Thursday, December 18, 2014

Ledgemont BOE to Consider Closing High School
March 16, 2014 by John Karlovec | No Comments

Students in grades 7-12 would be relocated to elementary building

Ledgemont BOE will hold a special work session Tuesday night to discuss closing the high school. The meeting is set for 6 p.m. at Ledgemont Elementary School on Burrows Road.

Ledgemont High School might close its doors for the 2014-2015 school year as administrators and school board members continue the district’s quest for financial solvency.

Tuesday night, board members will hold a special work session to discuss closing the high school. The meeting is set for 6 p.m. at Ledgemont Elementary School on Burrows Road.

There currently are 227 students enrolled in the high school building, which houses students in grades 7-12.

Superintendent Julie Ramos told members of the Ledgemont Financial Planning and Supervision Commission (LFPSC) in January the district was exploring options to generate long-term stability and address incurable debt and declining enrollment.

Two of the more provocative options are the movement inside millage to a special fund to pay off its debt and closure of the high school.

“We are looking more aggressively at moving the high school to the elementary (building) for next year,” Ramos told LFPSC members on Feb. 28. “I know both of the administrators really spent quality time looking at a schedule and … we’re investigating the grounds to make sure that the space is available, which, from preliminary plans, we do have enough space down here to house all of the kids.”

Ramos said the next step in the process would be to decide what to do with the current high school building, including possible sale or demolition.

The cost of demolition and potential abatement is approximately $350,000 according to current estimates the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission prepared in January.

Treasurer Belinda Grassi said the district is exploring two options regarding closure of the high school: moving all students in grades K-12 to the current elementary building or forming a joint cooperative high school with Cardinal Schools.

“At least preliminarily, moving everyone back here (elementary building) appears to be a better deal for us,” Grassi told commission members. “However, it really doesn’t take into account what we would need to do with the high school.”

She explained all cost-savings analyses she has completed include some costs for the high school because it would need to be kept “minimally functional.”

“We need to still insure it, we need to still pay some utilities,” Grassi said. “So, instead of taking all of the dollars off of the books, we did have to leave some.”

She estimates moving all students to a single facility would result in an approximate first-year cost savings of between $300,000 and $400,000, depending on a number of factors, including the cost of unemployment benefits and whether supplemental activities such as athletics are continued.

“Cost savings from such a move in years following in which unemployment benefits are no longer a factor would approximate between $420,000 and $470,000, depending again on the fate of extracurricular activities,” district officials said in a Feb. 10 letter to the LFPSC.

The second option — forming a joint cooperative high school with Cardinal — was not as feasible at this time for two reasons, Grassi said.

First, the tuition payment Ledgemont would need to pay was “extremely high,” she said.

Second, a cooperative high school is an option only for students in ninth through 12th grade, so Ledgemont would need to retain teachers for seventh- and eighth-graders who would be relocated to the elementary building.

Of the 227 students housed in the high school building, 77 of them are in the seventh and eighth grade.

“So, instead of being able to eliminate all of our staff, we’re still keeping some (teachers), so the cost savings are not as great,” Grassi said.

After the cost of unemployment benefits is factored out, an annual savings could amount to approximately $70,000, Ramos and Grassi stated in their Feb. 10 letter.

As such, she advocated housing all students in grades K-12 at the current elementary building next year while continuing to explore other alternatives.

“I think doing that in combination with the millage shift and the repayment restructure … is really going to do a lot of good things for this district,” Grassi said. “It’s going to enable us to get into a better place where we need to be, so that we can actually look viable.”

LFPSC Chairwoman Jackie Hoynes praised Ramos and Grassi for being “aggressive,” but requested “firmer numbers” if the high school were closed.

Grassi said she had those numbers and would provide them to the commission before the next meeting, scheduled for 9:30 a.m. March 27.

The treasurer also reported the Geauga County Budget Commission officially approved the district’s proposed movement of inside millage on Feb. 25.

“They had no questions; they thought it was a great idea,” Grassi said, adding she was told she could incorporate the movement of inside millage into the district’s five-year forecast.

Grassi said the district is still asking the Ohio Attorney General’s Office for a legal opinion on the question whether solvency assistance funds are considered debt, “because we’d kind of like to have that definitively.”

Assuming the attorney general’s office answers the question in the affirmative, Grassi explained she has no issues because the county budget commission already has approved the proposed action.

If solvency advances are not considered debt, Grassi said she would need to revise the district’s five-year budget forecast.

For now, Grassi explained the five-year forecast would take everything into account when she redoes it in May.

“What it’s going to end up doing is, it’s going to take our debt service payment off of the five-year forecast, because that will now be stated in a separate fund, which is then going to allow our five-year forecast to look a lot better because we’re actually getting more dollars,” she said.

She also asked Hoynes if Ledgemont could have its current debt payments to the State of Ohio restructured to match what the district would get from the proposed millage shift.

In addition, Grassi asked if Ledgemont could postpone what it would have to repay the state from July through December 2014 because it would not begin to collect on a millage shift until January 2015.

“If that were to happen, I think we could actually break even,” Grassi told LFPSC members. “We would be in a much better place.”

Hoynes said the state has requested Ledgemont put its request in writing.

“It was not a ‘no;’ it was put it in writing and they’ll consider it,” she said.

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