Vote may come soon on Lakota grade configurations for schools

·3 min read

Sep. 10—There could be a school board vote coming in November on a possible reconfiguration of grades in Lakota's 24 school buildings in future years, but any decisions on sweeping proposals to replace and renovate older buildings will come later, said members.

The Lakota Board of Education's facilities committee, which includes all five members, met earlier this week and came away with a consensus.

They said the four options for replacing aging buildings and upgrading learning space will be narrowed down in a board vote at some future date only after the board has agreement on what grades will be offered in the district's buildings in November.

A vote on deciding which grades should be reconfigured into Lakota's existing buildings, whether they remain as is or are replaced by new buildings, will take place in November, members agreed.

Given the scope of the four proposed facilities plans, which currently range in cost from $491 million to $514 million and would include state funding to cover almost 30 percent of funding, a non-hasty approach to the district's future facilities is best, said members.

"This is a 10-year, phased in project," said Board Member Julie Shaffer. "And this (plan) will be for the next 30 to 50 years" in meeting the facility needs of Butler County's most populous school system, which in the last year has grown from a 17,000 to a 17,200 enrollment.

Some of the district's two dozen school buildings are aging or increasingly inadequate when it comes to providing modern learning spaces, Lakota officials have said.

School officials repeated their stance of not having yet determined when residents in West Chester and Liberty townships would be asked to vote on a proposed school tax increase to fund new schools and building upgrades.

But Board Member Darbi Boddy said whenever discussions turn to a possible tax bond issue, the state of the nation's declining economy and rising inflation's impact on school families should be paramount in the board's decision-making process.

"It's a horrible time to project major expenditures that might create a (budget) deficit," said Boddy.

She added, however, "I still want to have conversations around it (the facilities plan)."

School Board President Lynda O'Connor said "I agree with Mrs. Boddy's point that we are not in a place to put a bond issue in front of our community in any way."

Members asked Lakota Superintendent Matt Miller to provide more information on three of the four facility plan options — Options 1, 3 and 4 — and added they will also heavily weigh community input, which has been gathered for months through public meetings on the topic, with more meetings planned in the coming months.

Three of the four plans, as they are currently formulated, would include the closing of 10 existing schools.

Member Kelley Casper said the community should not think the board is rushing into anything regarding facilities.

The initial discussions by Lakota officials occurred prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 and were put on hold until the virus' impact on schools had stabilized and allowed a greater degree of normalcy in the 2021-2022 school year.

"Picking a (grade configuration) plan in November does not mean we are digging (construction start) dirt in December," said Kelley.

The board's next regularly scheduled, full meeting is 6:30 p.m. Monday at Lakota Plains Junior School at 5500 Princeton Road.

More information on the four, proposed facility plan options — and future public meeting dates and locations to gather community input on the options — can be found on Lakota's website.