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New Kramer under consideration

By Chris Curme
On January 29, 2013

The Talawanda School Board is considering the construction of a new Kramer Elementary School, without any extra tax income. The school board may vote to sell bonds to finance the project.

Talawanda School Board member Mike Crowder points to an overcrowded, outdated Kramer on 400 W. Sycamore St.

According to Crowder, the school needs more space to accommodate for the nearly 600 kids that attend Kramer today.

"The number of breakfasts and lunches that are served at Kramer are two to three times greater than at the other schools, yet they have the smallest kitchen, the smallest cafeteria," Crowder said.

According to Holli Morrish, director of communication and public relations at Talawanda High School, Talawanda developed a master facility plan in 2001 in order to receive funds from the tobacco rebate of the late 1990s. Included in that plan was the construction of a new high school and elementary school. Since the prospect of a new elementary school has been on the table, improvements to the existing Kramer building have been hesitantly approached, according to Crowder.

"There's been huge resistance on the board, at least for the last ten years, not to spend money on Kramer," Crowder said. "It was a given we were going to tear Kramer down."

The recent consideration of a new Kramer was kick-started in 2007, when an independent audit was conducted of Talawanda School District (TSD) facilities, according to Crowder.

Crowder said that when considering the 2008 bond issue, the board toyed with bundling a new high school and a new Kramer.

"There seemed to be a lot of support to do just the high school," Crowder said.

"We knew full well that Kramer actually came up a little bit worse in our facilities audit," Crowder said, "[After Kramer was left off the bond issue], we passed a resolution that said once we get the matching funds back from the state, we would use all of those funds to build a new Kramer."

According to Morrish, because of other school districts' inability to pass bond issues and front cash to later be rebated, the Ohio School Facilities Commission adopted a policy of "segmenting," which provided rebates along the way.

As a result, Morrish said the funds once promised in 2013 may not be seen until after 2025. Now these funds have become obsolete in current discussion.

"No one on the board wants to ask the taxpayers for the money [for a new Kramer] right now," Crowder said, "It's just too tough of economic times."

Crowder met with investment banker Scott Stubbins, who pitched the idea of the district selling Certificates of Participation (COPS) to raise funds.

According to Crowder, investors who purchase COPS would be buying the district's debt. Much like a savings bond, a COP is a promise of repayment as the district pays its mortgage over 30 to 36 years.

While the system works like mortgage, Morrish said it is actually a lease-to-own option. According to Morrish, the district would lease the new building from COPS holders until the debt is paid. An advantage, according to Morrish, is that a lease does not go against the TSD's debt and will not harm the district's credit.

Both Morrish and Crowder cite historically low interest rates as reason to act fast.

"Every time that rate increases by .25 percent, that's going to cost us a million dollars," Crowder said.

Morrish delineates Talawanda School District's budget into operational capital and permanent improvement funds. The latter is used to buy textbooks, maintain and repair facilities.

"The amount of money we're bringing into the permanent improvement fund right now could absorb any mortgage payments," Crowder said, "And, we would still have money left over to... keep the schools running."

Crowder said that a 450-student Kramer would cost around $13 million, and a 600-student school around $15 million.

According to Morrish, some board members have expressed unwillingness to approve the construction of a Kramer that couldn't accommodate 600 kids.

"If we built a 450-student Kramer, you would have to redistrict some of the kids at Kramer to Bogan and Marshall, so you could have the three schools at roughly the same population," Crowder said.

Morrish acknowledges some unease at the idea of 30 years of little accessible improvement money.

"Our treasurer [Mike Davis] is a pretty conservative accountant," Crowder said. "There is risk. But he says the risk is slight."

"We have to be very careful that we don't see anything in the next 30 years that would absolutely destroy us financially: that we would need these PI funds for," Crowder said. "We're a public entity that will pay our mortgage off. We're not going to default on our loans."

While other options may exist, Crowder said renovations would be a nightmare and border on 80 percent of the cost of constructing a new building.

Both Morrish and Crowder point to the old Talawanda High School as a possible site. However, Crowder mentioned the existence of four parties actively seeking to purchase the property. If it were sold, the money would be put toward a new Kramer


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