After repeated rejections of proposals to build multiple new schools, the Warren Local Board of Education plans to ask residents this fall to fund construction of a new high school and repairs to existing buildings.
One more vote is required to place the 3.45-mill, 20-year bond issue and 5-mill permanent improvement levy on the November general election ballot. That is expected to take place Tuesday during a special meeting in the Warren High School cafeteria. Board members will also discuss why they support this plan and listen to input from the community.
"I feel that this is in the best interest of everybody involved," said board member John Nichols.
EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
Incoming Warren High School juniors David Ryan, left, and Aaron Sealey talk outside the school, where they were participating in summer weightlifting for football. Behind them, materials for the next phase of roof repairs are stacked atop the school.
This would be the sixth bond issue placed before voters in the district since May 2010. The first four would have replaced all three existing elementary schools and the high school while adding a middle school. Critics balked at the tax increase during difficult economic times, the 28-year duration of the bonds and the move to demolish all the buildings, saying they should have been better maintained in the past.
The last of those attempts failed by just eight votes in May 2011. A few months prior, the board made more than $1 million in cuts to personnel and services to free up funding to repair the existing buildings. The most controversial of these was the elimination of high school busing.
A fifth proposal, to build three new elementary schools and a middle school, failed by a wider margin in November, despite support indicated by an informal survey conducted by previous bond issue opponents and supporters.
Millage: 8.45 (3.45 for a bond issue to fund the local share of building a new high school and 5 for a permanent improvement levy)
Duration: 20 years for the bond issue, 10 for the levy.
Revenue: $10.75 million for the high school project, plus $1,149,524.20 a year for the permanent improvement levy.
Cost: $258.78 a year for the owner of a home valued at $100,000.
More information: A meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the cafeteria of Warren High School, where board members will discuss their reasons for supporting this issue, hear from residents and take a final vote to place the issue on the November ballot.
Source: Warren Local Schools.
Will you support the bond issue and levy on the ballot for Warren schools?
Yes:?18 percent; No. 71 percent; Undecided: 11 percent
Total votes: 152
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Nichols, who joined the board in January and opposed the previous issues, said he's gotten generally positive feedback from residents since the unanimous vote on July 16 to move forward with placing the new proposal on the ballot. But some have reservations about the total millage rate, which is similar to the 8.69-mill amount that was on the ballot when voters rejected the five-school plan for the fourth time.
Nichols said despite the similar number, this approach is very different.
"It's not near the money," he said.
The latest bond issue would last 20 years instead of 28, and that applies to less than half of the total millage. Five mills will go toward a permanent improvement levy, which will last just 10 years, although a renewal could be brought before voters.
"This way, there'll be more money actually showing up in the district" instead of paying interest on the bonds, Nichols said.
High school busing
Passage of the bond issue and levy would also allow the district to reinstate high school busing, members have said. But they've also been quick to add that declining state funding and other factors make it impossible to guarantee the service in perpetuity.
Warren Township resident Mike Wagner, 47, said he would be inclined to vote for the new bond issue and levy if busing was brought back first.
"Until the busing's reinstated, I will never vote for the levy," he said. "I don't believe in the good will of the board that they'll put the busing back if the levy passes.
"They expect us, the voters, to go and vote for the levy in good faith," Wagner said. "They need to show good faith and put the busing back."
An attempt to do that in May failed by a 3-2 vote, with the board members opposed saying they couldn't support bringing back busing without being assured of having the $625,000 to $797,000 needed to fund it.
"It's kind of like a contractor ordering a large amount of equipment just because he's going to put in a bid," said board member Sid Brackenridge, who voted against that measure. "It doesn't really pay to place that order until you've actually got the bid.
"Everybody's perfectly willing to restore the busing," he said. "Restoring it before (the money is secured), you're doing something you may have to back off of."
To make room for the new high school, Barlow-Vincent Elementary School would be demolished, and the current high school would take its place. Some have questioned why the district is making that change, since the shortcomings of the high school were prominently discussed in previous bond campaigns.
"We have tried multiple times to get new buildings for the district, and that's not been supported by the residents. We understand that," board President Bob Allen said. "We're not saying the high school's great or anything, but it's better than Barlow-Vincent."
Barlow-Vincent's classrooms are divided by shelves and other fixtures, rather than being individually contained rooms. Allen also said the high school building is better ventilated, providing superior air quality to Barlow-Vincent.
Vincent resident Shawn Taylor, a supporter of the five-school bond issue whose children attend Barlow-Vincent, said he's fine with the elementary students shifting to the new high school. He noted that after the failures of the previous bond issues, the district made cuts to free up money for repairs, and a lot of that has gone to fix roofs at the high school.
"I think it makes sense to send the kids where you're spending the money," Taylor said.
Taylor said he thinks the latest proposal is a good compromise.
"I've stated all along that we need to do something, and I think getting a new high school is a great start," he said.
Allen and Nichols said they have both heard concerns that the new plan is the first step toward closing Little Hocking and Warren elementaries and bringing the district's students together on a single campus. While that format is what some people in the community have supported, both board members said that is not their goal.
"We like the community school structure," Allen said, adding that Superintendent Tom Gibbs has said he does not intend to recommend their closure.
Nichols noted one of the goals of the permanent improvement levy is to address needs at those schools.
"This has nothing to do with Little Hocking and Little Warren being moved," he said. "It has everything to do with getting money to continue making repairs at those buildings."