Thursday, February 6, 2003

Talawanda weighs new bonds move

By Sue Kiesewetter
Enquirer contributor

OXFORD - Before deciding whether to resubmit a bond issue to voters in the Talawanda Schools, Superintendent Phil Cagwin says he wants to discuss the matter with the community.

"I will not recommend we go back on the ballot in May," said Cagwin. "I think we need to schedule a public session to get broad community input on what (is) the next step the board needs to take."

Voters on Tuesday rejected a $19.5 million bond issue to build an elementary school to replace Stewart, built in 1929. It was the second time voters rejected that issue.

"The need hasn't changed," Cagwin said.

The failed bond issue will be discussed when the school board meets at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the middle school.

"My gut feeling is to try again - but not right away," said Glenn Bailey, president of the Talawanda Board of Education. "We need better economic times."

Citizens for Fair Taxation (CFFT) mounted a campaign against Tuesday's bond issue. The group spoke out against the issue, posted signs throughout the community and sent two mailings.

"It's a bad situation. Property tax payers have had enough," said Marna Evans, a CFFT member. "We need to find some better way to fund schools. I don't know if it's at the state level or local level. Our efforts will still be to pursue a different avenue for school funding other than property taxes."

Evans said the group isn't necessarily against building a school, but rather the way it would be paid for. The group wants to talk with legislators and school officials to look for solutions. Members will meet soon to plan their next move, Evans said.

Cagwin said he believes the CFFT campaign was a strong factor in the bond issue's defeat, but not the only one. Layoffs at Square D, instability in Iraq and the threat of war, property tax re-evaluations and the economy all contributed, he said.

Joan Parks, Talawanda Education Association president, said her group plans to conduct its own study on the conditions at Stewart. She said the group wants to track the health records of teachers, particularly those who have taught at the school several years.

Recently, water started coming through some of the walls, Parks said.

"We're convinced there's something more at that building than what tests show," Parks said. "The parents are as concerned as we are."

For years teachers have complained the air quality sickens them and their students. But an indoor air quality survey by ATC Associates shows acceptable readings, Cagwin said.

After the November defeat of the bond issue, board members agreed that Stewart should be closed, but set no timetable for doing so.

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