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Town Hall Meetings

Thursday, April 20, 2017

School Board Accepts Community’s Recommendation to Build Four Schools

Widespread Community Input Leads to Board’s Action

After input from more than 1,000 community representatives, the Southwest Local Board of Education approved a facilities master plan that calls for construction of four schools and extensive renovations to Harrison High School.

Representatives of the district’s Community Advisory Team recommended approval of the master plan at the board’s April 20 meeting.

One of the representatives, Jennifer Leurck, who has three children in the district, described the process to decide on a plan as a community effort. “I firmly believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this process was open to anyone and everyone.”

In a process that began four months ago, the district engaged people from across the Harrison area to help decide the future of the district’s buildings and how education will be delivered. So many people stepped forward to participate that some teams of community members reached the maximum number of people who could be accommodated. They included members of the clergy, business leaders, older adults, parents, students, district employees and other community members.

The process involved about 15 meetings, including three Town Hall meetings as well as meetings of an Educational Visioning Team, Financial Advisory Team and Community Advisory Team. The community representatives started with 17 master plan options and gradually narrowed them to the recommended option.

In explaining the plan to the board, Todd Thackery of SHP Leading Design, the district’s architecture firm, noted that 70 percent of the district’s registered voters supported “new, expanded and upgraded schools,” as measured in a survey conducted by a polling firm. Thackery, whose firm specializes in school construction, said he’d never seen so much support for a school construction project. “You got the message out there. Your community understands the need.”

The board’s action authorizes a bond issue be placed on the November 2017 general election ballot to fund the construction plan. The action is preliminary because more details are needed, including an official state enrollment projection. Final board approval is expected in June.

The plan would require $78.8 million in local funds, equal to 7.09 mills. Homeowners would pay an extra $244 per year for each $100,000 in market value. The plan is likely to also receive state funding equal to about 32 percent of the project.

The new buildings would replace the district’s existing junior school and four elementary schools, which are overcrowded and deteriorating.

Some details of the approved option:

  • Three elementary schools for kindergarten through fifth grade would be built. Each would be designed to hold 800 to 850 students. One would be built at the Crosby Elementary site, another behind Harrison Elementary and a third at the high school-junior school property on West Road or possibly another location.
  • A junior school would be built near the existing Harrison Junior for grades six through eight.
  • Whitewater Valley Elementary, the district’s newest elementary, would be used for administrative offices, a preschool, adult education, community use and future growth.

The teams considered dozens of factors, including the pros and cons of community schools versus a central campus, the educational needs of students decades from now, how to accommodate future enrollment growth, safety and security, renovations versus new construction and state financial support for construction and renovations.

Another spokesperson for the Community Advisory Team, John Matheny, who has two children at Harrison Elementary, told the board that he favored the recommended plan partly because it maintains neighborhood elementary schools, which is important to the community. “This was an extraordinary community effort,” he said about the decision-making process.  

SLSD Town Hall #3 Choose our Future: Feedback / Results 

On Thursday, March 30, the Southwest Local School district hosted the third Town Hall meeting at Harrison Junior School. 190 Folks were in attendance and 39 live streamed the event.

The evening started with our purpose: “Choosing our Future” - a school master plan option that will accommodate our exploding enrollment and space constraints. Mr. Biddle, School Board President, spoke to the history of SLSD and the consolidation of our schools in 1954 and how, as a current school district, we have built just 3 schools since that time (Harrison Junior School – 1957; Harrison High School – 1961; and Whitewater Valley Elementary - 1990). After the history, Mr. Rabe (School Treasurer) discussed the work that our Community Finance Team completed – addressing every dollar brought in and every dollar spent, as well as a five year forecast projections. Mrs. Hayes (Assistant Superintendent) then covered the work of the Educational Visioning team, in terms of creating the best possible learning environments for our students both now and for the next 50 years! Lastly – Mr. Hamstra (Superintendent) described the process that the Community Advisory Team (CAT) went through to get to the final five master plan options that were discussed at length – throughout the Town Hall. Moving from 17 plans down to 5 – took considerable discussion (pro’s, con’s and trade-offs), as well as the financial and educational impacts.

Additional points that the CAT worked through:

  • The state of Ohio’s contribution to the project – covering 32% or .32 on the dollar of the plan.
  • Southwest Local School District Enrollment calculations – being recalculated this spring by the State of Ohio – the recalculations will take in to account the significant increase in enrollment projected over the next several years.
  • Cost projections for each plan on $100K Home Market Value
  • .5 Mill Maintenance Fund to provide for the new / renovated facilities for 38 years IS INCLUDED in the total millage 

The five remaining master plan options were then presented by different Community Advisory Team members. Each of the plans details, including: the pro’s, con’s, trade-offs, and costs were presented. The plans range from bringing our schools up to the “warm, safe and dry” standard, to new & renovated schools. The attached “menu” of master plan options was the working document that folks at the Town Hall were provided and served as the basis of our small group discussions, which took the final hour of the meeting. Clarifying questions were asked, and group discussions regarding each of the plans provided additional insight on what is at stake. Each individual present took a brief survey and tables shared out their findings. The results of the survey and table groups were:

  • Option 12 (3 new K – 5 elementary schools, new 6th – 8th grade Junior School and a renovated High School) received the greatest support, with 76% favoring this plan.
  • Option 2 (2 new K – 5 elementary schools, new 6th – 8th grade Junior School and a renovated High School) received the 2nd most support, with 43% favoring this plan.
  • Options 4, 13R and 0 were the remaining options, with 39%, 25%, and 1% in favor, respectively. 

NOTE:  These percentages add up to more than 100% because attendees were asked to vote for their favorite options, rather than pick just one. 

Additional points / feedback / trends from the surveys:

  • The cost for a NEW 3rd elementary vs. renovating WWV as the 3rd elementary is around $5 per year, on a $100K market value home. It makes much more sense to go with new in this case.
  • The earned income tax $ is used for day to day, operational costs of the schools. It accounts for approximately 12% of the $32Million in revenue that our schools receive. Our expenditures are around $31Million each year. Real estate taxes are used for both daily operational costs, as well as maintenance and any bond issue passed would be used for bricks / mortar – not operational expenses. 

It is important to continue to note – we are seeking a plan this is educationally appropriate, financially responsible and community supported. We have said this from day 1. 

Please submit any questions, concerns or general input to:

Survey: 70 Percent of Voters Favor

New, Expanded or Upgraded Southwest Local Schools

About 70 percent of the registered voters in the Southwest Local School District would “generally support new, expanded or upgraded buildings,” according to a phone survey commissioned by the district.

Fallon Research & Communications, Inc. conducted the survey to gain insights about potential support for a bond issue. The firm interviewed 300 respondents.

About 24 percent of the respondents said they would be opposed to new, expanded or upgraded buildings. About five percent were unsure or had no answer.

The firm conducted the survey in late March, near the end of the latest facilities master planning process. At that point, community members, led by a Community Advisory Team, had narrowed the original 17 master plan options to five options.

The firm asked about those five final options. None of the five options were supported by a majority of the respondents.

More details from the survey can be found here.

Southwest Local School District began a series of community outreach forums on Tuesday, January 17 called “Southwest Schools: Defining the Future.”  

A second forum was held on February 9, with the third and final session taking place on March 30.

To view the presentations from those sessions, as well as the questions that were posed by audience members, go to the respective PDF here.

To view video of the forums, please click here.

The forums were part of an Educational Facility Master Planning Process that is being overseen by SHP Leading Design, the district’s newly hired architecture firm.

“We know that a large portion of the community wants us to re-think our approach to facility planning,” said new Superintendent John C. Hamstra. “This is an opportunity for a fresh start.”

The community had a chance to hear district leaders and SHP make presentations about the history of Southwest, the status of facilities, opportunities for state facilities funding and the master planning process. Additionally, the community was able to provide its perspectives on a range of issues and positions.

Afterward, attendees were offered a tour of Harrison Junior School.

A plan to renovate or replace schools is needed because of surging enrollment and antiquated buildings. Twice in the last two years, the district has asked the community to approve bond issues for such projects. Voters defeated both requests.

“We know we have to try something different,” Hamstra said. “And we know, before we go back on the ballot, that we have to do a better job of listening to and engaging the community in the planning process.”

In addition to community forums, Southwest has created three panels to participate in the master planning process:

  • A Community Advisory Team, which was created to study, synthesize and provide advice guided by four pillars: education, facilities, finance and community support. The team was composed of stakeholders from the community, government, business, students and staff.
  • A Financial Advisory Team, which was created to review district finances and operations, and advise on the impact of various facility options on district finances and operations. 
  • An Educational Visioning Team, which served to recommend the ideal model for delivery of education, and advise on the resulting impact of various facility options. 
To read more about the work of these committees, click the respective team name from the list on the left.
If you have specific questions or concerns, please email them to:  
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