VINCENT - The latest vote on a bond issue that would help build new schools in the Warren Local district will be decided at the polls, but the debate is expanding in cyberspace.
The committee backing the bond issue has added YouTube videos of the problems facing the district's schools to its online repertoire, while membership on a Facebook page dedicated to "Warren Local issues" is increasing.
The 8.76-mill bond issue and levy would fund the 42 percent local share of a $74.6 million project to build three new elementary schools and new high school/middle school complex, with the Ohio School Facilities Commission paying the other 58 percent. The issue has been voted down three times but supporters say they believe providing correct information to more voters will turn the tide.
EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
Warren High School substitute teacher Keith Robertson demonstrates how to use a 1960s-era planer in the school’s industrial arts lab. The piece of equipment is older than the 35-year-old Robertson. Industrial and science labs at the school have limited capabilities in the current building, district officials say.
"I'm hoping that we've touched more people," said Shawn Taylor, chairman of the bond issue committee. "We want to make sure that everyone in the district has the facts."
The videos are intended to illustrate building issues to people who can't get there in person or those who simply haven't been in the buildings for a while.
"I graduated from Warren 14 years ago and there's a lot of things different from when I was there," Taylor said. "We didn't have gutters in the school."
When to vote
Election Day is Tuesday, May 3. Polls will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. that day.
Early voting is going on now from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays at the Washington County Board of Elections.
About 1,200 absentee ballots have been cast or requested in the Warren Local school district.
On the Web
Warren Local Schools bond issue home: www.warrenlocal.k12.oh.us/bond_issue/index.htm (includes various documents and PowerPoint presentations on costs of repairing buildings without building new)
Bond committee: www.yeseducationmatters.com
Warren Local issues: Facebook group, search "warren local issues"
To determine the cost for specific properties: www.washingtoncountyauditor.us
Still, there's a limit to what can be conveyed online.
"I wish we could simulate 85-degree heat in Little Hocking school in the middle of February. The heat comes up and they have no way to circulate air," Taylor said.
The Warren Local Issues Facebook page has 163 members and member Denise Tessum said it has drawn interest from outside the area as well. She described the goal of the page as being to create discussion and find common ground.
Many of the recent posts appear to be against the bond issue but not against any financial assistance for the schools.
Barlow Township resident John Miller, a frequent poster on the page, said he would rather see an operating levy than money dedicated exclusively to buildings.
"I want (my grandchildren) to have a better education than I got," said Miller, 72. "And If I've got it all in buildings, how's that going to happen?"
Although he doesn't agree with the current plan, Miller said he sees the page as a way to present information from all sides.
"We want to present the facts, and we don't care whether their facts are for or against," he said.
Although discussions seem to get heated at times, Miller said he wants the focus to be on facts and not name-calling.
Despite, which side they're on many voters say they still have questions about the issue.
As the fourth vote approaches on the Warren Local Schools bond issue, here are a look at some questions that have been frequently posed and how they have been answered:
Q: This bond issue has been rejected three times already. Why bring the same proposal back a fourth time?
Some opponents have argued the district is disregarding the will of the voters by doing this.
With less than 45 percent of the district's 10,121 eligible voters casting ballots in the Feb. 8 special election, bond committee Chairman Shawn Taylor said he does not believe a consensus has been determined.
Taylor said he's heard some people say they didn't vote because they figured it wouldn't make a difference. The Feb. 8 vote was 2,344 against and 2,194 for the issue.
"When you're talking a margin of 150 ... every vote matters," he said.
Warren Board of Education member Sidney Brackenridge said with so much money available - $43.3 million from the OSFC - it's worth it to consider the issue gain.
"No time that I can remember (has) there been this much money on the table to take advantage of," he said.
The board at one point considered a smaller issue, one that would have only built some new schools. But they voted unanimously to return the same issue to the ballot one more time.
"We're responsible for all 2,500 kids that go to school in the Warren Local school district. Who (are) you going to shortchange?" Brackenridge said.
He said he's heard of a number of people who voted against the levy based on misinformation. He said he hopes that, given another opportunity, they would change their minds.
Q: How is the bond campaign being funded?
The campaign itself - as well as yard signs and a recently erected billboard on Ohio 7 - is being funded by donations to the bond committee, Taylor said. The school district does not, and legally cannot, spend money campaigning.
However, the district and board have been criticized for spending public funds to pay the board of elections for putting the issue on the ballot.
Gibbs said that cost was $13,000 for the February special election and a little more than $16,000 in August 2010. In both cases, it was the only issue on the ballot. Costs were lower in May 2010, when it was on the primary election ballot with other issues and races.
"The board has to look at it (with) the potential return on investment," Gibbs said. "They've just made the decision that that is a valid and worthy use of taxpayer funds."
Q: Why are the buildings in such bad shape? Has the district failed to properly maintain them?
For Brackenridge, the answer is simple.
"They're old," he said. "There's only so much you can do to them before" major repairs are needed.
That's where the district is now, with roofs, boilers, windows and more needing replaced at the buildings. In addition, the electrical systems in the current buildings would have to be completely replaced in order to have the capacity for more modern technology.
Gibbs pointed to the server room at the high school, which is a large closet without the climate-control features usually associated with keeping such equipment in good shape.
"When this building was built, there was no need for a server room. Computers didn't exist," he said.
By not offering the latest technology, students are at a disadvantage going into college and the workforce, where they will be expected to know how to use such equipment, Gibbs said.
Brackenridge said past levies have paid for some improvements to labs and other facilities, but they did not raise enough money to construct new buildings.
Q: Is there a specific plan for what the new schools will look like?
Gibbs said there is a plan but not a specific design. If the bond issue passes, the designs would be crafted with community input.
Three elementary schools would be built on the current sites, with the Warren and Little Hocking facilities designed for about 350 students each and the Barlow-Vincent one for 580. A high school/middle school complex would also be built.
On paper, there would be two buildings in the complex, but Gibbs noted how much they are combined can be part of the public discussion.
"You can save some money in construction by combining mechanical areas, combing kitchen areas," Gibbs said.
Q: Will district administrators or other employees get raises if the bond issue passes?
Legally, the money raised by the bond issue can only be used for the construction project. Funds from the accompanying half-mill levy will go toward improvements and maintenance, Taylor said. And since the buildings will be new, the idea is that that money wouldn't have to be used for a while.
"That money's going to build and be put in a separate fund," Taylor said. "It can't be used for operating expenses."
Brackenridge acknowledged that the bond issue's passage would free up money that would otherwise have to be used to make needed repairs to the buildings. Recently, the board approved $1.5 million in cuts, including the elimination of busing for high school students and 11 full-time teaching positions, as well as instituting fees for activities like sports. If the issue passed, those cuts would not be made, and Brackenridge said there have been no discussions about raises for staff.