MINGO JUNCTION - The Indian Creek Local School District's board made the call Thursday - Wayne Elementary will close at the end of the school year.
A unanimous decision was made after a 90-minute executive session at the middle school.
By closing Wayne Elementary, the district will save approximately $370,000, officials said.
QUESTIONS ANSWERED — Indian Creek Superintendent John Rocchi, Treasurer Denise Todoroff and Assistant Superintendent T.C. Chappalear answered questions during a special meeting held Thursday at Indian Creek Middle School. Members of the district were on hand to discuss the closure of Wayne Elementary School.
"Even if Wayne Elementary needed no work, was a good building and the district was financially sound, I would still propose for the school to close," Superintendent John Rocchi said. "For us to be good fiscal watchers of taxpayer money, that is the right decision. We can move all district fifth-graders to middle school and then spend the money on renovating the other buildings. Our goal is to have the best facilities for all of our students."
The closing would include staff restructure and maintenance operations, although staff eliminations and restructuring have not been made yet.
"We also need to repair the roof, which will cost around $250,000, as well as complete structural repairs that total $363,000," Rocchi stated. "There are other heating and plumbing concerns as well. These repairs will have to be made with operational money, which will affect what can be spent on students. When you start cutting programs and extracurricular activities, you start affecting students."
During the meeting, the administration presented a PowerPoint presentation to community members.
"No matter what happens with this situation, the community of Wayne is still part of this school district at all times," Rocchi stated. "In the past there have been closures that have split this district up, and as long as I'm here were not going to forget about one area of the district. We are all one district. If we don't keep that in mind, we will not exist in the future. I am an Indian Creek supporter and we are here for the kids to make sure they have an education in the future."
Rocchi started the presentation by asking where the district wants to be in 10 years.
"There was a proposal to close Wayne Elementary 19 years ago and no decision was made so the building stayed open," he said. "But now we are in a time where we have to make a decision to sustain this district in the long run."
Rocchi said the district's plan for the future calls for safe and secure schools for all Indian Creek students; a competitive, rigorous curriculum with state-of-the-art technology; highly qualified teachers; and be well integrated into communities.
"When we met with community members last year in different listening sessions, we asked them what should be done to improve the school district," he explained. "They want to see updates, repairs or replacing existing school buildings, particularly the high school; integrate safety features into every building; provide state-of-the-art facility to enhance the learning process; a new high school that is safe and secure; and updated security measures at all buildings."
Denise Todoroff, district treasurer, then briefed the group on financial concerns.
"Our net loss of revenue over the past two years totaled $1,325,500," she began. "This is money no longer provided through tangible personal property tax reimbursement. We also received $404,000 through an education jobs fund last year and we won't receive that this year."
She also mentioned that Gov. John Kasich's proposed budget does not help the situation.
"The governor's proposed budget states that our district will receive $7.6 million next year with a 0 percent increase," she stated. "Last year we received $8.1 million. They took the money we are receiving this year and calculated funding for transportation and career technical programs; however, there is no information on how the schools will be able to access these funds."
She also mentioned the proposed budget "includes $481,000 in calculated guaranteed funding. The governor's proposal is to eventually eliminate this guaranteed funding."
"The general operating fund is the bones of district and is what we use to pay our bills," she explained. "This doesn't include athletics, cafeteria funds or student activities. This is where we pay teachers and run buildings. We have received $18.7 million and we are spending $19 million. We are in deficit spending and we can't continue to spend and not have money come in to pay bills. We are not allowed to operate in the red."
Rocchi explained the Ohio Department of Education was brought in to do an analysis, as well as the state auditor's office, which has come in to review numbers, and the Ohio Education Association who did an in-depth review of the numbers.
"Since 2009, we have reduced staff by 55 employees and cut 25 positions last year," he explained. "We have consolidated bus routes, closed Bantam Ridge Elementary and moved students to (Wintersville Elementary). We also began renting a portion of Bantam Ridge building.
"A performance audit was performed over the 2010 and 2011 school year regarding operations of this district," he continued. "The audit said to close Wayne and Bantam Ridge elementaries. We closed Bantam Ridge but we kept Wayne open for three reasons, which were waiting for the governor's budget and hoping for a passage of the levy. We also were unsure if we could house fifth-grade students at the middle school, but now we know we are able to do so."
Those interested in reviewing the whole audit can visit www.auditor.state.oh.us.
T.C. Chappalear, assistant superintendent, explained why the closure of Wayne would benefit the school district.
"We would be able to maximize facility usage, including elementary buildings' utilization rate and room for open enrollment students," he began. "We will also be able to maintain education and extracurricular programs, provide effective and efficient education of all students and perform fiscal responsibility as good stewards of taxpayer money with 2,340 students and 13,000 registered voters."
"We take pride in Indian Creek experience for students, and that experience costs money," he continued. "We have kids do all kinds of neat things but that costs money. If we don't make good financial decisions and plan for future, we're going to see those things dwindle away. "
Chappalear noted the district must maintain its mission of being "committed to a program of ongoing improvement in curriculum, finance, facilities, staff and support services that will be a reflection of the Indian Creek School District and those communities it serves."
Rocchi addressed a question regarding open enrollment and quality of education.
"We will still have room in every building for open enrollment," he said. "Sometimes we sugarcoat and don't tell the community everything about budget, but we are no different than Buckeye, Edison or Harrison. We are close to the same boat as Edison. Even if open enrollment students come to the district, we still tell them to come and fill out applications and we will tell them in August. Even if we get 100 kids through open enrollment, we won't have enough money to hire new teachers. If we close Wayne, we will have rooms in the buildings and then we will add more teachers to schools.
"We have kids from Mingo, Toronto, Richmond attending Wayne," he continued. "A majority of the kids live east of Wayne Elementary. We have some that live west but the majority live east."
He then addressed busing concerns.
"We will try to reduce riding time by trying to pick everyone up and move in one direction," he explained. "We want to try to pick up all the kids and then head east. We are not trying to spread routes out and make them longer."
After cutting busing last year, the district saved around $50,000.
"We still do a lot of courtesy busing in this district by taking students to after-school day care or before school day care, we take them to different addresses during the week, etc.," he said. "The auditor proposed cutting that out and having students dropped off at the primary residence. We do a lot to make it convenient for the parents and we want to be able to do it. But it is hard to do with current budget. It causes more money to be spent."
One Wayne supporter asked why the district would close one building but build a new building.
"The current levy is for the creation a new high school and to operate the remaining buildings," Rocchi explained. "We need a new high school that is safe, and as long as I am here, I will not stop trying to get a new school."
Another asked why the decision was made the build the new middle school if closure of a current building loomed.
"We were on the exceptional needs program and the only building we could replace at that time was the middle school," Rocchi stated. "That is the only building that the state would fund. We qualified for one building. We only received money for replacing the junior high. But we are considered a wealthy school district by the state, that is why they only offered one building instead of us putting the high school and middle school on the same ballot.
"We have looked at not putting a high school on the levy and just asking for an operating levy," Rocchi noted. "One mill generates $320,000. How many mills would we have to put on to sustain us? Probably about 4-5 mills for just renovations and upgrades alone. Currently, we are asking 3.5 mills for a new high school and 5 mills for upgrades."
When asked how the district would maintain a new high school, Todoroff explained that maintenance money from the middle school has been put aside.
"We are able to put some money aside for maintenance should we get a new high school," she said. "We can't use it on Wayne because it has to be spent on a building built by OSFC. We are only able to use the money on new buildings."
"You attract people to the area with new schools and new buildings," Bob Smith mentioned. "That is why we need a new high school, to have a way to attract new people to our school district. Would you want to send your child to a school like that?"
"We are living and breathing this every day," Rocchi said. "We live the figures every day. And if I could go back I would have more public sessions regarding the school before bringing it to the agenda. Our doors are always open so please come and talk to us if you have any questions or concerns."
The next school board meeting will be held at 6 p.m. March 28 at the middle school.