BY MIRIAM SMITH
The Cincinnati Enquirer
DEERFIELD TOWNSHIP -- Residents want their principal to know their children by name. Those attending three meetings last week to discuss the fate of South Lebanon and Kings Mills elementary schools said they don't want their children crowded into one big "super school," officials said.
Now it's up to the Board of Education and school administrators to come up with a solution for the Kings Local School District, which has an estimated 3,560 students.
But first, they want more input from more residents. They also want to discuss the proposals with Union Township and South Lebanon officials and find out where the district is expected to grow.
For the past year, the district has been considering plans to either improve or replace South Lebanon Elementary School because of costly structural repairs needed.
Board members discussed options for the two schools at Tuesday's board meeting, but no decisions were made.
Most board members were most supportive of an option to build a new South Lebanon Elementary School and renovate Kings Mills Elementary School for an estimated cost of $13.6 million. But no consensus was reached on whether they would build a new South Lebanon school at the current building site.
The majority of the 134 residents who filled out surveys last week at the three meetings also indicated that same proposal is their first choice. District spokeswoman Linda Oda said residents rated a close second an option to do a more intensive renovation of both buildings at a cost of $10.4 million.
"I think it's pretty important to get the community some answers as soon as possible, " said Board President Janet Noble.
However, none of the board members voiced support for a proposal to combine the schools to build one school at a central location at a projected cost of $15 million.
Board members Tuesday gave themselves until the end of the year to make a decision so a bond issue could possibly be put on the ballot this spring. No specifics on a bond issue have yet been decided. Treasurer Michael Mowery said a bond issue of up to $16 million would not cost the average homeowner any more tax money because the prior debt was structured to have a millage reduction in 2001. If voters approve a bond issue, rather than increasing taxes in 2000 for a year, the district would use interest earnings to pay off an increase, he said.
Board member Del Landis said he doesn't like the idea of having a "super school" or the cost of funding one, either.
"I still think the downtown (South Lebanon) location is an excellent location," board member Hale Husband said.
Mrs. Noble said that while input from the three forums last week was valuable, she would like to hear from a broader cross-section of the district. She said students living in the Landen area will likely take home surveys to their parents explaining options for the schools.
She said it would not be "viable" to build a new school building for South Lebanon's estimated 250 students, but the solution may be to build a bigger building there and consider redistricting. Board member Steve Contardi said one of the options he supports is building a new South Lebanon school on its existing property and contacting the village about the use of park property across the street for future growth.
Superintendent David Query said he also wants more input from the community and will meet with a member of the Warren County Planning Commission on Monday to get a better idea where growth is expected to occur in the district.
"We did not get a good sampling across the district," Mr. Query said. "I'm not sure how accurate a picture that truly paints."