MOUNT VERNON — The Mount Vernon Board of Education is soliciting community input with regard to replacing or renovating the school facilities in the district.
“We want community feedback,” said school board president Dr. Margie Bennett. “We understand the economic climate. We’re trying to be sensitive to what people are facing and we don’t want to burden them further. But we also want to take advantage of the opportunity to have someone pay for 36 percent of the cost, if, in fact, the community supports that. That’s what we need to find out for sure.”
At its August meeting, the MVBOE asked the Ohio School Facilities Commission for another extension with regard to the school construction project. The OSFC is an independent state agency which provides funding, management oversight, and technical assistance to local school districts for construction and renovation of school facilities for students in kindergarten through grade 12. It is funded largely through tobacco settlement money awarded to Ohio and various other states in 1998.
At about that same time the settlement was reached, the OSFC evaluated Mount Vernon’s educational facilities needs and developed a master plan to replace or upgrade every school building in the district, with OSFC promising to pick up 36 percent of the cost.
“If we had gone ahead with the entire plan,” said Bennett, “even though OSFC would pay 36 percent of the cost, we would have had to ask voters for a huge bond. The school board felt it was not appropriate then to proceed with the project, partly due to the economic factor and partly because we felt some of the things OSFC was requiring were not necessary.”
The board subsequently decided to go ahead and build just one new building — Twin Oak. “We decided we would use general fund money for the project,” Bennett said, “because we had been very frugal and had saved enough to build one school. Now that Twin Oak is completed, if we do proceed with more building, that will count as part of our local 64 percent share of the construction. For instance, if we built a building that costs $11 million, we could use the [Twin Oak] $7 million to offset the $11 million.”
The master plan, updated two years ago, is still on file with the OSFC, and when Mount Vernon’s “number” came up last year, OSFC asked whether the board wanted to go ahead with the plan. A waiver was requested last year and again this August.
“Asking for a waiver will give us time to get community feedback,” said Superintendent Steve Short. “We don’t think now is the best time to ask for money for schools to be built. Someone is going to give us 36 percent of the money, and it is an investment in the community which should last 50 to 100 years, but we are not at the point where we are ready to ask for that investment from the community.”
Because OSFC rules have changed since Twin Oak was built, districts are no longer required to replace or renovate every facility at once to use OSFC funds. Bennett said that means the community and school board could decide to just build one new school.
“We want to prioritize our plan,” said Bennett. “The board may have an idea of what should be the top priority, but we really would like to have input from the community before we make such a huge decision.”
Although times and dates have not yet been determined, Short said he anticipates some public forums will be held to allow for parent and community participation in the discussion. He said it is likely that stakeholders will also be able to share their views electronically on the district’s website.