By Charles Prince
HEBRON – Lakewood School Board members unanimously agreed Wednesday night to ask voters in November for just a new Pre K-5 school to replace the 105-year old Hebron Elementary School.
Voters have twice rejected a $39.8 million bond levy that included funds for major repairs at the middle school in addition to a new Pre K – 5 school.
The millage or tax rate last November was estimated at 5.1 mills. Rising interest rates at the time the issue was filed early this year for the May ballot pushed the estimated millage up to 5.4 mills. However, the Federal Reserve’s decision to pause future interest hikes after interest rate fears caused stock prices to fall last December brought interest rates down by about one-half percent. That reduction, which has held to date, meant the actual millage, if voters had approved the issue in May, would have been just under 5.0 mills.
That interest rate drop would have saved taxpayers about $4 million in interest over the 28-year term of the bonds. That savings didn’t register with many voters as 61.38 percent of the voters in May rejected the levy, compared to 58.67 percent last November. It was approved in just two precincts: 183 – 167 in Hebron and 3 – 2 in the tiny Heath 2-B precinct. It failed in Buckeye Lake Village by a 105 – 149 vote, even though voters there approved an additional five mill levy for the police department by a 135 – 116 tally.
Wednesday night’s decision came out of a nearly three-hour work session meeting on June 4. Board members had asked their architectural and financial consultants to look at three new school options and to take another look at turning the two Jackson Intermediate buildings into a Pre-K to 5 school. The new school options included reducing the square footage of the Pre-K – 5 school from the 124,748 square feet on the May ballot to 116,810 square feet by basing the number of classrooms on current enrollment. While that would save nearly $2 million in construction costs, it would not allow any growth in enrollment and was ultimately considered shortsighted.
Board members also considered a new Pre K – 3 building for 640 students compared to the Pre K -5 with 931 students and a K – 5 school for 871 students. The Pre K – 3 was estimated to cost $19.7 million and the K – 5 came in at $26.6 million. The current Jackson buildings total 74,680 square feet and would need 42,162 more square feet to accommodate 931 Pre K – 5 students. The total cost to renovate the two Jackson buildings, plus add the additional space needed, would total $28.4 million which is 94 percent of the cost for a new school. The Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) limits renovation projects to 66 percent of the cost of a new structure.
Updated OFCC central Ohio construction costs for 2019 were also available for this review. Some of the cost increases expected late last year (new tariffs, strong construction activity etc.) didn’t materialize. The new estimate for a 931-student Pre K – 5 school came in at $30.3 million with the group adding an additional $1 million contingency to offset uncertainty about estimates. The total estimated cost dropped from $35.9 million for the new Pre K – 5 school on the May ballot to $31.3 million for this November.
Though the estimated $3.8 million in repairs at the middle school (fire suppression system, HVAC upgrades, roof/insulation upgrade and lay-in ceiling/sound control) are still needed, board members decided to limit the bond issue to the #1 priority – a new school to replace the 105-year old Hebron Elementary and the awkward Jackson buildings.
The bond issue on this November’s ballot will be $31.3 million – a 21 percent reduction from May’s $39.8 million. While the district doesn’t yet have an official estimate from the county auditor’s office on the estimated millage, District Treasurer Glenna Plaisted expects it to be 3.9 mills. The estimates are based on a 4.25 percent interest rate. With the Federal Reserve signaling another drop in interest rates, the actual millage could be less. At 3.9 mills, the bond issue would cost $135 per year for each $100,000 of home value. That’s down significantly from $189 per $100,000 in May.
Board members also agreed unanimously Wednesday evening to take the first step to ask voters in November to renew a 10-year emergency operating levy first approved November 2, 2010. The levy raises $3,538,880 a year. It originally was a 9.9 mill levy but is currently being collected at 7.9 mills. Approval will NOT increase taxes and the millage will continue to decline as taxable property valuations increase.
Board member Jon Lynch said getting the millage under 4 mills and the prospect of declining interest rates overcame his reluctance to put both measures before voters in November. Board member Bill Pollard said there will be a lot on the November ballot, including two school board positions. He emphasized that the amount of the bond issue is down $8.5 million, millage is down to 3.9 from 5.4 and interest rates have dropped from 5.25 to 4.25 percent and possibly less. “We are focused on a new school,” Pollard said. “We are attempting to deliver their #1 priority.” Board member Brittany Misner added, “I hope our voters see that we listened and move us forward this fall.”
In other business Wednesday night, Lakewood’s two School Resource Officers Deputies Mike Crider and Joe
Harvey presented their report for the 2018-2019 school year. The two filed a total of 84 police reports, but only three persons were arrested on school property. There were 13 medical transports/“pink slips” (72-hour holds for mental health evaluations for persons at risk of harming themselves or others). There were 33 referrals to other agencies including the county prosecutor’s office (to determine whether charges should be filed) and children’s services. Students initiated 428 “counseling” opportunities with the two School Resource Officers. The deputies reported 117 “counseling” contacts with parents. The two deputies made a total of 67 classrooms presentations on subjects ranging from bullying to forensic science. They had 42 meetings with school staff members. A total of 119 referrals involving 52 students were made to the Village Network in Newark. The Network is a “multi-discipline behavioral health organization helping youth and families become resilient, healthy and have brighter futures.” The deputies consider themselves mentors for students, serving as teachers, counselors and law enforcement officers.
Captain Chris Slayman, who heads up the Sheriff’s Office’s Community Services Division, said both deputies will have time this summer to check up with students and will attend special events in the district. He doesn’t want the deputies to lose the trust and communication built over the school year.
Superintendent Mary Kay Andrews’ consent agenda included two resignations, two retirements and one new classified staff hire. Phyllis Stevens, school psychologist, resigned after 9 years with the district. Christina Macioce, a sixth math teacher, also resigned. Pamela Pinson, an eighth grade language arts teacher, and Rex Sponhaltz, high school physical education, are retiring. Allysen Coleman was hired as a part-time educational options teacher. Cynthia Weatherspoon, with 25 years experience with accounts payable, was hired for the treasurer’s office. A $38,500 contract with Superior Building Services, LLC to conduct the district-wide bi-annual preventive maintenance assessment was approved.
Andrews also announced that the bullying report will soon be posted on the district’s website. Board members will discuss the report at their July meeting. Andrews also presented a brief summary for the first school year of random drug testing. She said there were eight positive tests with seven students testing negative on follow-up testing. Andrews said no students self-reported as defined by the policy (reporting before being tested). “I think it has had a positive impact,” she concluded.
Andrews also outlined the additional steps being taken to address the oppressive heat in the 105-year old Hebron Elementary School during hot days in August and September. Last year four new large fans were purchased to try to cool the building and students. Cold water was also made available to students. This summer window blinds, particularly on the second floor, are being replaced in an effort to keep the sunlight and heat out of the classrooms. Andrews said staff is talking about modifying recess on hot days and setting up a cool area for students.
The board’s next regular meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 10, in the high school library. Videos of district meetings will soon be available via streaming on the district’s website. A pilot videotaping is set for the August board meeting.