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Austintown schools co-chairmen struggle to educate voters on bond issue

Published: Tue, February 11, 2014 @ 11:24 p.m.

By KALEA hall



The chairwomen for the Austintown bond issue committee say the largest issue they face in educating the public on the bond are misconceptions about it and other issues.

Co-chairwomen Lori Gavalier and Kim Smrek are heading the initiative to pass the 4.1-mill bond issue to build a new high school, of which the state has offered to cover 47 percent, or about $31 million. The total construction cost is $64 million. The committee leaders presented their concerns to the board during a work session Tuesday.

“Our biggest issue [is to get people] to vote on this issue,” Smrek said.

The new, 21st-century 285,000-square-foot building would replace the 1960s-built Fitch High. About $34 million from the more than $45 million expected to be generated by passing the bond would go toward construction of a new school. The rest would go toward the locally funded initiative to revamp the auditorium, gym, football stadium and some classrooms near the auditorium.

The 37-year bond would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $144 per year.

In talking to district voters, the chairwomen have faced questions pertaining to open enrollment and other concerns. Open enrollment has been in place in Austintown as the result of failed operating levy attempts. The district has not received funds from an operating levy since 1996. Open enrollment was the option taken to avoid having to cut full-time positions in order to remain in the black, school officials have said.

Since its implementation during the 2009-2010 school year, the number of open enrollment students has increased. During the first year, about 200 students came into the district through open enrollment, according to Vindicator files. During the 2013-2014 school year, 670 students have come in through open enrollment. The district brings in about $5,700 per open enrollment student.

Last school year (2012-2013), 569 open enrollment students were accepted.

Although there have been concerns over capping open enrollment, Superintendent Vincent Colaluca said the district already places a cap on the number of students per class. For kindergarten through fifth grade, a 25 student-per-class cap is in place, and for sixth through 12th grade, a 27 student-per-class cap is in place. If those are reached, the classes will be closed off.

Due to the change in graduation rate calculation, open enrollment at Fitch will be limited to incoming freshmen next school year. This will not affect current open enrollment freshmen, sophomores or juniors wishing to return next year.

Also at the work session, Gavalier and Smrek expressed the need for support from the board of education as a whole on the bond issue. The board unanimously voted at a special meeting Jan. 29 to place the bond issue on the May ballot, yet one board member, Harold Porter, told the chairwomen he was not in full support of the measure. He suggested placing an overall cap on open enrollment students and eliminating student fees.

If the bond issue does not pass in May, the district has the last option of having a special election in August before the state funding goes into a lapse status.

Community gatherings for bond issue discussions have yet to be decided.


1UNCOMMONSENSE(626 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

I believe that the public schools get enough of the public's money. If there is money for out of touch salaries and raises, then there should be money to set aside for repairs or new construction. Count me as a NO vote.

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2AtownParent(565 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

1. From what has been said, the cost to revamp would be about 45 million of which I was told the state will still provide the 30 million.
2. No more money than the 30 is being offered.
3. No, on more selective on open enrollment.
4. Yes, there are open enrollment kids who cause problems, but there are Atown kids who do as well. The school needs to be stricter instead of adopting the same discipline strategy that Chaney and Ytown schools did when Chaney had so many issues. There are constant fights.
5. The auditorium needs work, yes, but the gym and stadium just had major improvements. To use 10 million on re-re-doing that is just another example of how they like to waste money.

The heating issue with pipes bursting has been known about for years. Allegedly our maintenance staff in the high school have been told no preventative maintenance there. Our hand is being forced to pass this, just like it was when they wanted to replace the old AMS, which we never got reimbursed from the state for. I am 50/50 on passing this just so they can't possibly screw up getting the state money like they did with AMS. However, we need a new architect and new construction people to do this project, because the new schools still have major issues that have no been fixed and were not designed to house the students we have. Heck, half the kids have gym in the other building from the one they are in, how do you possible get to be the architect again when you not only build AMS too small, but you also made both of the new schools too small.

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3Roger_Thornhill(1068 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

"Open enrollment has been in place in Austintown as the result of failed operating levy attempts."

That really should have been reported as "Open enrollment has been in place in Austintown as the result of high teacher salaries and benefits."

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4repeaters(314 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

"Open enrollment was the option taken to avoid having to cut full-time positions in order to remain in the black, school officials have said."
That statement says volumes to Austintown taxpayers. If the district was right-sized in the first place, the taxpayers could have been saved large expenditures. They just said in order to keep EVERYONE employed, they did and are willing again, to go into debt to build another new school. Fire the board and the Superintendent.

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5prodgodq(172 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

I think that an open school board meeting devoted solely to this issue would go a long way toward clearing up some of the confusion around this issue. The state money is attractive and a pretty significant amount towards easing the financial burden. That being said, I think that the exact amount that the state would fund and under what contingencies should be clearly spelled out.
That will take more than a short article in the Vindicator.
As a resident of Austintown I am not unhappy with the school board and administration, but they need to do a better job at communicating with residents on this issue.

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6THIRTYSFORD(14 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

I need to know what "keep everybody employed" means. How can they say this after getting rid of many full time positions and making them part time positions? I know of many staff members that have lost their jobs since open enrollment. There is no way in hell they are getting more taxes from me! NO is my vote and I will do all I can to spread the word about how this administration led by Vince Colaluca and the previous administration led by then superintendent (Doug Heuer) have purposely neglected routine maintenance on the HVAC system, Roof, Floors etc. of Fitch and the other buildings that we just had replaced.

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7Atowncomm(14 comments)posted 2 years, 4 months ago

Let's listen to what they have to say. I am always open to hearing the facts about issues so that I can make my choice at the polls.

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