Letter: Superintendent’s Public Comment to Peninsula Village Council Seeks Collaborative Partnership

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The following letter was given as a public comment at the Peninsula Village Council meeting in an effort to establish a collaborative effort between the Village of Peninsula and the Woodridge School District regarding the Intermediate School building and property. The Woodridge Bond Committee is pleased to note that as part of this communication and following discussions both the Village Council and The District’s Board of Education passed unanimous resolutions calling for a collaborative partnership in working to find the best possible use of the property for the future.The letter is shared below in its entirety.

Good Evening.

My name is Walter Davis and I’m here tonight in my role as the Superintendent of the Woodridge Local Schools.    With me this evening is Board of Education President, Mrs. Jan Flasco.

First, let me remind Council that the 2015 -16 school year begins next week as our students return to school on Wednesday, August 19th.   We look forward to an exciting year and thank the Village leaders for being great partners with the school district.

Our purpose in coming this evening is to share some information with Council related to the Board’s plans for the future as those plans relate to Woodridge Intermediate School located at 1930 Bronson Avenue here in Peninsula.

Last month, in an effort to clarify and collaborate, Dee Holody reached out to us to learn more about the Bond Issue the Board has placed on the November 3rd ballot.   We met with Dee and Carol Kramer to answer questions and share information on the afternoon of July 9th at the Peninsula Library.   Later in the month, on July 20, a second meeting was held at my office.  That meeting included myself, Mrs. Flasco, Mrs. Hansen, Mr. Fred Compton – the Board’s attorney along with Ms. Holody, the Mayor and the Village Solicitor.  I want to thank Ms. Holody for making the connection, asking for the meetings and seeking to collaborate.  I am hopeful that those meetings will bring about good things for the schools and the Village of Peninsula.

Let me state as I have so many times that The Woodridge Local School District Board of Education values the residents of all seven municipalities served by the school district.   We appreciate and understand the concerns and fears related to the changes this Bond Issue will bring and know what our plans will mean – especially for the Village of Peninsula, its residents and the entire community.

We recognize the role our school plays in the tax base of the Village.   We know the Village depends upon the funds our employees contribute through their income tax payments.

The time has come, however, for the district to move forward with ideas and plans that have been talked about for some time.  Change, for the school district and the Village, is inevitable.   Recent architectural analysis completed as a part of a major master planning initiative throughout the district reveals that the current primary and intermediate schools need extensive renovation if they are to remain in operation as the district seeks to provide contemporary, 21st Century opportunities for our students.   The architectural study tells us that the costs associated with those renovations would, in fact, exceed the total costs incurred if the Board were to build new facilities to replace our PreK-5 structures.   Building a new elementary school facility is but one part of the plan.   In addition, the master plan calls for the renovation of the current high school building, adding classroom space as well as a new gymnasium to accommodate the growing population of students we educate there.   Finally, the plan calls for the replacement of the roof on the middle school facility to deal with the many leaks and issues that inevitably come with a 20 year old structure.

Recently, as a part of the master planning process, the district completed a community engagement process, inviting anyone interested to be a part of the discussions.   Community dialogues were held.   Consensus was reached.   The overwhelming result was a recommendation by those participants that the Board move forward with the project.   As such, the Board of Education has placed a 3.71 mill – 35 year Bond Issue on the November 3rd ballot to complete the master plan.  The cost of the issue is $11 per month for every $100,000 of valuation of residential property.

When the Bond Issue passes, the design phase will begin.   Once construction is complete, the current primary school on Northampton Road and the current Intermediate School here on Bronson Avenue will be closed.   Students in grades Pre K – 5 will be housed in the new facility to be built on the Quick Road campus.

My purpose tonight at this meeting is to answer the question I get asked most often as I talk with people about this project.   I come to your meeting tonight to share my thoughts about the existing facilities.   What will happen to the Primary and Intermediate School buildings once they are closed?

Well, as a public school district, the state of Ohio leaves very little to the imagination.  The Ohio Revised Code prescribes how Boards of Education must proceed when schools are taken out of service.   The law is clear.   Ohio Revised Code 3313.41 states (among other things) that when disposing of a facility the Board must first offer the property for sale to the governing authorities of start-up community schools or college-preparatory boarding schools located within the territory of the school district.

At this time, this provision of the statute is moot as there are no such schools located within the territory of the school district.  So, we move to the second requirement.  Next, the code directs the Board to work collaboratively with the local municipal jurisdiction (in this case, the leaders of the Village of Peninsula) to determine how the building will be used.   If the Village is not interested in working with the Board to find a suitable use for the facility, the  Ohio Revised Code permits the Board of Education to offer the building for sale at public auction.  The steps are sequential.

In our view, it is not in the best interests of the community for the school to be sold at public auction.  Who might buy it?   What type of enterprise might take occupancy?   Who knows?   Selling the school at auction would result in a complete loss of control and the possibilities seem daunting.  It seems logical to us that the Village would want some say, some control over how that facility is used, who occupies it and what happens to that property.

And so, tonight I have come to ask  the Village Council to consider entering into an agreement with the Board of Education to work collaboratively to find the best possible use for the property to ensure that the building continues to be a vital asset to the community and ultimately to do whatever can be done to preserve as much of the tax revenue it yields.  We have no preconceived notions as to what the final outcome of that work might be – but I can only assume that when working together, we will be much more likely to find a suitable solution than if we were to proceed alone.

On behalf of the Board, I would like to suggest that you consider working with us to craft a “Letter of Intent”.   The Letter of Intent would outline our collective intentions in an effort to let our entire community know that we are working together proactively to move forward.   Such a document could serve as a blueprint to guide us through the process together, ensuring that our mutual interests are considered.

What WILL happen to the Primary and Intermediate School buildings once the district moves into a new school facility?  I don’t think any of us can answer that question with specificity today. Obviously, everything depends on our success on November 3rd.   I do know that time is short.   Once the issue passes – and I am confident that it will – our architects and attorneys tell me that we could be moving into a new school in the next 3 – 5 years.   Time is of the essence.   Given that urgency, I urge Council to work with us to determine how one of the two buildings will be used.   What WILL happen to the Intermediate School on Bronson Avenue?   Let’s mobilize our teams, our planners and zoning officials.   Let’s plan together.  Let’s control the process and ensure that the school district AND the Village do everything we can – collectively – so that the property on Bronson Avenue remains a vital part of the community.   I am confident that we can make it happen if we work together.   It is in everyone’s best interest to make it happen.

THANK YOU.

Walter Davis, Superintendent