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Published: Thursday, 1/6/2005

Port Clinton schools mull request for bond issue

PORT CLINTON - In 2001, voters in the Port Clinton City Schools rejected a plan to replace three aging classroom buildings with two new structures, then turned down a scaled-down plan for a new middle school.

The district got the message: In the midst of a struggling economy, voters weren't ready to raise their taxes to pay for new schools.

The school system's new superintendent, Patrick Adkins, hopes they're ready now. The district's buildings aren't getting any younger, and maintenance costs are climbing.

"We have to do something, either in the way of a permanent improvement levy to keep everything going or with a bond issue to replace them," he said yesterday.

Mr. Adkins, who became the district's top official in August, is working with school board members and an advisory committee of residents on a revised building program.

This week the district began a phone survey to gauge whether residents would support a bond issue of roughly 4 mills to construct two elementary schools and turn a third, Bataan Elementary, into a newly renovated middle school. The plan would reduce the number of schools in the district from six to four and replace Catawba, Portage, and Jefferson elementaries, plus the middle school. Catawba, Portage, and the middle school are all more than 80 years old.

The survey results will play a key role in determining what type of building plan - if any - the district will pursue, Mr. Adkins said.

"I think it's really important that we talk to the community before we go on the ballot, to see if they're even ready," he said. "One of the things I want to avoid is . . . . putting something out there and having it blown out of the water."

That's more or less what happened four years ago. A 3.92-mill, 28-year bond issue to replace Catawba, Portage, and the middle school with two new buildings lost 57 percent to 43 percent in May, 2001, and a 2.31-mill bond issue for a new middle school alone was defeated in November, 56 to 44 percent.

Walter Wehenkel, a school board member who was chairman of the district's two building levy campaigns in 2001, said he and other volunteers thought they could persuade voters to back the bond issues despite survey results that showed majority opposition.

"I was one of the ones that was guilty of thinking we could overcome the initial deficit," he said. "If the community tells us this is not a go, we're not going to force it."

The district's preliminary plan, developed by the 25-person advisory committee, calls for a 29-year bond issue that would raise about $35 million, Mr. Adkins said. At 4 mills, the owner of a $100,000 house would pay $122 a year in extra property taxes.

The building projects would be entirely funded by district voters. Mr. Adkins said that under the state's funding system, Port Clinton is considered the 19th wealthiest district in Ohio because of its property valuation and so would qualify for little assistance from the Ohio School Facilities Commission.

"We are property-rich but not income-rich," he said. "So for us, we are almost completely dependent on our local community."

Mr. Adkins said replacing five old buildings with two new ones and one renovated school would save the district money on building upkeep, busing costs, and staffing. He said the district would go from having five building principals (Portage and Catawba elementaries share one) to four, and any other job cuts would be through attrition.

In addition, enrollment has been declining for several years, from 1,900 two years ago to about 1,800 this year, and the district doesn't need as many buildings, Mr. Adkins said.

"This plan not only makes good educational sense, it makes good business sense," he said.



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