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Apr
24
2024
Yellow Springs School Board

School board discusses upcoming levy, facilities

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Ed. note: This story contains a correction from the print version that appeared in the March 8 issue.

Just a few hours after power had been restored to Yellow Springs schools following a storm event Wednesday, Feb. 28, that affected much of the village, the school board held a scheduled work session in the high school library.

The bulk of the evening was spent reviewing master plan documents for the schools’ facilities improvement project. However, the board also approved the selection of a construction manager for the facilities project and discussed the substitute levy that will appear on March 19 primary ballots in the village.

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March 19 substitute levy

District Treasurer Jacob McGrath presented a financial update, during which he briefly discussed the upcoming substitute operations levy for the district.

As the News reported last fall, the board approved a resolution of necessity to place the substitute levy on the March 19 ballot at its Nov. 9 regular meeting, following the passage of the district’s facilities improvement bond issue and income tax levy.

The substitute levy, if passed, will combine and continue annual revenue collected by two emergency levies passed in 2015 and 2017; the emergency levies are set to expire in November 2025. 

If the substitute levy is passed by voters, it will not constitute a new tax for local residents, but will continue to collect $1,975,000 annually for school operations. Unlike the emergency levies it would replace, the substitute levy would not have a fixed term, and would be ongoing.

As reported in the News at the time, McGrath said in November that the timing of the levy is important; as designed, the substitute levy would continue to collect a fixed sum of revenue annually from existing school district property owners irrespective of rising property values. However, substitute levies have the potential to collect additional revenue for the school district when new builds are completed. Getting the substitute levy on the ballot in March would ensure that it could collect the additional revenue from homeowners in the future 90-home Spring Meadows neighborhood.

“The main reason we’re going with the substitute is we know that we’re going to have some current new properties — and that does not happen around here a lot,” McGrath said last week. “When those new properties go on, the millage rate that everybody else is paying is what those new properties pay, and we do get a little bit of growth. … That growth only comes from new construction.”

McGrath also addressed a question brought forth by board member Dorothée Bouquet about a projected cash surplus of about $7 million outside of the district’s operating expenses for fiscal year 2024.

“I’ve had a community member asking me why we have $7 million in the bank,” Bouquet said. “Does that money have a purpose?”

“That money has a purpose,” McGrath replied, noting that, though the district expects growth in income tax of about 1% each year, its surplus will be used by the district in the future as operations costs continue to rise, outpacing tax revenue.

When that surplus will be exhausted, he added, depends on whether the substitute levy passes at the polls; according to five- and 10-year forecasts McGrath initially presented in November, if the levy passes, the district will likely not begin deficit-spending — that is, dipping into its surplus — until around 2033. If the levy doesn’t pass, the district will likely begin deficit-spending in fiscal year 2028. Once the district begins deficit-spending, it will likely need to place another operations levy before voters.

“It’s just the nature of school funding,” McGrath said. “It’s very difficult to operate on a completely flat line, because you would have to make sure that your revenues are growing at the exact same rate as expenditures, and that’s almost impossible.”

Construction manager at-risk approved

The board unanimously approved the selection of Lebanon, Ohio-based Conger Construction Group as the construction manager at-risk, or CMR, for the districtwide facilities improvement project. The district will now engage with the CMR in contract negotiation.

As the chosen CMR firm for the district’s facilities project, Conger will work closely with Ruetschle Architects to oversee construction and ensure construction stays on design and schedule.

Board Vice President Rebecca Potter said the board’s CMR selection team interviewed three firms for the contract with the district, and that the team unanimously selected Conger.

“They showed incredible enthusiasm working with us and being part of this project,” Potter said.

Board President Judith Hempfling added that Conger aims to hold an open house in the village in the future, with the intention of opening the facilities improvement project up to local contractors.

Bouquet asked several questions on behalf of local parents, particularly regarding the safety of students while work is being done at the middle and high school campus on East Enon Road. Hempfling answered by saying that Conger intends to complete hazardous materials abatement over the summer, while students are not in school. She added that all of Conger’s employees and subcontractors will have background checks, and that their workers “expect children to be curious” about the work going on during the school year.

Bouquet also asked how construction work will affect pickup and drop-off at Mills Lawn during the school year. Hempfling said the firm intends to park on Phillips Street, at the back of the school, and will park equipment on the old tennis courts, being conscious of the green space on the campus.

“I thought they had an excellent plan — they clearly have done it before,” Hempfling said.

Master plan reviewed

Mike Ruetschle of Ruetschle Architects presented a detailed look at draft floor plans for both the elementary school and middle/high school campuses ahead of a community engagement forum on the facilities project Tuesday, March 5.

“These are the spaces that your team has determined in the past are needed to support your educational program,” Ruetschle said. “As you look to the future, there’s a lot of new spaces in here that you don’t have today that are going to be terrific.”

As reported in past News issues, Mills Lawn will be restructured as a pre-K through fourth-grade school, and upgrades will include repairing the exterior of the building and full systems replacements; deep renovations for some classrooms and restroom facilities; and renovation to create new offices and a secure vestibule at the school’s entrance. The modular band room will be demolished; it will no longer be needed at the elementary school when fifth and sixth grades move to the East Enon Road campus, as the local band program begins in fifth grade.

Grades 5–12 will be housed at the East Enon Road campus where the middle and high schools are now located. The schools’ current band room, the modular middle school wing and the facility’s current three-story “tower” portion are slated to be demolished.

A new secure vestibule entrance and offices are planned, as well as a new band room; two new building sections to serve as middle school (grades 5–8) and high school (grades 9–12) wings, connected by an updated media center and cafeteria; and a new, larger gym for middle and high school use. The campus’ original 1963 gym and surrounding classrooms will be renovated, with the gym to serve fifth and sixth grade students in physical education classes and as an auditorium for performances, with retractable seating. In addition, parking areas and pickup/drop-off locations at the campus are slated to be updated.

Though these broad elements of the draft master plan for the project have remained the same since the project was approved by voters at the polls in November, Ruetschle presented updated master plan drawings for the middle and high schools that reflect more specifics and some shifts in square footage.

Both the middle and high school wings at the East Enon Road campus, for example, will have their own art classrooms with kilns according to the drawings, and the library will gain a multimedia production space. The renovated gym and performing arts space will likely seat 350 with its retractable seats, and the new high school gym will be large enough for removable on-court seating suitable for holding graduation ceremonies and other large events.

To view the current draft model drawings, go to ysnews.com/?p=108297. To view the agenda and all supporting documents from the Feb. 28 meeting, go to bit.ly/YSSchoolBoardDocs. To view the Feb. 28 special meeting online, go to youtube.com/@yellowspringsschoolsboe.

The next regular meeting of the school board will be Thursday, March 14.

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