CAMDEN — West Elkton Intermediate School will be closed at the end of the 2017-2018 school year if the tax levy does not pass in November, according to district officials.
During a meeting on Thursday, Aug. 10, Preble Shawnee’s Board of Education approved a motion to close West Elkton, a topic the board has discussed many times.
Board Vice-President Gary Rader brought the topic up under new business.
“I’d like to make a motion that contingent on the levy passing, we make it official that West Elkton Intermediate needs to be closed the beginning of 2018-2019 school year,” he said.
“So, your motion is if the levy doesn’t pass?” Board President Candi Fyffe clarified, and Rader answered in the affirmative. She then seconded the motion. “I want to clarify that West Elkton schools will be closed beginning 2018-2019 school year if the levy does not pass. Meaning that all students would be housed in Camden in the Junior Senior High School.”
The board approved the motion four to one, with member Charlie Biggs voting against the issue.
Preble Shawnee Superintendent Matt Bishop explained, “The purpose of this decision is that we’ve discussed as a board several times in open session about what would happen if the levy fails. Over the last couple months of the last school year we went to the high school and looked at the available space.
“When you have a declining enrollment in three buildings, it’s more efficient to operate two than three. I wanted to see if we could fit three grade levels into that building, and if we couldn’t how many module units will be required.” Bishop said. “I looked at it and it will be very tight, we would use every single inch of that facility, but we could in fact fit West Elkton Intermediate students and staff into the Junior Senior High School.”
“Inevitably that could become a four-12 building. So there’s a significant amount of energy efficiency with tax dollars associated with it and there might be some staff savings,” he said. “It would definitely be more efficient. It’s not ideal. The ideal thing would be to pass the levy in November and start building two new schools.”
He added, the board felt compelled to make an official motion to show the voters where they stand on the West Elkton building.
“I think that it was something that the board has discussed in the past and there seems to be a consensus to be pushing towards that idea,” Bishop said. “I think they heard from the constituents that there needed to be an official resolution. I think the board members probably heard from the community and wanted to make it official. This is the action that we’re going to take if the levy fails. I think people wanted an official vote to say, ‘okay we’ve all talked about this for months now and this will happen if the levy fails.’”
In fact, according to Bishop, if the levy passes, West Elkton Intermediate will be open for three more years and bring additional revenue into the community.
He said, “Under the plan that is the levy passing, West Elkton would be utilized for three school years. It would be at maximum capacity. They would have more staff and get more money from income tax. They could benefit for three years.
“If the levy fails, everyone is leaving at the end of the school year and the school will sit empty,” Bishop said. “There is zero money to abolish or abate the building. So, a levy failure means that you’re looking at the West Elkton building looking like the Gratis building, which is not a good situation.”
“If the levy passes, after we utilize West Elkton for three years, then we have money to abate or we could turn it back over to the Village of West Elkton without the asbestos so they could do whatever they wanted to with it,” he said. “If they want us to level it so they could build a park there, we can do that too.”
So, if the levy passes, West Elkton won’t close soon. In fact, according to Bishop, the building that would close is Camden, which wouldn’t happen until the 2019-2020 school year.
“In that school year, we would close Camden and squeeze as many people into West Elkton as possible,” he explained. “At that time, knowing that we would have a levy that had passed and knowing that we are not going to have to spend from our general fund, we could entertain the purchase of module classrooms and try to fit as many students at the West Elkton unit. We could try to avoid putting many younger students at the high school,” Bishop said.
“If the levy fails, we don’t have that luxury, because we don’t have a tax levy that is generating money. We would have to start looking at our general fund, so we don’t want to use that money on modules if the levy hasn’t passed. In December, we would start looking at the administration and the supervisors and begin identifying classrooms in the Junior Senior high school that will house students,” he said. “We will probably try to clean the third floor the best we can and try to put most of West Elkton in that area.”
“Can we fit everybody on the third floor? No, so there’s going to be some bleed down of forth, fifth, and six grade,” Bishop said. “Then, once we decide who is going to be moving, we’re going to spend all of summer — instead of cleaning and maintaining the high school — we are going to have to do a complete overhaul of where the classrooms are located and moving furniture. Once we move as much as we need out of West Elkton then it will be ‘mothballed,’ so to say. We’ll have to make sure we put it in a condition that the building is left safe to the community and locked up.”
Unfortunately, according to Bishop, the additional work isn’t the only problem the board faces if the levy fails. He said there would still have to be a levy to make renovations.
“If the levy fails in November, the board, which hasn’t made this decision officially, would have to put on a levy where a constant stream of money is coming in to fund the repairs. The 0.75 percent income tax that rolled off last year, that we’re asking to be voted back on for the new buildings — we would go back on the ballot in May and ask for that to come on anyway to fund the renovations,” he said.
“The other important piece that I think people need to understand is that I wouldn’t recommend a five-year-at-a-time income tax. The project that we’re talking about is on a larger scale and encompasses many years. What we would ask for is a continuing 0.75 income tax,” Bishop explained.
“So, on one side you could have a tax forever that for 0.75 is going to renovate two buildings or you could have the 0.75 that is only for 23 years and have two new buildings, but then you have the 2.5 mill bond issue that we’re adding onto that, which is less than a quarter a day. I don’t like taxes, nobody likes taxes, but if I’m going to have to pay them I’d rather get two new buildings out of it,” he said.
According to Bishop, technically the board could choose to put the levy issue back on the ballot in May, but they have decided not to go down that route again. Bishop said if it comes to a levy failure, at that point the voters would have spoken three separate times and renovations need done on the remaining buildings.
“Whether you are for the levy or against it, this is a reality that we are going to face come the end of the school year if the levy does not pass,” Bishop said, in regard to closing West Elkton. “The board and administration certainly recognizes that closing a building is never an easy thing. I know that this is a neighborhood school. It’s been there for forever and it is never easy to have that lost.”
“Unfortunately, with the enrollment we have and the reality of all school districts in the region shrinking, those are choices that we have to make, but it is not lost on us that it is an emotional thing to lose your neighborhood school,” Bishop said.