VINCENT - The latest proposal to address the aging buildings in the Warren Local school district would construct a new high school and institute a 10-year permanent improvement levy to make improvements at other facilities.
The Warren Local Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution declaring the need for the approximately 3.45-mill bond issue and 5-mill permanent improvement levy at its regular meeting Monday. The bond issue would raise an estimated $10.75 million for the local share of a nearly $29.8 million project that would include the demolition of Barlow-Vincent Elementary School, with the current high school being converted to an elementary school. The levy would generate approximately $1.15 million a year that could only be used for items that will last five years or more, not salaries.
Final millage numbers will be presented during a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. July 31, in the cafeteria at Warren High School, when the board will take its final vote on placing the issue on the November ballot. Members of the public will also be given the opportunity to ask questions about the issue at that meeting.
The decision comes after five previous bond issues - four to build new schools throughout the district and one to build three new elementary schools and a middle school - were rejected by voters.
One resident who voted against those plans said there was a lot she liked about the new proposal.
"This is a very conservative approach, which is what the community has been asking for," said Janie Richards, 41, of Bartlett.
Richards said the major concerns of residents have included the length of the issue - previous options would have been paid back over 28 years instead of 20 - and the restoration of high school busing, the most controversial of several cuts made to free up funding to repair existing buildings.
Board member Sid Brackenridge said he was hesitant to pledge that busing would return since the district only has so much control over how much money it has available.
"I don't believe in making promises you can't keep," he said.
Board member John Nichols, who made restoring busing a key issue in his campaign for the school board last year, said if this couldn't bring back busing, it was the wrong decision.
"If 5 mills is not going to take care of busing to a new high school, then we need to start over," he said.
Superintendent Tom Gibbs and Treasurer Melcie Wells said the levy money would be enough to replace the money diverted from busing.
"At least while the permanent improvement levy lasts and the emergency levy is renewed (in 2014)," board Vice President Debbie West said.
West said if the bond issue and levy pass, she would expect the restoration of busing to be on the board's agenda soon after.
"And we will keep it there as long as we are financially able," she said, a statement with which the other board members agreed.
It was Nichols who suggested making the levy last 10 years, saying 20 was too long and five years would have the district seeking another renewal too soon.
While board members were in agreement on the basic form of the ballot issue, they discussed whether space should be included for seventh- and eighth-graders at the high school and what would be done with the permanent improvement money.
Board member Bob Crum said including those grades could alleviate future costs and the need for modular classrooms at the district's elementary schools. It could also provide additional space if Little Hocking and Warren elementaries deteriorate to the point that one or both have to be closed.
That change would have added more than 1.25 mills to the bond issue. And Vincent resident Denise Tessum asked whether taking those grades from the elementaries would hasten their closure.
"We're going to drop our enrollment. We're already declining," she said.
Gibbs said the district would be wasting money if it included space for additional grades at the new high school and only demolished Barlow-Vincent. Moving B-V students to the high school and reorganizing some classes at Little Hocking would eliminate the need for most modular classrooms, he said.
Brackenridge said he was concerned that, although there would be repairs for the other schools, they still wouldn't measure up to contemporary schools in terms of classroom size, electrical systems and other standards.
"They're 1940 standards. They're not ... the modern standards," he said.
"We're doing minimal improvements" with the levy, if passed, Gibbs said. "You are not going to drastically change the structure of the building. You are not going to add air conditioning."
West said she understood Brackenridge's concerns and was optimistic that if the high school project turned out well, the public would support additional funding to address the elementaries at a later date.
"We might have the opportunity to build some additional buildings," she said.
Crum asked about including air conditioning, but Gibbs said it would be more expensive than the 5-mill levy would allow. Improvements to the buildings' electrical systems and windows would also be needed to make new air conditioning work.