 vision,” Cooper said.
Pollock said the district is already struggling with 24 and 25 students in elementary classrooms.
“If you throw another five kids in an elementary classroom, and you’re trying to teach them reading, how many 6-year-olds can you have bouncing off the walls and accomplish your goals,” Pollock said. “Even if the ballot issue had been successful in November we would still be out of room next year, and every one of these options is money out of our operating budget. Every time we have to pay for space out of the operating budget it becomes a hardship when we need to hire more teachers to keep class sizes where they are.”
Pollock also noted that it’s not just elementary buildings that are reaching capacity. She said Big Walnut Middle School classrooms are also full, and Big Walnut Intermediate would fill its last two free classroom in the fall.
Cooper added that any one of the four options would only be a short-term fix, considering the district’s projected population growth estimates.
“We’re dealing with many logistics that we would have to go through, no matter what option we look at,” Cooper said.
Reporter Lenny C. Lepola can be reached at 614-266-6093.