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Published: Monday, 10/18/2010

School merger panel idea on Nov. 2 ballot

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

After decades of talking about it, voters in the tiny Vanlue school district and neighboring Arcadia Local Schools will decide Nov. 2 whether to take a serious look at the idea of merging.

"The board just wants finality," said Rod Russell, superintendent of the 250-student Vanlue district in eastern Hancock County.

While the Vanlue school board has not taken an official position on the ballot issue, it paid $3,000 to have petitions drawn up to get the question before voters in both districts.

"I can honestly say we don't have a board member who wants to close the school, but they want to do what's best for the kids," Mr. Russell said. "They also want to do what the voters want."

The question before voters is not whether to merge the districts but whether to establish a commission to study a merger.

The issue must be approved in both districts or it will not proceed to the second step, which is having a 10-member commission examine a potential merger and make a recommendation. Voters in both districts then have to decide in November, 2011, whether to join.

"We're looking long-term - 10, 15, 20 years down the road," said Ryan George, one of five representatives from Vanlue on the proposed commission. "Both districts have had declining enrollment over the past 10 or 15 years. Both schools do a wonderful job now.

We're looking toward the future, and we want to make sure both districts continue to do a wonderful job."

Complicating the question, Arcadia voters are being asked Nov. 2 to approve a 7.4-mill bond issue and a 0.5 percent income tax, both for 28 years, that would pay the local share of a new pre-K-12 building. The Ohio School Facilities Commission would pick up $12.2 million of the $23.4 million project.

Arcadia Superintendent Laurie Walles said that after deferring the project for two years, her board decided to move forward with plans for a new school. It has not taken a position on the merger question, she said, although board members have said they tried to reach out to Vanlue in recent years about a merger but couldn't reach consensus.

Ms. Walles said the Arcadia district has 645 students this year but she clarified that 108 of those are students from other districts who came to Arcadia through open enrollment and 30 of them are Arcadia students who have enrolled in other districts.

Mr. George said Arcadia voters could vote yes on both the merger commission and the building project, but a pro-levy group called Citizens for Arcadia School's Future said on its Web site that it believes the building project is "the best opportunity for our community." The idea of a merger commission, the group said, "is an admirable task, however, untimely since the state's offer of funding will expire in August, 2011."

Across the region, numerous school districts are on the Nov. 2 ballot seeking to renew existing taxes or approve new ones.

Bowling Green City Schools is asking voters to approve a 1.6-mill, five-year operating levy that would bring in $1 million more a year. It would cost the owner of a $100,000 house an extra $49 a year.

"We have an 'excellent' school system as rated by the Ohio Department of Education, and this is an opportunity for the community to decide if in fact that's what they want because it does cost money," Superintendent Hugh Caumartin said.

Defiance City Schools hopes to complete the second phase of a building project that would provide all new schools for students. Last year, the district moved into a new K-5 building, and now voters are being asked to pay the local share of a new 6-12 building.

Superintendent Michael Struble said the 3.95-mill, 37-year bond issue on the ballot would allow the district to take advantage of some $42 million from the Ohio School Facilities Commission. The state's share represents about 70 percent of the cost of the project, which includes building an addition at the new elementary school.

"The facilities commission used to fund as many as 60 projects in a year, very commonly 40 projects in a year," Mr. Struble said. "This year, they only approved nine. With the tobacco money almost exhausted, what we're concerned about is if we defer again, we'll have to compete with more and more schools with fewer spots."

If approved, the bond issue would cost the owner of a $100,000 house $120 a year.

Three schools that were on the special election ballot in August will be back.

In Henry County, Patrick Henry Local Schools is again seeking 4.9 mills more for five years. The same levy, which failed in August, would generate $530,000 a year and cost the owner of $100,000 home $150 a year.

Woodmore Local Schools in Sandusky and Ottawa counties is trying a third time to approve 2.99 mills more for five years. The levy, which failed by narrow margins in May and August, would generate about $450,000 a year and cost the owner of a $100,000 home $91 a year.

While voters in Margaretta Local Schools approved that district's request for new tax dollars in August, the school board now is asking them to repeal an existing 7.75-mill levy and adopt a new type of property-tax levy called a "conversion levy."

The continuing levy would initially be assessed at 4.853 mills, but the millage could increase with reappraisals of property values in the district. Based in Castalia, the Margaretta district takes in parts of Sandusky and Erie counties.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-724-6129.



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