Board of Ed Progresses On Facility Levy, Implicit Bias Programming Plan

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ATHENS, Ohio — The Athens City School District Board is another step closer to putting a bond issue to fund the facilities improvement plan on the November ballot after a lengthy meeting.

Tony Schorr, from Schorr Architects, presented a set of locally-funded initiatives to the board Thursday night.

“The board needs to decide whether they want to put additional locally-funded initiatives into the project budget so certain things the state will not cofund will be included,” he said.

The board selected nearly $8 million worth of additional LFI’s that include:

– Security and parking renovations to the middle school facility

– A five-court tennis facility

– Auditorium seating and stage to match the current auditorium

– “Special needs” square footage increases, material upgrades and reserve funds anticipating inflation over the course of the project

The LFI’s will be part of the $60 million price tag the district initially estimated it will be responsible for in the nearly $90 million project. Other funds will come from the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission and credits from previous projects.

The master plan previously approved by the board would build two schools housing preschool to third grades, one on the East Elementary site and one on the Morrison Gordon grounds. Renovations would be made at The Plains Elementary School building and would hold grades four through six. Athens Middle School would also be renovated and house seventh and eighth-graders. A new Athens High School building would be constructed on the current AHS campus and house grades nine through 12.

Officially adopting the LFI’s finalizes the facilities master plan and allows the board to create a resolution outlining the levy proposal for its next meeting.

Matt Bunting, ACSD Treasurer, provided estimates on what the 30-year, $60 million levy would mean for taxpayers.

A homeowner living in the district would pay $186 annually on a $100,00 home with the levy interest rate set at 3.75 percent. The total would increase to $204 annually on a $100,000 with the levy interest rate set at 4.75 percent.

Bunting said they did two estimates because the 3.75 percent interest rate used current numbers. But because they are not issuing the levy currently, they used the 4.75 percent interest rate to account for future increases.

The resolution will have to approved twice before all of the documentation is sent to the Athens County Board of Elections approval. The board is up against an early August deadline to get that documentation in.

The board also discussed a possible timeline for if the levy is approved with Shorr.

He estimated that the design process would begin as soon as possible after the levy was approved and the funds come in January of 2020. The best-case scenario would see construction begin in spring  2021. And the elementary students would be first to move into a new building in 2023.

“It just depends on the team and whether you can even start [preliminary construction] in late 2020.” Shorr said.”

Also during Thursday night’s meeting, Superintendent Tom Gibbs updated the board on developing programming to teach students about implicit bias and racial sensitivity.

He said he would like to make it an addendum to the Responsive Classroom model the district intends to fully adopt in order to meet the state’s social-emotional learning standards.

The first step would be to send out a needs assessment to students and families asking them about their experience with biases and discrimination in the district and Athens community.

“Since our last meeting, I’ve had many great conversations with our community and some experts who have indicated [the district’s current programming] isn’t enough,” Gibbs said. “If we want to truly give our students an explicit education on implicit bias, then we need to have a program that does that.”

Focus groups from the community will then be formed to help shape programming on top of the Responsive Classroom model.

After an investigation at Athens High School found that students at the school “routinely use racially charged language, tell racially inappropriate jokes and otherwise racially harass one another,” Gibbs said the district began working with the Ohio University Department of Social and Public Health to arrange programming to help administrators and teachers learn how to battle the problem.

“We have a long way ahead of us,” he said. “We want a change in culture and a change in culture doesn’t happen overnight.”