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Otsego citizens to meet

Written by By JENISE FOUTS Sentinel Staff Writer   

Friday, 22 May 2009

 

WESTON - Residents throughout the Otsego School District are being asked to attend a special meeting of the Otsego Citizens for Neighborhood Schools on Wednesday.
It will be held at
7 p.m. in the Weston town hall. If a larger site nearby is needed, guests will be directed to it.
During the group's meeting on Wednesday, members agreed they wanted to get a feel of the support for their work, to keep the three elementary schools open, from people in the entire school district. In addition, alternative ways to keep all three schools will be offered during the special meeting.
"It's important to decide if we can make this go," stated Tom Zulch. He said the group is "actually democracy in action. Democracy still works. You just have to practice it."
"Are we fighting a battle we don't have public support for?" asked Lloyd Jones.
The group decided to hold the May 27 meeting, inviting residents from the entire school district, rather than trying to do a questionnaire or survey. They also wanted to hold the meeting before residents scatter for the summer.
Jim Repolesk suggested changing the name of the group to "Otsego Citizens for
Neighborhood Schools and Taxes." Several times during the meeting he questioned the latest plan from the Otsego School Board to possibly "try to circumvent the voter and add taxes without their consent."
 

He also questioned the board's logic in sending sixth grade students to the middle school, bussing children with special needs to another school district and sending preschoolers to yet a different site.
Noting the district lost some students this past school year, Repolesk said, "I fear to hear how many kids we'll lose when you have one kid in Grand Rapids, one in Haskins, and you work in Bowling Green. It doesn't work."
"Voters have not supported the central campus idea," said Jones. "We can upgrade and maintain three schools cheaper than a centralized campus proposal."
Members of the group are concerned the board is not aware how high utility costs will be for a centralized elementary school, and noted a suburban
Toledo school district has decided to keep open the elementaries in three of its communities.
"If there's such a big savings with the high school, why do we need a 5-mill operating levy?" asked Repolesk.
"If the voters want to keep the elementary schools open, they're going to have to stand up and say so," said Zulch. "Go to board meetings. Support these (new) candidates." He added, "Teachers say privately these three schools provide a very good education. They know the families."
"They know the family setting. They know the house," added Brad Anderson.

 

Citizen group for Otsego is energized

Written by By JENISE FOUTS Sentinel Staff Writer   

Thursday, 28 May 2009

WESTON - Following a meeting of Otsego Citizens for Neighborhood Schools, 34 local residents left energized to try stopping the Otsego Board of Education from moving forward with a lease-purchase option to build a central elementary school.
Residents from Weston,
Grand Rapids and rural Tontogany attended the meeting Wednesday evening in the village hall.
As reported earlier in the Sentinel-Tribune, under the lease-purchase plan, Otsego would find someone to purchase a loan which gives the district the finances to build a central elementary. The district would buy the loan back over 30 years. The option, used by the
Berea and Hudson school districts, is allowed by the Ohio Revised Code.
Guests Tim Frost from
Grand Rapids and Jim Repolesk of Weston shared information they learned while attending an Otsego school board meeting on Tuesday. Frost said an attorney from Cleveland explained how the lease-purchase option would work.
"It's not what's right or wrong; it's what's legal," he stated of the option. "It isn't about whether you can afford it. It's about whether you can make the payment. It's creative financing."

"The (attorney) said Otsego had an AA bond rating. Because of the risk of this loan, that rate is something Otsego wouldn't get - because of the risk of the loan," stressed Repolesk.
"There is greater risk," said Frost. "It's not backed up with the taxpayers paying their property taxes every year. They said the lease payment is subject to the school board. ... One board member said, 'What we save with a central campus we can make the lease payment with.'"
Later he quoted the attorney as urging the school board to consider the lease-purchase option "due to the times we're in." Frost noted, "There are five board members giddy about this."
"Don't they know we're in a 'mell of a hess'?" asked Kathleen Cookson.
If the school board goes ahead with the lease-purchase plan, but misses a payment, Repolesk said the people who lend the money "lock the doors." "They're gambling the economy will get better. They're gambling the people will forget their promise (to keep the three elementary schools open). ... We'd be wise to live within our means. They just put $1.5 million into the schools. It's sad to enter into a shaky deal. It's the loan you're taking a major gamble on."
Though a number of other issues and statistics were presented related to the three elementaries and the current centralized campus, guest Lloyd Jones said the biggest threat facing residents is the board's interest in the lease-purchase option.
After the meeting, Frost said, "My biggest concern is they could circumvent the voters and spend millions of dollars. Five people can make a decision to put a multi-million dollar debt on the district without the consent of the voters."
Guest Chad Hoffman of Grand Rapids asked if there is a window, for a referendum to be held, if the school board passes a resolution to do the lease-purchase plan. He said when a village council passes a resolution there is a 30-day window in which residents can get the resolution on the ballot.
"We need to find that answer," responded Tom Zulch. He asked if Hoffman could check with his legal sources to find that answer.
"What's the plan to fix the problem?" asked Miguel Trevino.
Several points of action were suggested. Guests agreed to invite friends and neighbors to attend the school board's work session on June 8 at
6 p.m. The board meets at the new high school. In addition, Otsego Citizens for Neighborhood Schools will meet again on June 3 at 7 p.m. in the village's new fire station on Taylor Street. On June 6 they will meet at 9 a.m. to go door-to-door to pass out flyers urging residents to attend the school board's meetings. Supporting new candidates for the school board, letters to the editor, yard signs and making the group a legal political action committee (PAC) were also suggested.

Otsego group questions board actions

Written by By JENISE FOUTS Sentinel Staff Writer   

Saturday, 06 June  2009

 

WESTON - With a $2 million debt forecast in the Otsego School District by the end of fiscal year 2013, some local citizens are questioning why its board of education is pushing through the idea of building a central campus and considering borrowing the money to do it.
Otsego Citizens for Neighborhood Schools met Wednesday night in the Weston fire hall to discuss several issues and make plans for further action.
Tom Zulch read information from Otsego's five-year financial forecast, ending with fiscal year 2013. The school district will end fiscal year 2009 on June 30 with a $593,699 balance in the black. The following two fiscal years are also estimated to be in the black, at $525,690 (2010) and $134,214 (2011). But 2012 and 2013 show balances in the red; $794,025 and $2,071,260 respectively.
"I don't know what these board of education people are reading, but it's not their finances," stated Zulch. "To emphasize how serious this is, it almost transcends the elementary (school) issue. This has got to change at some point or another."
Regarding the lease-option plan the board is considering to get funds to build a central elementary, Jim Repolesk questioned the interest rate they will get.
"They're spending our money without voting on it, and that's wrong ... and they should abandon it," said Rob Myerholtz.
"If they pass it, they should lower the American flag to half mast," responded Repolesk. "Democracy just took a big hit."
Zulch urged audience members to attend upcoming school board meetings, including June 8 at
6 p.m. in the high school library, and voice their anger that Weston School is being closed. "If they are $500,000 in the black for the coming year, there really wasn't any need to close it. ... This won't be the only board meeting we're going to ask you to attend. It becomes a community effort to save the school and save the district as we see it."
Members agreed to meet Saturday at
9 a.m. at Weston's town hall to receive dual flyers to leave at people's front doors in both the village and township. "Every door needs one put on it," stated Paul Perry.
Paperwork will be filed to make Otsego Citizens for Neighborhood Schools a political action committee which will allow it to raise funds for advertising and yard signs.
Citizens were urged to support new school board candidates from Weston and
Grand Rapids who plan to run in November. Petitions for the candidates have to be turned in by Aug. 1.
Zulch explained the Weston area makes up a powerful voting block with 594 registered voters in the township and 1,242 in the village. If about 3,000 voters in the
Otsego School District cast ballots in an election, "we have more than half right here in Weston." One focus of OCNS will be to make sure voters are registered in both the town and township.
When Sharon Trumbull quipped, "But you always have Weston vote everything down," Zulch noted there was only a two-percent difference in voters favoring the last levy between Weston (44 percent) and Haskins (46 percent).
Debbie Allen asked if there are cost statistics to compare from the old high school to the new building. Zulch answered, "within reason you can," and said the 10-year gas expenditure for the old complex and former middle school (using figures from Weston which are comparable in size) was $392,059.25 from 1999 through 2007.
In comparison, the new complex, in 28 months, has spent $269,808.63 on gas. Zulch said the new complex would burn up in 32 months what it took 10 years to spend previously, and "this doesn't touch the electric or the water yet."
Myerholtz said he has already talked to 10-12 families who have already enrolled their children in another district. He stressed the urgency for a citizen committee to walk through the elementary buildings. The group applauded when Myerholtz questioned why the Haskins building was allowed to stay open in its condition which another guest described as a "nightmare."
Several citizens agreed the board picks and chooses its criteria to get the results. When it was decided to bus children from Weston to
Grand Rapids because it was the better building, when the board had to decide between Weston and Haskins, "they threw that criteria out," said Repolesk. "Now they're talking about population density. They pick and choose criteria as it pleases them."
The group will meet June 10 at
7 p.m. in the fire hall.

 

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