By Evan Bevins
The Marietta Times
VINCENT - The Warren Board of Education voted Wednesday to take the first step toward putting another bond issue on the ballot, although there is no consensus on what form it would take.
The vote was 4-1, with Bob Allen opposed, to request state consent to issue bonds and put a question on the fall or spring ballots. Superintendent Tom Gibbs said the move meets a legal requirement but does not obligate the board to place anything on the ballot.
The board is considering what to do after a bond issue to build all new schools in the district, with the Ohio School Facilities Commission funding 58 percent of the project, was rejected for a fourth time in May. Segmented options presented at a June 6 public meeting included building a new high school and middle school and building three new elementary schools, possibly including a middle school.
Next meeting: 6:30 p.m. July 18, administration building, Vincent.
Before the vote, board President Debbie West asked members to share their thoughts on what to do.
Allen said he preferred to take time to come up with a strong plan. To make the November ballot, the board would have to decide on a bond issue by mid-July.
"I'm not sure now's the time to take any action," Allen said.
Board members Sidney Brackenridge and Bob Crum seemed reluctant to move forward with any of the segmented options. Those plans would replace some, but not all, of the district's aging buildings.
"Just changing half of them doesn't do the job," Brackenridge said.
Crum said replacing some schools now means another bond issue would be needed to address the others. Even if that's 10 or 20 years down the road, it would cost more overall and residents might wonder why the board embarked on such a path, he said.
"We (would have) made that decision to appease the public rather than making a decision based on what was in the best interest of the public," Crum said.
West and board member John Rauch said they still feel replacing all the schools at once is the best approach but they recognize that voters would not support it.
"I don't like the segmenting option, have never liked the segmenting option, but we have a very divided community and we need to put something else (forward)," Rauch said.
"I know it's not the perfect answer but I think right now we need to compromise," West said.
Gibbs told the board and the more than 30 members of the public in attendance that if the district chose a segmented option it would be locked into the same funding formula for future projects, even if they were done years later.
While the rejected bond issue's local share was 42 percent, new valuations make future projects a 62-38 percent state-local split. Gibbs said the OSFC expects the local share could decrease by another percentage point this September and those figures would apply to a bond issue passed in November or next spring.
However, he cautioned against waiting too long for those numbers to improve even more, as the formula should level out in the not-too-distant future. Also, he said, inflation could negate any gains that would come from an increased state share.
During the public forum at the start of the meeting, a few residents addressed the issue.
District resident and business owner Bob Lane said he would support a levy to fix up existing structures and even add rooms but, given economic conditions, he did not feel now was the time for new construction.
"I'm not going to be able to support the Warren school district in building any new buildings," he said.
Crum and Brackenridge rejected that idea during the board discussion.
"I don't believe that we can repair the facilities as economically as we can build new," Crum said.
Cutler resident Jean Yost said that instead of a middle school a fourth elementary school should be built, this one in the western part of the district, between Bartlett and Layman.
"You're putting it where there's good roads; you won't have people from Dale and Cutler on the bus for an hour," he said.
The district closed Bartlett and Cutler elementary schools in the western part of the district in 2008. Some voters cited the closures as reasons they voted against the recent bond issue.
Brackenridge said options like that could be considered if the district got the local share and the state funding from a bond issue to address all the schools.
"When we got nothing, you can do nothing," he said.
Veto resident Phyllis Welsh told the board her biggest problem with the situation is the board's decision to eliminate busing for high school students as part of about $1.45 million in cuts designed to free up money for needed repairs to existing buildings.
"A school without a bus is not a school in a rural area," she said.
Welsh said she can't understand why a school bus will pick up her granddaughter, an eighth-grader, but not the girl's brother, a high school freshman. Since they would already be picked up at the same time, the district should align the elementary and high school schedules so they can be dropped off at the same time, she said.
"She'll be able to get on the bus; he'll be left looking out the window," Welsh said.
Welsh's daughter, Sarah Casto, said she plans to home school the boy through the online Ohio Connections Academy. Casto said she currently works on an as-needed basis at Marietta Memorial Hospital and cannot afford the gasoline to drive him to and from school. She could not drive him on some days when she works and does not want to burden other parents by asking them to take him, she said.
"Then I'll have her the next year to worry about," Casto said, pointing to her daughter.
Gibbs has said the board could rescind some, but not all, of the cuts if a segmented option is passed and reinstating busing is a possibility.
During the board discussion, Welsh attempted to ask questions of the board members but West said they were not taking questions at that time. She invited her to speak to board members after the meeting.