Wednesday, April 28, 1999

Warren growth straining schools

Districts short of space, funds

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — Warren County's explosive growth has some school officials scrambling to find classroom space for students.

        In a county that is the second-fastest growing among Ohio's 88 counties, the current and future problem for many school districts is how to accommodate more students.

        Of the county's eight school districts, Little Miami is the most recent to deal with tough decisions regarding where to put students when classrooms are already overflowing.

        This week, the Little Miami Board of Education began considering moving some Maineville Elementary kindergartners to a church basement this fall.

        Little Miami Superintendent Michael Virelli on Monday recommended moving about 90 kindergartners and students in the Academically Talented Program to the Maineville United Methodist Church, down the street from Maineville Elementary. He also proposed transferring 37 students from cramped Butlerville Elementary to Morrow Elementary in the fall.

        In Lebanon Schools, which has experienced almost a 40 percent increase in student en rollment during the last decade, district officials this year renovated an Oak Street church and five new kindergarten classes are conducted there.

        Lebanon Schools spokeswoman Carole Dorn echoed the sentiments of officials from other districts when she described converting churches to classrooms as “just a Band-Aid on our situation.”

        “We are out of space. But we will handle it because we have to,” said Ms. Dorn. “But it will mean class sizes will grow.”

        On May 4, Lebanon residents will decide a proposed 3.52-mill operating levy that would fund teacher salaries, school technology and sup plies, but it would not provide money for new or renovated school facilities.

        The levy is expected to generate $1.5 million annually over five years. It would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $18 more a year, for a total of $107 annually.

        Mason school officials have accepted that their district will have growing pains.

        As the fastest-growing of Warren County's eight school districts — student enrollment has increased more than 113 percent since 1989 — Mason school enrollment shows no sign of abating.

        “We're dealing with growth all the time,” said Mason Schools spokeswoman Shelly Benesh.

        With the current student population of 5,364 projected to almost double by 2004, district officials are reaching out to the community for help in devising strategies that will not cram students into already crowded classrooms.

        “We value their ideas. It's important that people realize we don't have all the answers,” said Ms. Benesh of the 47-member steering community to study new facilities for the Mason schools. “Besides, people support ideas that they come up with,” she said.

        Springboro School District in northern Warren County already has a renovated elementary ready to receive students this fall but needs operating money to hire staff for the school.

        “We would never suggest that growth is bad,” said Springboro Superintendent Gary Meier. “But when you expand infrastructure ... you need an infusion of new revenue,” he said in reference to the district's proposed 4.6-mill operating levy on the May ballot.

        The district is seeking the emergency operating levy to hire staff. If the tax increase doesn't pass, the district won't be able to open the newly renovated Springboro Elementary School this fall, officials say.

        If it passes, the levy will generate $1.85 million annually. The owner of a $100,000 home would pay an extra $141 in school taxes a year. “It's important in keeping class sizes manageable,” Mr. Meier said.


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