PS levy could go back to ballot; West Elkton closing after coming school year

By Kelsey Kimbler -

CAMDEN — The Preble Shawnee Board of Education approved the first two resolutions necessary to put a new building levy back on the ballot, during a meeting on Thursday, June 29.

It was also decided that, if the bond does fail, this will be the last year of West Elkton being open and the board of education will support its closing for the 2018-2019 school year.

Despite what many believed, May was not the last opportunity for this ballot issue. As explained by Treasurer Mollie Hansel, “We’re in lapses status now with the OFCC, we had two changes to get the money as it was offered last year, and that expires in August or September. Once that expires, we become a lapsed district. We can run it again as a lapsed district, we’re just not guaranteed the money. Now we have to approve our levies first and then ask for the money. We don’t know if the state share is going to be the same, they are working on new calculations now.”

While they are not guaranteed the money, according to Hansel, the state has never not given anyone the money after they have passed their levies.

The first resolution approved during the June meeting would allow the fiscal officer to certify the maximum maturity of bonds. This resolution had the board’s full support. The board is considering the issuance of bonds in the sum of $9,000,000 for the purpose of paying a part of the cost of constructing a new Junior/Senior High School and a new Preble Shawnee Elementary. According to Hansel, “This is where I ask the auditor how much, if we want to raise $9,000,000, how many mills will that be? It should be two and a half mills, but we have to do that.”

Board member Charlie Biggs said, “It could be different from last time.”

“It could be,” Hansel allowed. “But she says not — they haven’t finished the reappraisal process.”

The second resolution approved passed 4-1, with board member Biggs voting against. This resolution declared the necessity of levying an annual tax on the school district income and declares the necessity of issuing bonds and submitting the question to the electors. This will raise $1,240,000 annually for 23 years, for permanent improvements and, if approved, will be presented to the electors on Nov. 7.

This resolution declares it necessary to issue bonds in the principal amount of $9,000,000, dated Feb. 1, that will bear interest at the estimated rate of four per centum per annum and shall mature in substantially equal annual or semiannual installments over a period not exceeding 37 years after their issuance.

During council discussion on this resolution, Board President Candi Fyffe said, “I would hope that the board would side with me that if it doesn’t pass in November that West Elkton would be close 2018-2019 school year. That we would move the students quickly, that we start taking necessary steps to close West Elkton. It’s been said so many times, my support for this would be that we take this step if it fails. I am optimistic this time.”

Board Vice President Gary Rader said, “Our job as a board is to run this district as a business and it makes all the business sense to close that building and move those students to save the district money. That’s our responsibility.”

“It’s best for the taxpayers and it’s best for the district and that is what we do, we look out for the district first,” board member Jeff Wood confirmed.

“For those of you who weren’t at the last meeting, I walked around specifically to look at the available space,” Superintendent Matt Bishop said. “It would be utilizing ever square inch of that high school and junior high, but it could happen. You could get all of West Elkton into that. To start making the move for this school year would be tough on teachers and students. Rest assured there has not been any discussion about doing the move for this school year.”

“My second point,” Fyffe added. “If it fails, we close West Elkton in 2018-2019, but we’re going to have to put that 0.75 back up for operational. That carryover, although large, is going to be sucked dry to fix these buildings to get them where we actually have something that is even close to what the state says we need. We’re going to have to put that back up. We won’t be able to be so free with raises, we won’t be able to be so free with increasing administrator salary when it is warranted, technology, safety, or anything.

“You have to realize that if it fails, we will have to take action, but it is going to be detrimental to our budget.”

Before the board approved these two resolutions, the floor was open to public participation and many attended the meeting to speak both for and against the levy. Those who wished to speak were allotted three minutes to address the board.

Kim Willoughby, President-Elect for the Preble Shawnee Local Education Association (PSLEA), opened the public participation. “I just wanted to stand up and let the board and also the visitors know that the PSLEA is in support of another run of the levy, that was discussed at your guys’ last meeting. I think this says a lot, because we are the ones who are in the buildings every day,” she said. “We are working there every day. We are seeing what kind of challenges our kids are facing in the buildings, as far as technology, bathroom access, all kinds of things. I think the fact that the teachers are behind the levy says something.

“Also, most of the opposition has been focused on mistakes that were made years ago. A lot of those were previous boards, mistakes that people feel were made, with the building renovations and having to do it again. I really feel that this is not getting us anywhere. We can think about the past as much as we want to, however, we have to call on the community to get involved and move on. We have to think about the students first and if people are really worried about us making those types of mistakes again then they need to get involved in the process and make sure that it is getting done in the way that it needs to be done to last for the duration.

“I feel also, at this point, that West Elkton school is a non-issue. Just as Dr. Bishop stated at the last meeting, there is enough room at the high school right now to move the students from West Elkton and house them. I don’t think, no matter what happens, that building being open is a possibility.”

West Elkton Mayor Bill Crawford spoke next. While he was on the agenda, he asked that his time be allotted to a speaker he had brought and that he be allowed to speak for three minutes during public participation. The board allowed it. He started by stating that he was representing the group R.U.F.R.E.E. Which stands for, Residents United for Responsible Educational Expenditures.

“Contrary to what two board members and our superintendent have called us, we are not a group of ‘vote no hacks’, we are not a group of ‘vote no idiots’, and we are not a group spreading misinformation,” he added. “We represent the majority of the electorate, who are of the opinion that the tax bond issue on the ballot for the last two elections was not and is not responsible educational expenditures. On behalf of R.U.F.R.E.E. and the majority of the Preble County electorate, I urge the board member to abandon the motion of running the same tax bond levy again.

“Rather, I urge you to consider a reasonable operating levy that can be used along with our rather large carryover to update, repair, and maintain our current buildings. I further urge the board to seek new, innovative ways in which our district can not only improve our buildings, but can also improve our quality of education, and level of community involvement in our schools.”

Many teachers, parents, and former teachers also spoke in support of the tax levy. They shared that parents have pulled their students out of the district and that they are afraid that more students will leave if the levy is not passed. They argued that the levy isn’t just for new buildings, but better education in general. The levy will bring better technology and more confident students, they argued.

On the other side, some public argued that it is not worth it to tear down buildings that are only 34 years old and that debt should be avoided at all cost. County Commissioner Denise Robertson even urged the board to not listen to those with “financial gain.” She argued that the superintendent, treasurer, and PSLEA all will gain from this levy passing and that the board should listen to the taxpayers primarily.

However, the overwhelming argument, from both sides, was that people should be polite and tolerant of differing opinions. Name calling, on both sides, should stop. According to parents, kids are even arguing at school about the levy issue.

After a healthy amount of public participation, it was time for Crawford’s allotted 10 minutes, which he gave to Michael Hayden, owner of Transparent Commercial Contractors and Massillon Roofing Inc. Hayden said that he has a product that, if used on the school’s roof, will be 60 percent cheaper than the cost of removing the roof.

Following Hayden’s presentation, Crawford said, “I’m trying to show that there are maintenance needs and ways to address those needs without going through with tearing our buildings down and it will cost a lot less than what the state has put out.”

Board member Wood said, “I think this is all fine and good, but I don’t think it applies right now. Depending on the outcome of the levy, that is something we would explore. If we needed to make repairs or put in a new roof, but for the purposes of whats on the agenda, I don’t think this applies right now.”

“It concerns me that you are bringing in a business to promote their product,”Fyffe said. “It feels like a sales pitch and it’s premature.”

The last resolution necessary to send the levy issue to the Board of Elections will be acted on during the July meeting, on Thursday, July 13, at 6 p.m. in the Board of Education Office.

By Kelsey Kimbler

Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH

Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH