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Say 'no' to West Liberty-Salem bond issue

The West Liberty-Salem district is asking for approval of a bond issue that would, with the assistance of the Ohio School Facilities Commission:

Replace leaking roofs and dry-rotted windows.

Replace obsolete and inefficient heating and air conditioning systems.

Repurpose instructional space.

Meet minimum state guidelines for security and technology.

Convert the current auxiliary gym to MS/HS dining.

Expand the current elementary dining area.

Construct a new auxiliary gym.

Repurpose the cafetorium.

Separate student and parent drop-off traffic from bus traffic and provide better access to Highway 68.

All of this information has been addressed in a number of forums and formats. What I feel has not been addressed are a number of very relevant issues.

Maintenance:

The dry-rotted windows are the Pella brand. This is a premium brand with a premium price. I find it hard to believe windows of this quality have dry-rotted unless they were incorrectly installed or maintained. If they were installed incorrectly why are we not pursuing a remedy against that contractor? It would seem more likely, given that these windows are wood, that proper maintenance was not accomplished resulting in the dry-rot. Why wasn't action taken to correct this before it was too late and what will be done to correct this lack of maintenance in the future?
Likewise, prior to construction of the building there were many discussions about the choices of roofing for the buildings. Maintenance, repair and replacement schedules were part of these discussions leading to the choice of the type of roof. Why weren't the maintenance, repair and replacement implemented instead of allowing the roof to deteriorate? How will this be corrected in the future?

Repurposing, expanding and conversion:

I believe the question must also be asked as to why we would convert an auxiliary gym to a dining area and build a new auxiliary gym? Wouldn't it be more cost effective to construct a dining area and retain the existing auxiliary gym? Couldn't such a dining area have separate space for elementary students solving two problems with one action?

Assistance of the Ohio School Facilities Commission:

As for the assistance of the Ohio School Facilities Commission, I believe it was their assistance that helped create a number of problems that this bond levy is proposing to correct. For instance, the repurposing of the cafetorium is proposed. Who designed this space with multiple levels and almost no handrails? I've seen a number of people fall and it would be interesting to know how many accidents it has created over the years. What will be done with this space?

Another example is the very poor design of the access to the school building with commingling of student traffic, parent drop-off traffic and bus traffic creating safety problems. Anyone familiar with the design of a school system should have been able to advise the district of a better design. But even given the poor design most of this problem could be corrected by use of simple barriers or gates with proper staffing, safe driving habits, common sense, courtesy and timely enforcement against those that fail to use the prior methods. More access to an already busy highway is not the answer.

Enrollment:

I have heard that there is insufficient space for the number of students enrolled in the WL-S School District, especially in the elementary area. I may be biased but here again the elementary room size met the approval of the Ohio School Facilities Commission. Common sense should have dictated additional room in case of enrollment growth, to say nothing of the use of technology, but no extra room was apparently allowed. I have looked at the enrollment numbers provided by the Ohio Department of Education on their Web site for the district and there has been some increase, about 231 students spread across 13 grades (K-12) since the 1990-91 school year. But the enrollment trend for the last two school years has been downward. If ODE's numbers are correct the highest enrollment was reached during the 2009-2010 school year. If open enrollment is creating an overcrowding problem the solution is apparent and easy for the board of education to remedy at no cost. Expensive expansion should not be undertaken without firm demographic studies to support such expenditures.

In summary, the proposed levy is based on property values. This millage type levy if approved will provided a specific amount of money to the school district, in this case approximately 14 and a half million dollars.

The WL-S School District has a traditional income tax (uses the same income base as the state's income tax) of 1.5 percent. Of the approximately 610 public school districts in Ohio only 22 districts have an income tax of 1.5 percent. Four of these use the earned income tax base which excludes all other types of income that would be taxable under the traditional income tax base (interest, dividends, capital gains, pensions, etc.) which provides a tax break for those folks on a fixed income, i.e., retirees. Only 19 or approximately 610 public school districts have a rate above 1.5 percent and one of those is an earned income tax base. What all this boils down to is that the WL-S School District should have adequate financial resources, because as the income of the district residents increase so do the taxes paid to the school district. This was the case for many years prior to 2008 when, financially, things got tough for all of us. The question is why didn't the WL-S School District set aside money or actually accomplish some of these projects while more funds were available?

Flyers circulated in the community infer that now is the time to pursue this project due to low interest rates and availability of state funds, but as Mr. John Hance stated in his letter to the editor of this paper, "The WL-S School District is not in a stable financial position and has been 'getting by' only through reductions in teaching staff and other critical positions." This position is confirmed by the Superintendent's Message on pages one and two of the West Liberty-Salem Local Schools Tiger News which states in part, "Since the 2008-2009 school year, the West Liberty-Salem Board of Education and administration have been actively responding to a decrease in revenue at both the state and local levels. Driven by the recession that began in 2008, the district has had to make many cuts; most of these have been in programming, staff and by not replacing retirees. To date, the district has implemented nearly $760,000 of reductions in total operations."

Residents of the WL-S School District can rest assured that if this levy is passed it will only be a short period of time before the district is back again requesting additional funding to maintain the additional space and to correct the problem created by this construction due to insufficient planning.

Hope and faith is good but in the words of Benjamin Franklin, "He that lives upon hope will die fasting." It does not appear to me to be the right time to approve this levy.

Rick Benge
West Liberty

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