TONTOGANY – However Otsego’s school board decides to fund a new elementary school, or even whether to
develop a central campus, there are voters who want to have a say in the decision.
The board spent 45 minutes Monday night answering questions about funding for the proposed Phase 2 of the
district’s facilities plan, and defending decisions already made.
Tammy McClellan, of Weston, wanted to know why the board wasn’t seeking voter approval for a centralized
Board member Lisa Hatfield told her no decision had been made.
However, at the board’s May meeting, the board voted 5-0 to proceed with a central campus as well as
Phase 2 of the construction plan, which called for replacing elementary schools.
Michael Head, also of Weston, was looking for more information on the lease-purchase option for funding a
new school, and the ramifications if the district couldn’t meet its payment obligations. He also asked
the board to give voters a chance to have a say. "The big fear that we have is it would not go to
the voters first."
Board member Elizabeth Gorski pointed out the "huge expense" of operating three elementaries,
and the lack of voter support at the polls for additional operating money to keep the schools open.
"It’s difficult to get voter support where it counts: the money," she stated.
Board members have made it clear they support one elementary school, located on the Tontogany campus. The
school, for prekindergarten through fifth grade, would be located on the southwest corner of the campus
on land already purchased by the district.
"I’m considering any option out there," stated Hatfield, adding that she "absolutely"
would consider choosing an option without going to the voters.
Board President Jamie Harter admitted that, on principle alone, a major decision that did not appear
before voters could alienate even a lot of project supporters. But he also said he was not going to
apologize because he didn’t think it right to educate Otsego students in 100-year-old facilities.
As for a decision on a lease-purchase option, the board was still gathering information, he said, and
plans to meet with a financial adviser. He called the funding option "intriguing."
Superintendent Jim Garber told the crowd that the board has an Aug. 10 deadline to make a decision on
whether to fund a new elementary through a traditional bond issue, or by a lease-purchase agreement.
That date is the deadline to put an issue on the November ballot.
Weston residents Jim Repolesk and Tom Zulch each asked questions already addressed by the board,
including members’ reason for closing Weston Elementary instead of the Haskins building, which is much
smaller, and whether additional attempts with the Ohio School Facilities Commission would result in
waivers for three elementaries.
Hatfield jumped on the comments, obviously frustrated. "We are doing the best that we can with what
we’re given," she stated. "I am not going to sit and rehash old stuff anymore" – earning
applause from a large sector of the audience.
"It is so time to move this district in another direction," said rural Haskins resident Laurie
Limes, who helped lead the campaign to fund the new high school. "This is not a Weston issue, a
Haskins issue, a Tontogany issue, a Grand Rapids issue. This is an Otsego issue." Cost-wise, a
central campus "is our only option."
Mary Gase, of Plain Township, asked about the availability of federal stimulus money for the new school.
"We are exploring all of our options. Would we really be doing our jobs if we didn’t try every
option?" answered district Treasurer Pam Harrington.
Garber had new cost estimates to share, updated since a community meeting Wednesday where he explained
further the lease-purchase options.
The total cost of new construction in the district has been set at $39,825,920, which includes the new
high school and renovations to the junior high. The state has agreed to pay 55 percent of that cost,
leaving 45 percent, or $17,921,664, as the local share.
According to Garber, Otsego has had a bump in its credit with the state, up to $13,733,400.
The local share, minus the credit with the state, leaves $4,188,262 as the amount the district needs to
cover, whether through a bond issue or lease-purchase agreement.
Garber said the local estimate has dropped, since he has eliminated the idea of adding five classrooms to
the junior high building.
With a bond issue, taxpayers would have to approve a 1.21-mill property tax (down from the previous
1.5-mill estimate), which would cost the owner of a home with market value of $100,000 about $37.04 a
Whatever decision is made with a new elementary, the district still will need new operating money in
2010-11, even after cutting $1.5 million from its budget in the past 10 months.
Also at the meeting, the board accepted the resignations of Elaine Schroeder as Weston library aide, and
Ginger McDaniel, secretary at Weston.
The board set its next meeting for 7 a.m. on June 29 in the high school library.