Board members Steve Schwitzgable, Joel Augustus and Board President Chris James are shown discussing their opinions on new school plans at a community forum this week.

Northeastern board members debate $100M new school plans

Members of the Northeastern Board of Education offered a glimpse into which plan they might ask voters to support in a November bond issue for new schools that will likely cost more than $100 million.

Board members must decide between two plans.

The first would build two, pre-k through 12th grade buildings on either side of the district, maintaining a divide in the district. Currently, there are two high schools, Kenton Ridge and Northeastern. A new estimate for the cost of this project would be $116 million. The state would pay about $38.5 million, leaving the rest for taxpayers to pick up.

RELATED: Northeastern residents split on $100M plan for new schools

A second plan would consolidate both high schools into one larger school built in the middle of the district that spans from Northridge to South Vienna. It would also have two pre-k through eighth grade buildings built on either side of the district. That would cost about $123.8 million, and the state would pay about $40 million of it.

Northeastern Local Superintendent John Kronour said at a forum Wednesday night that while the three school option is more expensive initially, the district wouldn’t have to hire as many teachers and administrators for one high school, and would reduce costs in the future.

The plan that includes three schools is explained by architect Michael Ruetschle.

District leaders have sought residents’ opinions on the issue for about a year now, including holding multiple forums and conducting a scientific survey. Leaders have said repeatedly they want to put an issue on the ballot that they believe would win because the need for new buildings is high.

The last community forum before a decision was held Wednesday, and school leaders took time to discuss what they have been hearing from the community and their thoughts on which plan they would like to see on the ballot come November.

“A lot of people moved into this district, one side or the other, because of what was already here,” board member Jill Parker said. “I believe that small community school was what we were looking for and what we got and most of the people who have come to me and spoke honestly about their feelings, feel the same way.”

She said she would support the two-schools option.

MORE: Northeastern has plans for new facilities, looking for feedback

Board President Chris James offered a similar opinion, saying he wants to keep the school enrollment smaller.

“I chose to come to this district for the exact same reasons that Mrs. Parker spoke of,” James said. “I chose to apply and come into this district for the small feel.”

The board wasn’t completely united however. Board Vice President Jeff Caivano said the education opportunities that the school can offer if it consolidates would help the district compete.

“Education is a competitive business,” Caivano said. “Unfortunately that is the reality. I truly believe that Northeastern can be the crown jewel of Clark County in terms of academics. We are not able to service the kids the way they need to be in a competitive market.”

The district can’t keep going back to what was good in the past, he said, and students are leaving for other schools like the Global Impact STEM Academy.

“We are seeing more and more kids going to different schools because they are offering more things that we can’t offer and that’s a problem,” Caivano said. “If we pool our resources together, if we consolidate … we will be able to offer the top tier academics.”

MORE: Northeastern survey shows residents split on $100M new schools plan

Board Member Steve Schwitzgable said he agreed that pooling resources would help the school offer students more. However, he said that the district needs to win voter approval and that would be more likely happen with two high schools.

“I am a true believer in one high school … Even though I think that is the best option, I don’t think it will pass from the evidence that has been presented to me,” Schwitzgable said. “We need new buildings, we need them badly and it seems the only way to get new buildings is to have two high schools and therefore that’s the way I am leaning now.”

Board member Joel Augustus said he has heard from parents that they are concerned one centralized high school would cause some students to travel longer distance to school. He said that it’s a big issue with people he has spoken with, so he preferred to keep two high schools.

Kronour said that for Northeastern to get 40 percent funding from the Ohio School Facility Commissions, the board needs to act soon. A final decision could be made as soon as the next regular school board meeting Wednesday.