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Wary eye on the future

August 15, 2012
By KATIE SCHWENDEMAN - Staff Writer ( , Morning Journal News

COLUMBIANA-With the $4 million bond issue for the city school district rejected by voters, the board has some "hard decisions" to make over the coming weeks, Superintendent Don Mook said Tuesday.

Mook spent nearly a half-hour during the board of education meeting outlining some options the board has with maintaining the district without the additional tax revenue the bond would have generated.

The options, however, are not without some drawbacks, he pointed out.

Mook also spent some time responding to residents' claims that the district did not sufficiently advertise the bond issue prior to the Aug. 7 election.

"I don't think we have a real positive image with our community right now and I want to do some things to repair that," he said.

He noted the bond issue information was "misrepresented" in the community by some who are not employed by the district.

If it had passed, a majority of the bond issue money would have been spent on the refurbishment of South Side Middle School, which was constructed in 1962.

The board approved placing the 29-year bond issue on the Aug. 7 election ballot due to projected deficits in the five-year forecast, which showed the district entering the red in 2015 and 2016. Deficit spending was projected through all five years, with a $1.8 million deficit cropping up by 2016.

The district is also looking at a $107,037 cut in state funding next year.

"I know everybody in this state is taxed beyond what they need to be taxed, I get it. I truly believe that, unfortunately, it is put upon us here as a district locally to try to maintain our facilities, to make sure that we provide an environment to provide an education for our kids. You hired me for this district three years ago to look out for the facility and this district and that is what we need to do," Mook said.

He and bond issue committee member Scott Caron stressed that the quality of the facilities and education directly relate to property values.

"Columbiana schools belong to Columbiana citizens. If they choose to not keep it where it needs to be, our property values will go down," Mook said.

Caron said he understands the cost.

"Everyone is on a tight budget, but we can't stop now or everything is going to stop. Property values will drop. Folks don't understand that property values are a direct result of your schools. Our property values have gone up in the past few years."

He added that now that the bond issue has been rejected, cuts will need to happen somewhere.

Mook said, "We can only spend negatively so long before programs have to be cut, before staffing has to be cut, before classes have to be cut. That's what we are trying to avoid. The bond issue was meant to fix some of these issues.

Of the options he presented, one included closing the middle school building and consolidating classes. He said sixth grade students could be moved to the newly renovated Joshua Dixon Elementary building. A drawback would be fewer open enrollment students, which is a source of revenue for the district, he said.

"I'm not saying that's something we have to do today, that's something the board may have to consider," he said.

Other options were using general fund money to fix the roof at the middle school or patching problem areas.

He said the general fund money could be used, but in the long run cuts would be inevitable somewhere since deficit spending is already projected for the district.

He and middle school principal David Buzzard have said the leaking roof is a major problem at the school and several ceiling tiles are sagging and damaged as a result.

Buzzard said a trash can was moved to the middle of one hallway to catch falling rain water and Mook said the casework in the building is also falling apart.

On the matter of patching, Mook said it could be done but is costly and only works for a while.

"Do we just patch until they (the state) says 'you can't use the facility'?" he said.

Yet another option is placing the 1.237 mill bond issue on the next general election ballot, which would be May of 2013. The issue cannot appear on the November election ballot since it was on the August ballot.

Mook suggested residents tour the middle school building to see first-hand what repairs are needed.

"We are going to do a better job of communicating the needs of the district .... We have to have some serious discussions in the next couple of board meetings about where we want to go," he said.



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