VINCENT - The Warren Local Board of Education made it official Monday, unanimously voting to reinstate high school busing as soon as possible if a bond issue and permanent improvement levy are approved by voters in November.
The board postponed a decision on eliminating the $100 pay-to-participate fee starting with winter sports. The fee was instituted and high school busing eliminated in an effort to free up money for facility repairs after multiple failures of a bond issue to build new schools throughout the western Washington County district.
All five board members have expressed their willingness to reinstate busing should the 3.45-mill bond issue to build a new high school and the 5-mill permanent improvement levy - which will appear as one issue on the ballot - pass on Nov. 6. Monday's resolution gives Superintendent Tom Gibbs the go-ahead to start the process as soon as an affirmative vote is certified.
"This would essentially allow me not to wait," Gibbs said, adding he could post jobs for drivers the day after the election if the outcome was not in doubt.
The resolution was a late addition to the agenda. A second addendum contained a resolution to rescind the district's pay-to-participate fee.
"There are very few places now that we can give back to community members if we are able," board member Bob Crum said. "Some families have two or three students that they're paying a participation fee for, and to do that and raising taxes would be a little bit more than they could bear."
6:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 15, Warren Elementary School.
Board Vice President Debbie West said all of the cuts the district made - including more than 10 teaching positions and a number of academic and athletic supplemental positions - were detrimental to students in one way or another. But she said some of the other cuts should take a higher priority than the athletic fee.
"If we have the money, I would prefer to reinstate some of our academic-type cuts rather than our athletic-type cuts," she said.
"I think we ought to do both," Crum said, but added that reversing some academic cuts would not necessarily put money back in residents' pockets.
The district collected $61,000 from pay-to-participate fees in the last school year. Gibbs said that money was dedicated to salaries for coaches, but noted supplemental positions for extracurricular activities cost the district about $100,000 a year. Eliminating the fee would mean the administration would have to come up with another $300,000 over the next five years, he said.
Board member John Nichols said he would support eliminating the fee because it was a result of the previous failed bond issues.
"But why stop there, John?" West said. "Why not bring everything back?"
Nichols said the fee was all he could speak to because that was what was before the board Monday. He said the fee is a burden just like the loss of busing, which the board just voted to reverse.
"Or are we trying to buy votes?" he said.
Several board members spoke up at that point, with West saying busing was the last cut to be made and had always been the first priority to bring back because of the widespread impact.
Board President Bob Allen suggested cutting the fee in half to $50 as a compromise. Board member Sidney Brackenridge said he felt like he hadn't been given enough time to consider the matter.
Eventually the board voted 3-2, with Crum and Nichols opposed, to postpone a decision until the next meeting. A presentation on the matter will be offered by school officials at that time.
In other business
Gibbs said the district expects to realize even more savings from a lighting replacement program after exterior lights were added to the project.
The project to replace existing lighting with more energy efficient technology was originally proposed by Chevron Energy Solutions, which estimated it could be done for $425,000. The cost would be paid back by rebates from AEP Ohio and energy savings.
However, Marietta firm Davis Pickering offered to do the work for about $325,000. The original scope was completed for almost $80,000 less than that, which allowed the company to also tackle outside lighting. With the additional savings, payback could come in less than four years, Gibbs said.