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New $21 Million School Building For Pettisville?




The Pettisville Local School district is moving forward with its plan to build a new school building with mostly state money, appealing for additional funding to state officials every step of the way.

In a presentation to the Pettisville School Board, Monday night, May 12, Steve Switzer, district superintendent, said the district managed to get a change in state law last year that lowered the local share of a proposed new $21 million building by more than $4.4 million.

Voters in the school district could decide a bond issue for a new school construction project as early as this November.

Based on current projections, voters will be asked for 5.93 mills to fund the project.

Open Enrollment

Ohio is funding school construction through the Ohio School Facilities Commission, using money from the state’s tobacco settlement. Ohio was one of several states that sued the nation’s large tobacco companies, resulting in large settlements.

The OSFC ranks school districts based on their “wealth.” OSFC’s calculation of wealth basically involves the total tax valuation of the district and the number of students.

But open enrollment students were counted in their district of residence, not where they attended school. For Pettisville, with a relatively large number of open enrollment students, that meant far less state money.

In the 2001-2003 time period, based on the district’s “wealth” factor, the State of Ohio would have provided 56% of the construction costs of a new school, while school district taxpayers would be required to fund 44%.

In the following years, Pettisville officials began promoting a change in the law, to allow schools with a large number of open enrollment students to count those students in calculating the local match.

After many efforts, and working with Steve Buehrer, state senator (R-Delta) and state representatives Bruce Goodwin (RDefiance) and Lynn Wachtmann (R-Napoleon), the change in the law was inserted into the state’s 2007-08 budget bill. On June 30, 2007, it was signed into law by Ted Strickland, Ohio governor.

Under the previous budget bill, without open enrollment students included, the local share of a new $21 million school would be $8.19 million.

With the open enrollment students added, the local share would be $3.78 million, a difference of $4.14 million.

There’s A Catch

But the budget bill wasn’t passed as “emergency legislation.” As a result, the change in the law did not become effective until Sept. 20, 2007.

The ranking list for school construction projects was due on Sept. 1, 2007, meaning Pettisville still fell under the old guidelines, which did not include open enrollment students.

To overcome the timing problem, area legislators are working on new legislation that would “fix” the problem by creating an “alternate” ranking list.

That fix, Senate Bill 273, has been passed by the Ohio Senate, and is now being considered by the Ohio House of Representatives.

Fall 2008 Vs. Spring 2009

If local legislatures can get Senate Bill 273 through the Ohio House, the Pettisville Local School District could go to voters in November.

If SB 273, the bill containing the timing “fix,” fails to make it through the Ohio House, Switzer said in his report, “we would likely have to wait until May of 2009.

“That is not expected, though,” he said.

LFI

Currently, the estimate levy to repay the bond issue is 5.93 mills.

But that does not include any “locally-funded initiatives.” For example, if the Pettisville school board wants something extra in a new building not covered by the OSFC, the board can add it, but must come up with local money to pay for it.

This year, school district officials won an appeal over the size of the school building.

An enrollment projection for Pettisville Schools prepared for the OSFC by DeJong Healy, a Dublin consulting firm, indicated that by the 2017-18 school year, Pettisville’s enrollment would decline by 46 students, to 520.

Since the OSFC determines building size by the number of students, fewer students mean a smaller building.

Pettisville appealed its case, pointing out that the number of open enrollment students has been increasing since 1992 and was expected to continue to grow.

If DeJong Healy figured that enrollment was going to backslide, even with the growth in open enrollment students, the number of people living in the Pettisville district would have to decline to below the lowest population figure ever. The district reached that population low near World War II.

Even DeJong Healy’s own estimates wouldn’t support that supposition.

So the OSFC allowed the Pettisville appeal. As a result, the official projection means Pettisville will have 566 students by 2017-18.

For Pettisville, the additional 40-some students means 5,766 more square feet and a high-bay facility for Pettisville’s agriculture education program.- David Pugh


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