How should Otsego fund its plan?

TONTOGANY – The issue before Otsego residents isn’t whether or not they favor a centralized elementary
school campus. The Otsego Board of Education has chosen the central school. The question is how it
should be paid for, a levy in November or using a lease-purchase plan.
More than 40 people gathered Thursday evening in the Tontogany town hall, most of them to show their
support for the board’s decision and to learn more about funding options.
Nathan Wallace, a teacher, Otsego graduate and mayor of the village, led the meeting, the second one held
by supporters. He gave his personal reasons for favoring the lease-purchase plan and a single campus,
including talking to the Superintendent Steven Pritts of Elmwood Schools which built a K-12 centralized
school. According to Wallace, Pritts said the chief benefit of having a central campus is "
‘Unification of the communities.’ That speaks volumes. They’re five years into it."
Wallace said the village has been very proactive in coming up with a five-year income tax revenue sharing
plan which has been told to officials in Weston, Grand Rapids and Haskins. "It’s designed to lessen
the impact of a school leaving a village. A lot of people from other villages may think Tontogany will
get rich having K-12 here. That’s not the case."
Three teachers from Elmwood shared all the benefits they have seen from having a K-12 campus, Mary Ellen
Warner, KoAnn Rutter and Mary Grindstaff.
Warner said she loves the new school, especially because of its wiring for computers, an area in which
she teaches. She has seen no village rivalries; there was a reduction in staff (a cost savings); and
middle and high school students tutor the younger children.
Rutter, a special education teacher, talked about needing to work with only one elementary secretary
instead of several; having one big elementary library and a beautiful playground the children enjoy;
that teachers are able to departmentalize to teach their best subjects; and having a stronger
parent-teacher organization. Rutter even mentioned that younger siblings like to find their older
brothers and sisters at lunch and hug them.
Grindstaff teaches music and had to spend a lot of time traveling between the schools. She is delighted
now to have her own music room to give children equal teaching times.
Otsego Treasurer Pam Harrington announced requests for federal stimulus money are due Friday, and the
district is asking for the full balance of $4 million to complete building the school, when combined
with the $14 million promised to Otsego by the Ohio School Facilities Commission as well as its 55
percent share.
Otsego Board Vice President Lisa Hatfield said she has received only one phone call in the past three
months in regards to the current issue and only three direct e-mails in the past year. "People say
we’re not listening to them, but I’m not hearing from them."
She stressed the board is going forward with the central campus and must now only decide how to pay for
it. Hatfield said if the board goes with the lease-purchase plan, "the money we save with a central
campus, those savings will make the lease-purchase payment."
Superintendent James Garber estimated the annual payment on the lease may be around $300,000, "which
translates to about one-and-a-half mills."
When Paul Perry questioned why the board would want to go into debt when it faces a $2 million deficit in
2013, Board President Jamie Harter said he would "never apologize for pushing forward with what is
best for our kids." The audience applauded.
Guests Madge Brown, Jim Vollmar, Dan Sheperd and Scott Alexander spoke in favor of going with the
lease-purchase plan.
"I’d like to see our district united once and for all," said Gloria Box. "I’d like to see
the central campus."
Guests applauded the final speaker, Steve Kendall, who spoke in favor of the lease-purchase option.
"I understand people don’t want to walk away from their buildings. What you’ll find is the kids
will be so adaptable to this it’s only us adults who can’t make that leap into the future. We need to
seize the moment. Do the least-purchase. … Get everyone in a modern building in a year, not five years
from now."