Yellow Springs Schools— Board expects facilities levy in 2021
- Published: January 30, 2020
As the Yellow Springs Schools Facilities Task Force brings its work to a close and prepares to present its recommendations to the school board, district leaders are considering how best to move forward to address the identified problems in the local school buildings.
Anticipating a new levy request in 2021, board members discussed a variety of possible actions during a work session Saturday morning, Jan. 11. Among them were the potential sale of district property, a reconsideration of Ohio Facilities Construction Commission funding and a re-examination of the benefits of a K–12 campus.
“Timing is everything,” Yellow Springs Schools Superintendent Terri Holden said at the start of the work session.
Hired this past summer, Holden noted that she was going into her seventh month with the district, and “the entire time, we’ve been talking about facilities.”
The passage of time means the physical conditions in the buildings are worsening, while repair costs are rising, district leaders say.
The work session followed a community meeting in December held by the Facilities Task Force to solicit public feedback to the group’s findings and anticipated recommendations to the board. The group’s efforts since its formation in March, which included identifying and prioritizing building needs, confirmed the school board’s understanding that major infrastructure work is necessary.
At the same time, board members have heard loud and clear that affordability and costs are significant issues in the village.
Their challenge, the board agreed, is to decide on the best way to approach building upgrades while keeping costs in mind.
The task force, for its part, plans to recommend that the district increase building maintenance while approaching repairs and upgrades incrementally.
Holden, however, told the board that she worries such an approach is not the most economical.
“If money is the value, I get that, but why would we continue to maintain antiquated buildings?”
In addition, the task force’s priority-needs list focuses on physical soundness, Holden noted.
While important, the list “does not address all of the issues of our buildings and does not address what I would call educational adequacies,” she said.
Whatever the board decides — increased maintenance, renovation, rebuilding — it will mean going to voters for more money, Holden said.
“There’s no returning once we make a decision. There’s no turning back,” she told the task force when it met earlier in the week to talk about the December meeting.
To the board, she echoed: “Before we go down (a particular) path, we have to be absolutely certain that this is our path.”
Multiple moving parts
At the work session, Holden went on to name other “moving parts” that could effect the board’s decision-making and/or project financing.
They included the possibility of selling district property and the new availability of increased state funding for both renovation and construction.
In 2017, when the Ohio Facilities Construction Commissions, or OFCC, conducted an assessment of Yellow Springs Schools, the state agency recommended new construction and offered a 17% reimbursement of building costs based on the district’s wealth level. Holden said that the possible reimbursement amount for Yellow Springs has since been raised to 27%–29%, and the state is no longer requiring that the district build all new to qualify.
Holden said the percentage increase reflects a rise in poverty in the district along with a change in property values. Also, as other districts take the state money, the overall rankings can change.
In terms of the possibility of selling district property, board President Steve Conn said that the potential revenue extended beyond the initial sale, with subsequent property taxes providing “a gift that keeps on giving.”
The schools would reap 53% of any property tax, noted Village Manager Josué Salmerón, who had been invited to attend the work session.
Conn said the district’s property holdings had been a continuing issue for him.
“When I first ran for the (school board), disposing of the excess property was something I talked about,” Conn said.
Board member Syliva Ellison said considering the sale of district assets is an important discussion for the board to have.
“Our goal is to be smart fiscally to meet our students’ needs,” Ellison said.
In looking at the future of the district, Holden also advised the board to keep in mind that the village is working on developing a new comprehensive plan, and Antioch College is undergoing “a transformation” that may include the sale of some of its property.
Being aware of other major projects in the village will make the district’s work easier, she said.
“When we go to the community (with a facilities plan), it won’t show we’re out here on an island.”
Village Manager Salmerón agreed.
“It’s in our shared interest,” to work together, he said.
Developing a plan
Board member TJ Turner wondered if the district would benefit from developing a new strategic plan, to replace the current one the ends this year, before moving forward with the facilities issue.
“Are we putting the cart before the horse?” he asked.
Holden’s answer was no.
“I don’t think we need a new strategic plan to say we need to improve our district’s schools,” she said.
A major consideration she would like to put back on the table is discussing the construction of a K–12 facility for the entire district.
“When you are this small, we are throwing money away by maintaining two facilities,” she said.
The district can increase the amount of money going toward maintenance, but “we need a discussion about the reality” of those costs, Holden said.
There are savings, she noted, in having “one HVAC system, one roof, one cafeteria, one gym.”
In addition, she said, “there’s educational value” in having all grades on a shared campus.
“There’s great opportunity to build bridges,” Holden said, and “accelerate students who are gifted.”
“I’ve come to the same conclusion,” Conn said. “I think it’s easy to see how you get there financially. We’re a small district. The problems that people raise to one facility are easily solved.”
Ellison said she agreed that the different ages could benefit from sharing a campus.
“I think that there was some vilification of teenagers” by villagers who previously expressed opposition to the idea, she said.
Holden said that whatever direction the board decides to pursue, she thinks the district needs to take a plan to local voters no later than 2021.
Turner said that the task force had completed important foundational work toward moving forward.
“Now the community can see what the problems are,” he said of the current facilities.
“These are the things that are absolutely essential,” task force moderator Mel Marsh said of the group’s priority list during its last meeting.
Task force members agreed that the list was a beginning for the board to use.
“I don’t think the prioritized list dictates a solution,” member Chris Hamilton said.
“This is the end of a chapter,” in terms of the task force’s work, but not the end for input and feedback, member Lori Kuhns said.
Holden agreed: “There’s going to be a lot of opportunity for community meetings,” she said.