Maintained growth throughout the district has put Olentangy Local Schools in a precarious position as buildings become increasingly overcrowded. On Election Day, the district hopes relief will come by way of the polls.
On the March 17 ballot for the Olentangy Local School District (OLSD) is an operating levy of 7.4 mills, a permanent improvement levy of 0.5 mills, and a 30-year, $134.7 million bond issue. The bond includes no additional millage, meaning residents in the district will continue to pay the 7.5 mills they already pay.
While there are three separate aspects to the ballot issue, voters will cast a single vote in favor of or against the entire measure.
The operating levy would pay for the district’s every-day expenses such as teachers’ salaries, utilities, and classroom supplies, and the permanent improvement levy would fund improvements to existing facilities.
To address the district’s need for additional space, the bond would allow for the construction of two new elementary schools and one middle school. Additions to three existing Olentangy elementary schools — Alum Creek, Arrowhead and Wyandot Run — were approved last May in an attempt to temporarily stem the tide.
But while growth certainly presents a challenge to the district, its biggest obstacle — and the primary reason for the ballot issue — lies in Ohio’s much-maligned school funding system.
“The problem is Olentangy is in the minority when it comes to school funding,” Olentangy Board of Education member Julie Feasel said. “The school funding formula sees us as a ‘wealthy’ school district, because we have a high median income and high property values. So, when that information is fed into the school funding formula, it says Olentangy residents can afford to pay more.
“As (the funding model) is now, in order for Olentangy to get any more money, another school district or school districts would have to lose money because our elected officials won’t put more money into the system.”
Feasel said that out of 610 school districts in the state, OLSD ranks 606th in school per-student funding received from the state. The state gives OLSD $640 per student, Feasel said, adding that the only school district in central Ohio that receives less per student is Upper Arlington.
However, Feasel said what sets the two districts apart — as well as the few districts that receive less funding — is Olentangy is continuing to grow, which “compounds the problem.”
“Our governor has said he is not going to help wealthy school districts, they can help themselves,” Feasel said. “The speaker of the house has said districts like Olentangy can do more when it comes to school funding. We don’t think that is fair, and for as long as I can remember, as the veteran school board member (at OLSD), we have been battling this stigma that we’re a wealthy school district.”
Feasel said Olentangy spends less money per pupil at $11,007 than the state average of nearly $12,000, which is significantly less than other districts in the area. “It’s not like we have a spending problem,” she went on to say. “It’s totally a state funding problem.”
Olentangy was last on the ballot in 2016, at which time Feasel said school officials promised the communities the district would not be back on the ballot to ask for more funding for at least three years. Significant changes to the employee health insurance program, among other “cost containment decisions,” has allowed the district to go beyond that three-year commitment.
If the ballot issue weren’t to pass, Feasel said a temporary redistricting is a possibility to combat the overcrowding, particularly in elementary schools. Students would be moved to wherever space permits, which she said could even include high schools.
Cuts to academic programming and extracurricular activities will also be on the table, naturally, as will the potential reduction of bus services.
“I tell people, and our superintendent (Mark Raiff) tells people, you don’t want to wake on March 18 to a different school district,” Feasel said.
Asked how she feels about the support of the community for the ballot measure, Feasel said she believes the district “has an excellent message to tell people if they are listening.” She said the spreading of misinformation is the biggest threat to the issue’s success, which she “battles every day.”
Her message to those individuals in the community who may still be unsure of the ballot measure is to ask themselves why they moved to the school district in the first place.
“The only thing that we all have in common out of the seven townships and four cities we have in the district is the schools,” she said. “That’s what makes this community the one that people want to move to, so let’s preserve that.”
Feasel is among the most vocal and interactive in matters relating to school funding and providing a better understanding of the district’s need for additional funding. She said she welcomes anyone with further questions or concerns to reach out to her ahead of Election Day.
Anyone who wishes to do so can reach Feasel via email at [email protected] or by interacting on her “Julie Feasel Olentangy SB” Facebook page.
The district will also hold an event Saturday, March 14, at Olentangy River Brewing Company at which the board will be on hand to better educate the community on what they will be voting on come Election Day. That event will run from noon to 2 p.m.