CAMDEN — Preble Shawnee Board of Education members discussed plans to close West Elkton Intermediate School during a special public hearing Thursday, June 4.
“The financial situation we’re in necessitates the discussion of whether to close West Elkton,” Superintendent Matt Bishop said.
A 3.75-mill property tax levy meant to provide funding for a new PreK-5 facility in Camden failed at the polls in April; a .75-mill income tax levy intended to provide general operations funding for the district also failed to pass. In addition, Gov. Mike DeWine announced $300 million in cuts to state education funding in a press conference held May 5
“It’s a pretty good assumption that the State of Ohio will continue to cut all schools’ funding,” Bishop said.
Bishop stressed that even if a new income tax levy were to be put on the ballot, and succeed, in November, the district would still be left with a significant deficit, as they would not begin collecting the full amount of funding from the levy until the 2022-23 school year. West Elkton Intermediate represents “a big chunk” of the district’s budget, according to Bishop, costing about $450,000 to operate annually.
West Elkton resident Eric Thompson asked what assurances the village would have that the abandoned school building would be demolished, rather than being left to dilapidate and “become a blight on the community.”
“Unfortunately, without the levies there would not be dollars to bring the building down,” board president Julie Singleton said. “We’re looking to save money as it is, so we wouldn’t be able to invest in that.”
The property tax levy defeated at the polls in April included funds to demolish West Elkton Intermediate in addition to funding construction of the new facility in Camden, according to Singleton.
Thompson also asked if calculations of the proposed savings from closing West Elkton had taken into account sewer bills for the facility, which he insisted the district would still be liable for as long as it remains standing.
“The majority of the savings [from closing West Elkton] is personnel,” Bishop said. “We would be moving to the other facility with fewer staff.”
The question of how to provide classroom space to accommodate the influx of new students from West Elkton was also discussed.
“When we looked at closing West Elkton a few years ago, we thought about moving everybody to the Junior and Senior High,” Bishop said.
The plan currently being discussed would involve moving sixth graders from West Elkton to the Junior and Senior High and fourth and fifth graders to Camden Primary, according to Bishop, either housing those students within the Camden facility itself or within modular classrooms located on the Camden property.
Board member Charlie Biggs seemed dubious about the $450,000 figure as well.
“This is the first time I’ve heard a price tag put on it, and that number just seems high to me,” Biggs said.
Board member Gary Rader expressed concerns about whether the cost of accommodating displaced students would match that of continuing to operate the West Elkton facility.
“You’re still going to have to purchase these modular classrooms, and provide sewer hookups,” Rader said. “It seems like you’re spending an awful lot of money just to move from over here to over there.”
“We have to run and operate these things the same as we do West Elkton,” Rader continued. “And I think we need to know for sure what the cost is going to be before we make that decision.”
Bishop stressed that the savings involved in closing West Elkton would be significant, however, even if the $450,000 figure turns out to be a little high.
“Let’s say the savings is $200,000,” Bishop said. “That’s three or four people we wouldn’t have to send home, or three or four teachers who could still be teaching our kids.”
Camden Village Council member Kelly Doran urged the board to act quickly in either case.
“You’ve had the luxury of time and money for a lot of years,” Doran said. “You don’t have that anymore. That’s gone. Sometimes you have to make the best bad decision.”
Board member Nick Duskey agreed.
“I think we need to act as soon as possible,” Duskey said. “Not because we want to rush to judgment, but because even if we pass the income tax — and given our history with income tax levies, I think that’s extremely questionable — we’re not going to see a significant increase in revenue in [the 2020-21 school year].”
Proposed time tables for closing the West Elkton facility were also discussed, with board vice president Jeff Wood suggesting the proposed closure would likely take place in December 2020 or at the beginning of the following school year. Singleton also indicated that closing before the start of the current school year was likely unrealistic.
Reach Anthony Baker at 937-683-4057 or on Facebook @improperenglish