The upcoming ballots that may have townships leave Bowling Green City Schools is pitting neighbor against neighbor.
“It’s getting ugly,” said Grant Chamberlain, who is one of several township residents who circulated petitions this summer to put the issue of them transferring to other school districts on the ballot.
On Tuesday, residents from eight townships will be able to decide if they want to stay within the Bowling Green City Schools service area or leave.
The eight petitions for annexation are Center Township to Elmwood; Jackson Township to McComb; Liberty Township to Elmwood; Milton Township to Patrick Henry (two); Plain Township to Otsego; Richfield Township in Henry County to Patrick Henry; and Center Township to Eastwood.
Only the registered voters in the townships that filed will have the option of voting on their respective transfer issue. Other residents affected by the move – including residents in the school district losing the territory and residents in the school district gaining the territory – do not have a say in the decision.
It has been reported that 513 voters may impact 10,000 plus approximately 250 students.
Chamberlain said the transfers are an answer to the “taxation without representation” issue the agricultural community has with the school board.
He said they have tried every ordinary avenue to influence the board to understand the agriculture economy but have been completely disregarded.
He was one of two members of the ag community who ran for the school board but lost their election bid in November. Board members have historically been residents of the city.
Superintendent Francis Scruci said elections are a democratic process and anyone can be elected.
“I can’t speak to why the rural community hasn’t been represented” on the school board, he said, and added that for some reason, the candidates didn’t resonate with the community.
“This perception that the Bowling Green City Schools don’t appreciate our rural community is wrong, because we do appreciate it,” he said.
Chamberlain said his home is in Center Township but the land he farms is in Liberty Township, and both will go to Elmwood Local Schools if those petitions are approved. He also has family in several of the other townships, so he has “an extensive interest in all of these.”
“We never intended it to be as big as it is,” Chamberlain said. “A lot of people have expressed interest in this.”
It comes down to numbers for him.
While he expects to take a small hit from a higher income tax – BGCS is 0.50% while Elmwood is 1.25% — in the long run that will be made up with what he saves of property taxes, Chamberlain said.
“As time goes on this will be a financial benefit,” he said. “I know for a fact, long term, it is a way better deal in Elmwood.”
The majority of voters in Liberty and Center townships were against the two continuing levies that were on the March ballot. Both issues passed.
“When the residents that are petitioning leave the district … there will be no opposition to increased taxes,” Chamberlain said. “If one of these transfers leaves, the margin is gone … and Bowling Green will quickly surpass any of the surrounding districts.”
As for the 100% in pipeline revenue the school district could lose if all eight petitions pass, Chamberlain said that wasn’t intentional.
“We knew where the pipeline was,” he said, explaining if you own farmland that the pipeline crosses through, it is hard to miss. “I know it got included but it had to do more with the people owning the easements” wanting to leave the district.
The expected loss to the school district from property, income and pipeline taxes has been estimated at $5.62 million.
“We’ll have to have a discussion as to the next steps and look at all of our options,” Scruci said in the event the district loses that amount.
Scruci questioned how can a district deliver the same kind of education after taking a hit like that.
Chamberlain has a 3-year-old and a child on the way, and said he believe the education they will get in Elmwood is better.
“I wholeheartedly believe that a smaller school with personalized attention in a rural setting will be better than Bowling Green will ever do,” he said.
Chamberlain is a BG graduate but said “when I was in school, open enrollment wasn’t an option or I would be in Otsego.”
It is the culture shared by communities like Elmwood and Otsego that he appreciates. Look out the window at Otsego or Elmwood and you see cornfields; look out the window in Bowling Green and you see a university.
“It’s just not the same,” Chamberlain said.
He was also a proponent of EdChoice when Kenwood Elementary became part of the program in early 2019. He said that EdChoice came when the elementaries were being discussed and the message was Kenwood was overcrowded.
“You created the problem, help people leave to solve the problem,” Chamberlain said about the overcrowding.
He doesn’t see a problem with people going to another district and losing their EdChoice scholarships. The primary purpose of the scholarship is to get out of a building with sub-par performance, and none of the surrounding school districts have a building in EdChoice.
The loss of EdChoice, however, will hit the Mier family.
Arron Mier lives on Portage Road within Liberty Township,
“I didn’t know anything about this until I got something in the mail on July 2,” he said.
Mier said that he received a vote no and a vote yes flyer that same day.
His two children were homeschooled then attended Kenwood. Then EdChoice came along. The family plans to use EdChoice scholarships to send the kids to Lial Catholic School in Waterville.
He has one child going into second grade and one going into kindergarten. Mier’s intent was to keep using EdChoice scholarships through eighth grade then send them to Bowling Green High School. He estimates he would lose $70,000 if his township transfers.
While the loss of the scholarships is not the only reason Mier said he is against the transfer, “it’s a good motivating factor.”
He is unhappy that the petitioners are hurrying the vote while the law is under review.
A repeal of the law has been introduced in the state legislature that would take effect on Sept. 1.
If a school district has begun the transfer process prior to the repeal, the transfer process shall continue.
To take effect, the amendment repealing the law would have to be approved by the state Senate and signed by Gov. Mike DeWine. But legislative action has been stalled in Columbus due to coronavirus.
“We were in a bit of a rush because of SB 89,” Chamberlain said. “It had to be done in expeditious fashion.”
A lawsuit was filed with the Ohio Supreme Court after the eighth petition wasn’t certified in time and was going to be on the November ballot. If the repeal passed, that petition would have been null.
If they had known coronavirus would stall everything, they could have waited, Chamberlain said.
He encourages everyone to look at their own tax situation before voting.
Mier said Chamberlain came to his house to talk about the issue, and he understands what their complaint is.
“But I still don’t think this is the right way to go about it,” Mier said. “It’s asinine to me, it’s totally ridiculous.”
The right way is to have rural representation on the school board, he said.
If residents can go somewhere with lower property tax, they don’t care about the repercussions facing other families, Mier said.
It’s a handful of farmers “trying to ramrod this down the throats of someone else,” he said. “If this passes, this is going to do more damage to Bowling Green that the proponents have understood.”
Susan Yarger, who lives on Bays Road in Milton Township, also is opposed to the transfer.
“I’m opposed to it because I want my kids in Bowling Green schools,” she said.
Her family purchased their property prior to having kids – she has a junior and one entering fourth grade – and they looked at a lot of land before buying where they are because it is in BGCS. Yarger said neither of her children want to go to Patrick Henry.
She said she is not in favor “of yanking children around and sending them to different schools.”
If her township approves its petition, Yarger said she will consider open enrollment.
She said at the root of the issue is there is a group of individuals unhappy that the school is dependent upon property taxes.
“This is done out of spite to prove to the school district that they can cause … an immense loss,” Yarger said.
At last month’s Elmwood Local Schools Board of Education meeting, Dan Wilson said that proponents of the BG school district exit are not doing this not out of spite.
Wilson, a Bowling Green graduate and farmer in Liberty Township, circulated petitions to leave the district. He said at the Elmwood meeting they found support from young and old, parents of kids, retired people, and some people who were alumni at Elmwood.
“We didn’t get turned away by anybody,” he said. “We didn’t want to force this on anybody.”
Wilson said his reason for wanting to leave Bowling Green is that his home is agricultural, and the Elmwood district is the same.
“It looks very similar to the makeup of your district,” he said. “It’s more of the similarities of the mapped area to Elmwood’s area, not only the location but also the makeup of our area.”
The fact that the vote of a few can impact many is wrong, Yarger said.
To have someone who owns land petition to have her property put someplace else should not be allowed.
“That was a bad law that was written to begin with,” Yarger said.
Ohio Revised Code 3311.242, which took effect on Oct. 17, allows the transfers. It was first used in a Stark County.
“We should all be grown up enough to solve our problems and build a good community school together and not start petty things like this,” Yarger said.
She also is concerned that those voters not affected by the transfers do not understand the consequences.
“They think that because they don’t live out here, it doesn’t impact them,” Yarger said.
The loss of $5.62 million equates to 8.54 mills that may be required to be paid by the remaining taxpayers to restore the lost revenue, or $487 in additional annual taxes for a home with the median value of $162,900.
The Plain Local School District, which lost territory after November’s election, is waiting on a decision from U.S. District Court regarding its lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of the school district territory transfer law.
Without legislative action, the only other prospect for eliminating this territory transfer provision lies with the result of the Plain Local federal court case.
“Hopefully, legislators look at this and see it for the flawed law it is,” Scruci said.
The BGCS Board of Education has proposed new legislation that would prevent the immediate loss of revenue with the transfers.
The new legislation proposes the townships continue to pay BGCS taxes for 10 years.
“As a district, we have a right to protect the interest of the district and the taxpayers of the district,” Scruci said. The current legislation “was flawed from the get-go. If a group is successful, it leaves the district and the remaining taxpayers holding the bag.”
A spokesperson with the Ohio Department of Taxation would not comment on the legality of the legislation, citing their practice of not commenting on such pending actions.
Bowling Green’s financial adviser, David Conley, referenced Ohio Revised Code that allows something similar between municipalities and townships.
To paraphrase ORC 709.19, any group that annexes a territory shall make payments to the entity from which it was annexed.
Those payments can last up to 12 years and the entity paying 80% to 42% over the life of the deal, according to the current law.
“If you want to improve the schools this is not how you do it,” Yarger said about the petitions. “We just need folks to understand that the focus on this should be on the kids… and the ability to have a strong school.”
Both sides have Facebook pages to support their arguments.
School Property Transfer Facts is in favor of the petitions.
Vote NO on Transfer Petition – Milton Twp is one of several opposing the action.