Southwest Local School Board Accepts Committee’s Recommendation For Four New Schools
By Mike Perleberg
Southwest Local Schools may attempt a third ballot issue in as many years in order to get newer, larger facilities. Photo via SHP Leading Design.
(Harrison, Oh.) – A third bond issue in as many years is closer to appearing before Southwest Local School District voters.
The SWLSD Board of Education voted 5-0 Tuesday to accept the Community Advisory Team’s recommendation for three new elementary schools, a new junior school and vast renovations to William Henry Harrison High School.
The bond and levy issue associated with the proposal must still be reviewed by state education officials before the local school board can vote to put the issue on the November ballot. The board could make the decision in either May or June.
The price tag associated with the facilities project is $79 million, which would require a significant property tax increase. However, each passing year brings further aging buildings, larger class sizes, and not enough classroom space in the existing schools.
District officials are determined to accommodate the growth needs, even as two prior bond and levy issues have failed to pass at the ballot box each of the past two years.
Supporters of new schools have taken a different path this time. Jennifer Leurck is a member of the Community Advisory Team, a panel of local leaders, citizens, parents, students, and others who held a series of meeting and town halls in recent months to form the facilities plan with help from SHP Leading Design.
“(The change) was drastic,” she says.
Transparency and inclusion was made a priority. Leurck says the plan development was an open, community process involving not only those who wish to see new schools, but also those who have voted against them previously.
“You had ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘maybe’ voters all a part of this Community Advisory Team. It was intimidating as a supporter of the schools to walk into these meetings and sit down at groups of six at our tables. I was intimidated slightly, but yet thrilled that they were actually there and they came and took the time to hear the facts and see the escalating numbers and see that we’re not just trying to have beautiful facilities. It’s a need as far as our enrollment is too large,” says Leurck, who said she supported the past two ballot initiatives.
But where there is some take, there has also been some give. Unlike the previous proposals which proposed a central campus holding classes for all the district’s students, the latest would keep the idea of outlying schools. The committee’s recommendation includes one new elementary to be built at the Crosby Elementary site, another behind the current Harrison Elementary, and a third at Harrison Junior School or another location to be identified.
“There was a compromise on our part in the community, on social media as a member of that team that I was in the last election, they voiced how much they wanted the small-town feel with neighborhood schools. That’s what we presented to the board last night,” said Leurck.
Leurck, a student parent involved in the PTA, says she knows of at least a couple individuals who voted against the bond issues in 2015 and 2016 who have changed their mind on their vote.
That type of swing could change the outcome the next time at the ballot box. The bond issue fell with 63 percent of the vote against it in 2015. The margin was closer, 57-to-43 percent, in 2016.
“I almost feel like those previous defeats were a blessing in disguise, because now we have an army of knowledge to educate the Harrison community,” says Leurck.
The Community Advisory Team says the plan recommended to and accepted by the school board would require a property tax increase of 7.09 mills, which would translate to about $248 in additional taxes on a home valued at $100,000. State funding support from the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission could cover about 32 percent of the project cost.
More information on the Community Advisory Team’s proposed facilities plan can be found at http://www.southwestschools.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=691029&type=d&pREC_ID=1128734.