The superintendents of Delaware County schools came together Thursday to discuss growth, school funding, and safety during the Delaware Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual “State of the Schools” event.
The event was held during the chamber’s third Thursday lunch and featured remakes from Buckeye Valley Superintendent Paul Craft, Big Walnut Superintendent Ryan McLane, Delaware Area Career Center Superintendent Jay Poroda, Delaware City Schools Superintendent Heidi Kegley and Olentangy Local Schools Superintendent Mark Raiff.
The discussion was moderated by Delaware City Schools Director of Communications Jennifer Ruhe and began with a check-in about each district’s growth and funding.
“Growth is real in Big Walnut,” McLane said at the start of the discussion, adding the incoming Intel plant being built east to the district’s boundaries will add more growth. McLane said that since the completion of the new high school, the old high school has become the middle school and the old middle school has become the intermediate school.
However, McLane said “things are getting tight” at the elementary schools and said the district is looking at “creative” ways to relieve the tight spaces.
“We’re going to have to add buildings in the future,” he said. “There’s no getting around that fact.”
Poroda said the DACC is experiencing “record growth,” particularly in its health care and technology fields, and said the DACC has waitlists for many programs. However, Poroda said the DACC’s campus is getting “close to capacity” in terms of space, and the school has begun offering flexible learning options to mitigate the large population.
Kegley said DCS has been growing for several decades but the growth dipped during the pandemic. She added the growth quickly recovered and continues in the district.
Funding continues to be a problem for Delaware City School, Kegley said, and the district has to “keep that at the forefront as we’re working with our legislators as we continue to ask them to continue to fully fund the fair school funding formula.
We will be on the ballot in November as a renewal to continue those operating funds and continue to work with the funding formula to be fully funded so that we can have some relief for our tax payers, who have been so supportive of our schools.”
Raiff agreed, adding the county’s districts getting fully funded according to the fair school funding formula would keep the districts off the ballot.
“The legislators have the money to do what they need to do to fund the fair school funding program. They just need to do it,” Raiff said.
Olentangy’s growth has slowed from more than 1,000 students a year to 600-700 students, Raiff added, but he believes the district has “a good plan” for managing the growth. Raiff said the district will open its sixth middle school next year, and the district’s 17th elementary school will have ground broken soon.
Raiff said the district’s projects show the need for more elementary schools in the future, but he believes the district has middle school and high school taken care of for the time being.
Craft agreed with Kegley and Raiff’s comments on funding, adding the state has the money to fully fund the school districts.
Craft said Buckeye Valley is “growing slowly,” and the district is expecting a slowdown of new housing developments.
The superintendents added their districts are facing staff shortages in positions like bus drivers and substitute teachers.
Discussing school safety, all the superintendents said building security is a priority but an important factor is making sure students feel safe and able to report suspicious or potentially dangerous behavior.
“The biggest thing is we need to make sure we’ve got buildings where kids feel welcomed, safe and loved,” Craft said. “(So that) when there are those threats, that kids feel they can come forward and talk to a caring adult, who will address it.”
Raiff agreed and said creating a positive environment is the “frontline of defense”
“You can make your (schools) as hard a target as possible but when the people are already inside the building, they’re there every day and they’re not being kind to each other …” Raiff said. “It’s growing in that type of environment so identifying those issues and addressing them, making kids feel welcome, addressing the social-emotional-mental health needs, that’s another layer to all of that.”
Kegley agreed and encouraged people to say something if they “see something, hear something or feel something.”
“We need to know,” she said. “We would much rather look at 100 items a day that result in nothing, rather than missing one that’s going to cause something. Our students and our families are our greatest asset, and we have to partner together for that. We’re all very passionate about that. That sense of belonging for every child at school is what’s going to help us get there.”
McLane agreed with the other superintendents.
“The external intruder is not what keeps me up at night,” McLane said. “The kid that’s got a weapon in his backpack and is sitting in social studies class is what keeps me up at night, and the only way to prevent that is when someone knows, and inevitably someone knows, that they speak up.”