VINCENT - If a 3.45-mill bond issue and 5-mill permanent improvement levy are approved by voters in November, Warren Local school district residents won't have to wait until the 2013-14 school year to have high school busing restored.
"As soon as I can get enough qualified drivers," Superintendent Tom Gibbs said when a resident asked how soon busing would be brought back Tuesday during a special board of education meeting at Warren High School. "I'll have positions posted the very next day."
Busing was one of the items discussed at Tuesday's meeting, during which board members and administrators outlined the proposal that would raise the local share of a nearly $29.8 million project to build a new high school, along with about $1.15 million a year for improvements to other district facilities. The board also gave unanimous approval to place the issue on the general election ballot.
EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
Warren Local Schools Superintendent Tom Gibbs discusses how money from a proposed permanent improvement levy would be used in the district during a special board of education meeting Tuesday in the Warren High School cafeteria.
The bond issue would be paid back over 20 years, while the permanent improvement levy would be collected for 10. That means the cost to taxpayers would decrease by more than half after the 10th year if the levy expired and was not renewed.
It's the latest attempt to address the district's aging facilities after five bond issues to build multiple new schools have been rejected by voters over the last two years.
The elimination of high school busing to free up money for facility repairs has been a divisive issue in the district since it was first approved last year.
What it would cost
Annual cost of the Warren Local school district's proposed 3.45-mill bond issue and 5-mill permanent improvement levy:
$50,000 home:?$155.27 a year
$70,000 home: $181.15 a year
$100,000 home: $258.78 a year
$150,000 home: $388.17 a year
$200,000 home: $517.56 a year
Source:?Warren Local Schools
"I think there will be an argument amongst the board over who wants to make the motion to bring back busing," board President Bob Allen said.
All five board members said they would vote to restore busing if the issue passed.
Fleming resident Paula Hendrickson, one of 17 members of the public in attendance, asked whether busing would be threatened again in the near future by fiscal concerns.
"If this passes right now and busing's cut again, you're never going to get another (levy)," she said.
Board member John Nichols noted there is one hurdle to clear in the near future to avoid significant cuts - the renewal of an emergency levy set to expire in 2015.
"If we can count on the (emergency) levy revenue, then it's a pretty secure future as far as I can see," he said.
Treasurer Melcie Wells said passage of the permanent improvement levy and renewal of the emergency levy in two years would have the district's five-year financial forecast "in the black for all five years, which has not happened in a long time."
The emergency levy generates $1.75 million a year that goes to utilities, buses, textbooks and other costs, not salaries and benefits, Gibbs said.
"If we lost $1.75 million in funding, busing's going to be the least of your concerns as a community," he said.
While the precise location of the new high school has not been determined, it would be on the current campus shared by the existing high school and Barlow-Vincent Elementary. Barlow-Vincent would be demolished and the current high school would become an elementary school.
Belpre-area resident Shannon Pettit, 35, asked whether the high school was large enough to house all the elementary students in the district. Gibbs said the high school currently only has about 50 more students than B-V, and even with declining enrollment trends it would be "years and years" before such a consolidation could be made.
"We will need Warren Elementary and Little Hocking for the foreseeable future," he said.
Gibbs outlined the work that needs to be done at those schools, as well as the current high school, with the permanent improvement levy funds. That includes roof repairs of $500,000 at Warren Elementary, $350,000 at Little Hocking and $460,000 for three roofs at the high school, as well as boiler replacements, electrical upgrades, plumbing replacements and more.
The costs Gibbs presented totaled $7.5 million, although the bond issue would raise $11.5 million over 10 years. He said he did not budget out all of the money to account for inflation and additional needs that will arise.
One woman asked whether the bond issue and levy were an all-or-nothing proposition. Nichols said they were and that the board decided to present them as one issue instead of two due to the uncertainty that would be created by having separate votes.
"We're counting on, with this passing, alleviating several million dollars worth" of repairs at Barlow-Vincent, he said. "How much more do you add on to (a permanent improvement levy), not knowing what the outcome will be on the other issue on the ballot?"
Vincent resident Ray Smith asked how the board would convince "the people that perpetually vote no no matter what you put on the ballot" to support this proposal.
Nichols said they can't. Some people simply can't afford the tax increase and some oppose it for personal reasons, whether they're right or wrong, he said.
"You will never hear me condemn anybody for the choices they've made," Nichols said.
But he said some people are on the fence and he's talked to others who opposed previous issues but like the sound of this one.
"I am voting for this," said Nichols, who joined the board at the beginning of the year. "I didn't vote for the others."
Pettit said he supported the previous plans and will vote for this one.
"As a community, I think we just need to step up and do as they (the board) ask," he said. "It's not about me and someone 20 years ago in the school ... it's the kids."