By Sue Kiesewetter
OXFORD - For the second time in the Talawanda Schools' 35-year history, a group of residents is studying whether to form a separate district.
This time Oxford residents are leading the movement to split away from Talawanda to form one district for Oxford Township - which includes the city of Oxford - and a separate district that would include Reily, Milford and Hanover townships in Butler County and Somerville in Preble County.
Both critics and supporters of the effort say the task won't be easy, pointing to the five-year effort to split the Monroe and Middletown districts three years ago.
"I'm sympathetic with the situation there in Oxford," said Carl Wick, a member of the Ohio Board of Education from Centerville. "I'd be more willing to listen if I knew the end result would be a win-win situation for both districts - financially and educationally. In the long run, the state is looking in another direction."
Wick said the state expected several citizens groups to form to push for a split after Monroe's successful effort, but that hasn't panned out.
In the past three years Monroe has only received two serious inquiries - including the Talawanda group - and phone calls from two other groups, said Suzi Rubin, who was active in the effort and now sits on the Monroe Board of Education.
The 5-month-old Talawanda School Reorganization Committee says its grass-roots efforts to form a new district would solve problems that existed in the district since state-mandated consolidations in 1953 and 1968 that formed the 144-square mile district in northwestern Butler County.
Since 1968, when the last of three consolidations that formed the Talawanda Schools were complete, residents of Reily, Milford and Hanover townships have rejected every issue put before voters. During the same period, Oxford Township residents voted in favor of 24 of 34 issues and city residents voted positively in 33 of 34 ballot questions, according to a fact sheet prepared by the reorganization committee.
"We have two basic communities with different needs, goals and expectations," said Jody Brock, an Oxford resident who is working with the reorganization committee. "My primary goal is to have restored the support and positive attitude about the schools."
Those in the townships say there is still resentment stemming from a failed 1982 vote to separate. Nine months later, the board voted to close four of the five elementary schools outside of Oxford.
"That was a slap in the face to people in Reily, Collinsville, Hanover and Somerville," said William Vollmer of Reily Township, a former longtime Talawanda Board of Education member who sat on the 1982 board. "A lot of people have moved in since, but there's still strong resentment."
A majority - about 1,700 - of the district's 3,200 students live outside of Oxford/Oxford Township, said Superintendent Phil Cagwin, who, like the school board, is taking a neutral stand on the effort.
This time the effort to separate is proceeding in a more civil manner, with no name-calling or meanness like the 1982 effort, said Alan Rigling, a Hanover Township resident and retired educator. For that, he lauds the reorganization committee.
"They are handling it in a professional way with no digs," Rigling said. "They're gathering a lot of facts, doing a lot of research, and there's a politeness about it."
But not everyone in the outlying townships favors the formation of a new district.
Mary Richardson of Reily Township, who has six school-age children and two too young for school, says she'd rather see energy exerted to work out differences, not to plan a separation.
"We should be working together to make a great school district," said Richardson, a 1983 Talawanda High School graduate. "I've lived here all my life, and it breaks my heart."
Richardson said even if the committee is successful, there is no guarantee that residents would support the tax increases both districts would need.
By 2007, the Talawanda Schools will be facing a major deficit without additional operating dollars and will still need one or more bond issues to renovate buildings, said Doug Troy, an Oxford resident and chairman of Miami University's computer science department who is on the reorganization committee.
If current trends continue, Troy fears neither would pass in a consolidated district, jeopardizing education.
Brock said TSRC has formed several subcommittees to study issues including facilities, staffing, curriculum and finance.
The group hopes to make a presentation to the state Board of Education in September or October.
October 1953: The Oxford Local and Hanover Township Local school districts agree to merge.
December 1953: The Somerville Local and Milford Township Local school districts join Oxford-Hanover Local Schools after the Ohio Department of Education says school districts must either comply with new standards or dissolve.
January 1954: Oxford-Hanover Local Schools are renamed Talawanda.
1968: Reily Township Local Schools merged with Talawanda after it has determined that Reily High School complies with new state standards for comprehensive high schools.
The merger made the district the fifth-largest in the state in terms of land area with 144 square miles. Those boundaries remain today, but the district has dropped to 12th largest in the state due to other mergers.
January 1982: The Butler County Board of Education allows a vote to separate the district at the request of residents outside of Oxford/Oxford Township.
June 1982: Township residents rejected a ballot issue that would have split the district into two districts.
March 1983: The Talawanda Board of Education votes 4-1 to close the Hanover, Reily, Somerville and Marie Schmidt (located in Milford Township's Collinsville) elementary schools, leaving one school - Maud Marshall in Hanover Township - outside Oxford or Oxford Township.
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