Fate of Buckeye Valley North sealed
Buckeye Valley Local School District Voters on Tuesday resoundingly defeated a ballot measure that would have eventually paved the way for the closure of the district’s three community-based elementary schools and the creation of a so-called mega elementary school.
The ballot measure, which featured a five-year, 0.25 percent income tax and a 28-year, $30 million bond issue, was defeated by a whopping 72 to 28 percent margin, according to complete but unofficial results with the Delaware County Board of Elections.
The income tax would have raised about $1.2 million annually and helped to reduce a budget gap that the district faces going into the 2012–13 school year. The bond issue would have cost voters about $107 per every $100,000 in property valuation and paid for the construction of the new elementary school.
Had the measure passed, it would have allowed Buckeye Valley North Elementary School to remain open for about three years while a single, centralized elementary school was constructed on the district’s campus at Coover Road. However, that would have also resulted in the eventual closure of the district’s two other elementary schools, a unpopular prospect with many of the district’s residents.
Now that the measure has failed, North Elementary school will not reopen and the district’s 5th grade students will be moved to the middle school and the district will operate out of East and West elementary for students in grades K-4.
School board member Tom Kaelber said the stinging defeat should serve as a message to district officials that facilities decisions should be made by the communities those schools serve.
“My fellow board members have said that the best way to take a survey is to put the question on the ballot,” Kaelber told the Gazette. “The question became do you prefer a mega school or community centered elementary schools? We must value and listen to public opinion. If we don’t we will never get moral and financial support for our schools. Decision making, especially for facilities, should be from the bottom up, not top down. This can be accomplished through committee work that allows our BV community to feel ownership.”
The combined ballot measure was defeated in each of the district’s 20 voting precincts, a result that Dave Kessler, a vocal critic of the board and administration since the budget reduction plans were first unveiled, attributed to poor communication and a lack of community input.
“I though it was very poorly thought out. It was very poorly planned,” Kessler said. “It’s time for the board and superintendent to reassess the direction of the school district.”
Dan Kinkelaar, a former levy committee member, echoed that sentiment.
“They’re not asking for what they need,” he said. “They are telling us what we should have.”
Kinkelaar said that he hopes that school district officials will use the electoral drubbing as a poll of the community and back away from the single elementary school idea.
“Their communities want community schools,” he said.
Another levy committee member, Vic Whitney, believes that the district’s focus on a single elementary school sealed the ballot issue’s fate.
“They went wrong by not allowing the voters to speak to the sole issue of whether they want to keep North open,” he said. “This started out as a budget situation and the next thing you know we have this ridiculous build a school idea.”
The closure of North Elementary was originally proposed to close a projected $1.3 million budget gap heading into the 2012–13 school year. Along with eliminating numerous teaching and classified position, district officials estimated that they could save about $1.6 million annually.
However, school board members later adopted an alternative budget reduction plan after many Radnor area residents expressed outrage that their community school was being targeted for closure.
“This was really a way to try to save North and make all the moves at once,” Superintendent Jamie Grube said of the compromise plan.
He blamed the electoral drubbing on the tight window the district had to run a campaign after approving the ballot measure in March and the fact that the campaign was conducted during the summer when children are not at school and many families are not as engaged.
“We knew that it was going to be a challenge, but it was worth a shot,” he said.
Despite the district’s financial situation recently improving, according to several sources, due to higher than projected revenues, Grube said there are no plans to try and keep North Elementary open, although he pointed out that such a move would ultimately be made by the board.
“We’ve been working on plans for both options, and now we’re really going to have to kick that in gear,” he said.
Board President Tom Sheppard said he does not foresee the board deciding to keep North Elementary open, and does not believe that it would be fiscally responsible for the district to do so.
“There’s not enough money to operate North without having a very negative effect on our balance,” he said.
Nor does he believe that the issue of one, centralized elementary school will go away anytime soon.
“I think that there’s both education and financial reason to continue to look at the one elementary issue,” he said.
The special election ended up costing the district about $35,000. Due to filing deadlines, the earliest the district could be back on the ballot would be in a February special election.