A fourth high school and a tax levy to pay for it were discussed by the Olentangy school board at a work session Thursday.
For more than two hours, the board crunched numbers and considered options to alleviate current and future overcrowding, particularly at Liberty High School.
Since 2010, there have been discussions about overcrowding. The district estimates there will be more than 6,600 high school students in the 2018-19 school year and will remain over that number for the next 40 years.
The district has looked into 13 options regarding overcrowding, including doing nothing. However, it was felt that not addressing overcrowding would result in fewer opportunities for students to participate in activities.
Another option was to add on to Liberty and Olentangy high schools, which have space for expansion, creating two “mega-schools.” It was said that there wasn’t room to expand at Orange High School.
While it was felt that the Olentangy Academy, online classes, dual enrollment offsite and blended learning courses should be continued, these alternatives did not draw enough students.
“Attempts to relieve overcrowding are not working, because the majority of our students like the traditional high school experience,” said Superintendent Mark Raiff. “We’ve discovered a good problem.”
Raiff gave a personal example of a student preferring their home high school; he unsuccessfully tried to persuade his daughter to take classes at Columbus State Community College.
A fourth high school seemed to be the preferred choice of the board. The district has already purchased land along Berlin Station Road north of Cheshire Elementary School for the school. It was estimated that a fourth high school would cost $68 million to build and staff.
A tax issue may be on the agenda for the next board meeting on Oct. 22, in order to get it on on the ballot March 15. Board members explained that the quicker the levy can get on the ballot and is approved by the public, the sooner a fourth high school can be constructed. For example, if a tax issue can be approved next spring, the high school could be open in fall 2018. But a levy approved on Nov. 8, 2016, or May 2, 2017, would result in the high school opening in the fall of 2019.
Treasurer Brian Kern presented operating levy options of 5.4, 5.9, 6.4, 7.9 and 8.9 mills.
Kern’s five-year forecast noted that the district would have a negative ending balance of $8.3 million in fiscal 2019 and $44.3 million in fiscal 2020, and that was without accounting for the fourth high school.
The board also discussed permanent improvement cost projections over 10 years for items like asphalt/concrete, maintenance, roof replacement, buses, flooring and athletic facilities. The costs totaled more than $29.3 million.
Also at the work session, a new high school testing schedule was discussed, which would reduce the number of days of testing.