CAMDEN — The Preble Shawnee Board of Education discussed plans to solicit new levy and income-tax funding for improvements to the district’s school buildings at its monthly meeting Thursday, June 13.
The district is considering placing a 3.99-mill levy on next year’s ballot. The levy would tax property owners in the district at a rate of approximately $4 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The funds would likely go toward construction of a new K-5 school building, as well as making substantial improvements to the district’s junior and senior high school facilities.
Several present at the meeting expressed concerns about a phone survey used to solicit input from community members about the proposed project.
Denise Robertson, who served as part of a community advisory team impaneled to evaluate plans for the project, took issue with a question on the survey that asked respondents whether it was more important to keep taxes from going up or to improve school buildings, even if that meant diverting funds away from the classroom.
“You might as well have said, ‘Is it more important to keep taxes low or to kill puppies?’” Robertson said. “I don’t think this is something we should base decisions on, and I don’t think it should be given more weight than the recommendations of the advisory team.”
Board members Charlie Biggs and Gary Rader also had doubts about the survey.
“I wasn’t very impressed with the phone polling,” Rader said. “Some of the questions made sense, but most didn’t really address the information we need.”
“I’m more mixed up now than when we started,” Biggs agreed. “Not about what needs to be done, but about how to do it.”
Board vice president Jeff Wood and Preble Shawnee Superintendent Matt Bishop insisted that the findings of the survey were consistent with previous feedback the board has gotten, however.
“Despite wording, the results dovetail with what we’ve heard all along,” Bishop said. “Which is give us the least expensive option, and don’t tear down the junior and senior high.”
Board president Julie Singleton attempted to reassure those with questions about the survey.
“It’s definitely going to be a factor in our decision, but it’s not going to be the end-all and be-all,” Singleton said.
Village of Camden council member Kelly Doran urged the board to make a decision and act on it, whatever that decision happens to be.
“You’ve gathered so much information,” Doran said. “Now you need to stop thinking about this in terms of our lifetime. These buildings were here before us, and they’ll be here after we’re gone.”
“Perhaps if we do something right for once, and don’t cut corners like we have in the past, people will start trusting us with their money,” Wood said.
Superintendent Bishop told the board that a master plan for construction and improvements to the district’s buildings would need to be submitted by October in order to get the measure on the ballot in March.
In other business:
Kim Willoughby, an elementary art teacher at Shawnee and president of the Preble Shawnee Local Education Association (PSLEA), addressed the board about the group’s recent trip to Columbus to participate in the Ohio Education Association’s “Lobby Days.” PSLEA members were there to speak to lawmakers about a variety of topics, including House Bill 154 — which rescinded laws that allowed the state to “take over” struggling schools and put them under the control of CEO’s — and House Bill 239, which would reduce standardized testing.
Willoughby thanked board vice president Wood for attending, saying his presence increased the group’s credibility in front of legislators.
“Everybody says, ‘Wow, a board member!’” Willoughby said. “So it really does change the narrative.”
Wood spoke in support of the PSLEA’s efforts.
“The things they’re fighting for really are the same things our teachers are fighting for,” Wood said.
Finally, eighth-grade science instructor Jenny Bauerschmidt addressed the board about the school’s Eighth Period Intervention Program, which pairs each teacher with a group of two or three at-risk students to act as mentors.
“They’re responsible for making sure their kids are keeping up with assignments, that things are going well at home, and so on,” Bauerschmidt said.
“It’s a person they go to if they have things they want to talk about, or things that are going on,” superintendent Bishop said. “So they have a stable adult mentor they can go to.”
Preble Shawnee board meetings take place the second Thursday of each month at 6 p.m., at the board’s offices at 124 Bloomfield St. in Camden.