CAMDEN — Preble Shawnee Board of Education members continued discussion of possible plans to close West Elkton Intermediate School during a second public hearing Tuesday, June 9.
A 3.75-mill property tax levy meant to provide funding for a new PreK-5 facility in Camden failed to pass in April; a .75-mill income tax levy intended to provide general operations funding for the district was also voted down. In addition, Gov. Mike DeWine announced $300 million in cuts to state education funding due to Covid-19 in a press conference held May 5.
Superintendent Dr. Matt Bishop stressed during the June 4 hearing, even if a new operations levy were to succeed at the polls in November, the district would still be left with a significant deficit. West Elkton Intermediate represents a large portion of the district’s operating budget, according to Bishop, costing about $450,000 annually.
“And the bulk of that is staff, not utilities,” Bishop said, indicating that eight to 10 staff members would be “reduced” as a result of closing the West Elkton facility.
Concerns were expressed during the June 4 hearing that charges for sewer service associated with the West Elkton facility, which fiscal officer Lori Green indicated amount to about $28,000 annually, would cut into the proposed savings. Bishop said these costs would be passed on to the residents of West Elkton, however, resulting in an increase to their average monthly sewer bill of about $30 per resident.
“Otherwise we’d be subsidizing the 80-plus residents of West Elkton when we could be using that money to educate everybody,” Bishop said.
West Elkton village council member Gary Thompson objected to Bishop’s statements.
“West Elkton really went out for the school system when we put in that sewer system there,” Thompson said. “Personally, I’m offended that you guys would seek legal recourse to get out of that.”
West Elkton Mayor Gevella Wilt expressed similar statements.
“You can’t enter into an agreement with someone and then say, ‘It’s not best for everyone else, so we’re gonna back out,’” Wilt said. “So if you take this action, we would have to speak to a lawyer too.”
The concept of a centralized K-12 school location was also broached multiple times throughout the hearing. The board reportedly chose to pursue funding for a new K-5 facility after information gathered from phone surveys, public hearings and other methods indicated a plan that would include demolishing the existing Junior and Senior High would have no hope of succeeding.
“At least put it out there and let people vote on it,” district resident Robert Hendricks said, while another resident claimed the process of trying to fund a new school building had been “a farce.”
Camden council member Kelly Doran spoke in the board’s defense, however, saying he was involved in Community Advisory Team meetings that analyzed data from those surveys and hearings and ultimately recommended a plan of action to the board.
“I don’t think it’s fair to hang the board with everything. The decision came from that team,” Doran said. “What came from those meetings is what was recommended to the board.”
Board president Julie Singleton stressed that the potential closing of West Elkton Intermediate was a separate issue from that of any levies or the location of any future school buildings.
“That’s an entirely separate discussion,” Singleton said.
Singleton and board member Charlie Biggs did concede the plan to relocate fourth and fifth-grade students from West Elkton to modular classrooms located on the Camden Primary property is “a temporary fix,” and that the ultimate goal is still to eventually move those students into a newer, larger PreK-5 facility.
“The goal is still a new elementary, wherever it’s gonna be, and I hate to see this kind of expenditure for a temporary fix,” Biggs said. “But I don’t see any way that we can pass a levy this fall.”
Bishop stressed, while the cost of purchasing modular classrooms and relocating students would be an up-front expenditure, the savings from closing West Elkton would be ongoing.
“Every year we’re out of West Elkton, that’s $450,000, year after year after year after year,” Bishop said.
Bishop also underlined the dire nature of the district’s current financial situation.
“We’re not talking about a beautification project,” Bishop said. “We’re talking about survival. When you ask what the goal is — the goal is survival.”
Reach Anthony Baker at 937-683-4057 or on Facebook @improperenglish