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Apr
22
2024
Yellow Springs School Board

Yellow Springs High School/McKinney Middle School as it appeared in late September last year. (Drone photo by Bryan Cady)

Yellow Springs Board of Education approves facilities levy resolution

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At its most recent regular meeting Thursday, June 8, the Yellow Springs Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution of necessity to place a combined bond issue and income tax levy for upgrading local school facilities before voters on Nov. 7.

The approval follows a May decision by all five members of the board to pursue the “C7” plan for a levy; that plan includes renovating the Mills Lawn campus as a preK–fourth grade school and creating a campus for grades 5–12 at East Enon Road through a combination of demolition, renovation and new construction.

The estimated cost of the project is $55.3 million. The portion of the project to be completed at East Enon Road, slated to cost $33.1 million, is eligible for a 27% rebate of $8.9 million through the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, or OFCC. With that in mind, the total cost of the project to local taxpayers after receipt of the rebate will be $46.4 million.

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According to the resolution of necessity, the project, if approved by voters this fall, will be funded through a 37-year bond issue of $26,630,000 — 7.94 mills for local taxpayers — and an ongoing annual 1% income tax. At an April meeting of the board, district Treasurer Jacob McGrath said a rebate for any OFCC-sponsored portion of a project is estimated to be received by the school district about nine years after construction begins, and that the rebate would likely result in a reduction of tax millage for local taxpayers for the remaining life of the 37-year bond.

Following the approval, architect Mike Ruetschle, who was contracted by the district last year to work through the process of creating and selecting a new facilities plan, said the regular meeting was the last he would attend and congratulated the board on achieving unity in pursuing the C7 plan. Noting the sometimes fraught nature of the work of the Facilities Committee and the school board over the last 16 months, Ruetschle called C7 a “creative plan borne out of all the wrestling that everyone did.”

“When you add up all those things that we were wrestling with and advocating for, it adds up to literally millions of dollars that come off the bottom line for taxpayers,” Ruetschle said.

The board also unanimously approved a resolution of necessity to renew a 1.2-mill, five-year permanent improvement levy for the district. The levy, last renewed in 2018, will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot as a separate item from the combined bond issue and income tax levy to address facilities. If approved by voters for renewal, the permanent improvement levy will maintain, not raise, the current tax liability for local residents.

At its next regular meeting Thursday, July 6, the board will vote to approve a resolution to proceed with the combined levy before filing election proceedings with Greene County by the Aug. 1 deadline.

Bias and discrimination report

District Student Advocate Maya Luney-Ballew presented the second-semester bias and discrimination report for the schools during the meeting. Luney-Ballew was hired last year to provide guidance to students and help them identify and address issues of discrimination, bias and equity.

Luney-Ballew began the presentation by outlining the work she has done during the 2022–23 school year, which she said included conducting mediation sessions based on restorative justice methods; helping to administrate the “Sources of Strength” program, which aims to promote mental health and prevent suicidal ideation, bullying and substance abuse; co-teaching an AP English unit on Toni Morrison’s novel “Song of Solomon”; and accompanying theater students to the State Theater Conference, where they performed “Five Scripts Toward an Antiracist Tomorrow.”

Her main priority during her first year with the district, Luney-Ballew said, has been “relationship-building and establishing trust” between herself and the student body.

“A highlight has been working with the middle school and high school students in ways to improve their personal and social well being,” she said. “[I’ve been] working with them on how to do things like set boundaries, or just stand up for themselves and other people.”

Part of continuing to establish trust, she said, has included following up on and investigating reports of bias and discrimination with district administrators. In the first semester, 27 such reports were filed according to a February presentation; in the second half of the school year, 22 reports were filed.

Of those 22 reports, 45.5% of incidents were filed by middle and high school students, and 55.4% were filed by district faculty or staff, sometimes on behalf of students or after witnessing an incident involving students. No incidents were reported at Mills Lawn.

The majority of the incidents — 48.1% — centered on issues of race or ethnicity. At 14.8% each, the next highest categories were cognitive ability and national origin, followed by political affiliation and sexual identity at 7.4% and mental health at 3.7%. According to the presentation, students are able to select more than one category when filing an incident report.

Overall, individual students made up the majority of those who were harmed by the incidents, at 59.1%; teachers were 18.2%, and 22.7% of incidents were found to have harmed entire groups. In 90.9% of incidents, a student was the person who engaged in the reported behavior, with the remaining 9.1% of reports being levied against teachers.

McKinney Middle School and Yellow Springs High School Principal Jack Hatert added that 19 of the full year’s incidents were found not to have been based on bias or to have been based on a misunderstanding.

“Those were not just pushed aside,” he clarified, stating that, though the reported incidents may not have been found to center issues of discrimination or bias, they often did require follow-up with students.

“We worked with kids and families and said, ‘This is really just not appropriate behavior in any setting, especially in the school setting,’” Hatert said.

Luney-Ballew said most of the incidents reported over the entire school year were concentrated at the middle school level. For that reason, she said, heading into the new school year the district will focus on increased programming at Mills Lawn and proactive education in seventh grade.

“Our work is building the community that we want in terms of not intentionally doing harm, and also granting folks grace when they accidentally do harm,” Luney-Ballew said.

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