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Warren’s vote

Election campaign lacks acrimony of the past

October 6, 2011
By Evan Bevins (ebevins@mariettatimes.com) , The Marietta Times

In the weeks leading up to May's vote on a bond issue to build five new schools in the Warren Local district, there were rallies, informational meetings held by supporters and opponents, yard signs and even television and billboard advertisements.

With a little more than a month to go before the November election that includes a scaled-back proposal for four new schools, the public discourse is considerably quieter.

"I think at this point that how they're going to vote is how they're going to vote. Not a lot of publicity's going to help," said Belpre Township resident Terrie Brown.

Article Photos

EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
Teacher Dan Hedges discusses reading journal assignments with his fifth-grade students Wednesday at Warren Elementary School. That school and the two other elementaries in the Warren Local school district would be replaced and a middle school built if a proposed bond issue is approved by voters in November.

Brown put out yard signs in favor of the issue for the May election but doesn't have any this time around and doesn't plan to get them.

"Hopefully, a few people will change their minds," she said.

In May, an 8.19-mill bond issue and 0.5-mill levy to raise the 42 percent local share of an estimated $74.6 million project to construct new elementary schools, a new high school and a middle school appeared on the ballot for the fourth time and was rejected by just eight votes.

Fact Box

About the issue

Rate: 5.4 mills (plus 0.5-mill permanent improvement levy).

Would raise: $21 million local share of an estimated $53.6 million construction project.

To build: Three new elementary schools and a middle school.

Annual cost to the owner of a home valued at $100,000: $180.69.

Election Day: Nov. 8.

Voter registration: Through Oct. 11, at the Washington County Board of Elections office in the courthouse. The office will be open until 9 p.m. that day.

Early voting: Available by requesting an absentee ballot from the board office or casting one there during regular business hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

Supporters said the new schools are needed to replace the current aging buildings, which are facing issues like leaking roofs, failing boilers and electrical systems that cannot handle newer technology. Opponents argued the levy amount and 28-year repayment period are too much of a burden to take on during current economic conditions.

In July, the board of education voted to place a 5.4-mill bond issue and 0.5-mill levy on the November ballot. If passed, it would raise the 38 percent local share of a $53.6 million project that would build the elementaries and middle school but not a high school. That was the option favored by a majority of respondents to a community survey prepared by residents.

So far, the school board and administration has not planned any informational sessions for the new bond issue.

"The information's out there," said Superintendent Tom Gibbs. "I don't know how much more information we can make available."

A committee supporting the bond issue is still meeting but chairman Shawn Taylor said the extent of their campaigning this time around hasn't been determined. He does not expect billboards on Ohio 7 or videos of school conditions on local television this time around.

"I don't see why there would've needed to be a three-month push again," Taylor said. "I don't know that I've talked to anybody in this district that isn't aware of it."

Little Hocking resident Eskel Farley, 77, is aware of and opposed to the new bond issue, as he was with the one before it. While he doesn't doubt the school buildings have problems, he said they are in bad shape because money wasn't properly spent in the past. And the cuts the school board made to generate money for repairs to the buildings didn't do anything to win him over, he said.

The board eliminated busing for high school students, which is not required by state law, as part of efforts to save about $1.3 million a year. The move has drawn a lot of criticism and Gibbs and board members have indicated they would like to reinstate it if the bond issue passes and less money is needed for repairs.

"That is pure, strong-arm blackmail," Farley said. "I hope it backfires."

Board members have denied such claims, saying they only have so many ways to cut expenses.

Farley said he thinks work is being done behind the scenes to get the levy passed but there isn't as much public effort because of concerns over a backlash.

"They're not saying anything to get people riled up," he said.

The last campaign not only featured active supporters but an active opposition group. Voter turnout was about 60 percent, an extremely high number for an off-year election with little else on the ballot.

Some have speculated that supporters of the last bond issue don't want to compromise and build fewer schools, so they aren't backing the new plan.

Fleming resident Linda Woods said that isn't changing her mind about voting yes.

"My personal feeling is that it would be better to construct a new high school as well," she said. "It is unfortunate that with this issue we will still be putting very significant funds into the upgrade of the high school, yet this new bond issue at least addresses some of the financial drain on the budget."

 
 
 

 

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