By Cecilia Fox
Record Herald Writer
BETHEL TOWNSHIP - It was a night of big discussions for Bethel schools Monday, including the upcoming levy, facilities planning, the purchase of new textbooks, and updating the district’s website.
On May 6, residents will decide on funding for a new addition to and renovation of the district’s school buildings. If the 7.94 mill levy passes, it will generate $22 million dollars for much needed renovations and added classroom spaces.
Over the last few months, the district has emphasized their need for more space. The schools are expecting as many as 400 new students from the Carriage Trails development in the next five years, but will have nowhere to put them unless the levy is passed, school officials have said.
This project would add a new high school wing with more than 20 new classrooms, including science labs and technology space, and a new central cafeteria with more food preparation space and added seating. It would also include various site improvements like more parking, widening State Route 201, and new athletic fields. The district would no longer need to use modular units as classrooms.
Levy money would also be used for renovations to the existing buildings, which will all be kept. Some of the renovations include upgrades to technology, air conditioning, added security, handicapped accessibility improvements, and new restrooms.
During a public open forum before the regular board meeting, residents asked questions about the facilities plan. One resident asked why so much of the site map seemed dedicated to athletic spaces instead of classrooms.
Levy Committee Chair Lori Sebastian explained that, while sports fields take up a lot of space on the site map, only 9 percent of the funds generated by the levy would be spent on athletic facilities.
Board member Scott Hawthorn said that, in order to fix a multitude of problems like parking, traffic issues, and building expansion, the football stadium will have to be moved. He also explained that baseball and soccer fields were included on the site map as placeholders in case the district decides to move those facilities in the future.
Hawthorn also said that the district will be seeking alternative ways of generating funding for the athletic facilities, like offering naming rights to sponsors, so that all of the levy money can be used on the district’s top priority: classroom space.
Other residents attending the open forum wanted to know what the top priorities for the project are, and what the district plans to cut if the project runs out of money before completion.
“Critical things come first,” Hawthorn said. Those critical items are safety, security, and space, he said.
Board President Joe Solch explained that the construction process can be very changeable, and it is hard to say before the project starts what might be cut.
During the meeting, the board approved Shook Touchstone as the district’s construction management firm contingent on the passage of the levy. The board also voted to place advertisements for bids on modular classroom units, which the district will need whether the levy passes or fails.
If it passes, the modular units will be needed to provide classroom space while the building is under construction. They will also be needed as the student population grows due in part to increased in enrollment from the Carriage Trails development.
The board predicts that by 2018, if the levy fails, the district could have to lease or buy as many as 10 modular units. If the levy fails, said board member Brian Moore, the campus could end up looking like “a small trailer park.”
New curriculum and programs
In another big move Monday night, the board approved the expenditure of $80,000 on a new language arts series—including textbooks, ebooks, and an online program—for the elementary school from McGraw Hill.
Elementary School Principal Jodi Petty explained that the district has put off purchasing a new program since 2006.
“We’re well past due for a new elementary language arts series,” Petty said.
According to Curriculum Coordinator Jenny Schilling, the new series aligns with the new common core standards and combines text books with ebooks and online assessments.
The program will allow teachers to target students at all achievement levels, Schilling said. There will also be many resources available to parents. The series will be compatible with all types of mobile devices.
Though this is one of the most expensive elementary language arts programs available, Schilling assured board members that she is still working with the vendor to lower the price of the series.
The board also decided Monday night to make the switch from half-day to full day kindergarten. Currently, a student in a half-day program is funded as half of a students. By transitioning to a full-day program, Bethel will receive more funding per student.
After a request from music teacher Laura Wolford, the school board approved her plan to start a junior high musical program next school year.
“We already have a very fabulous high school program,” Wolford said. “But I think that a junior high musical would really help, because it would support the high school program and prepare students for what it’s like to be in a production of that level.”
A junior high musical would be shorter and more scaled back, while still helping students build confidence and public speaking, acting, and performing skills. Wolford explained that a junior high musical would be another outlet for student participation and creativity, especially as the district grows.
Seventh and eighth grade students would be involved in the production, although sixth graders could join the chorus. Wolford said that high school students could help out as the stage and sound crews.
A junior high musical could cost about $1,600 for the show kit and other costs. Wolford said she is applying for grants to fund the program.
Bethel alum and current Wright State University music education major Catie Rash will assist Wolford with the production of the junior high musical.
The district, after numerous complaints about the current page, is considering a brand new website. Visitors to the current site have said that it is outdated and difficult to navigate, Hawthorn said.
The board is considering contracting with eSchoolView to create a new, custom website. Ben Good, Education Account Executive at eSchoolView, came to the meeting to discuss the services they offer.
A district’s web presence is crucial, Good said. A site built by eSchoolView would be easier to update for school officials and simpler to navigate for visitors.
Good explained that there would be no page limits and unlimited space for important information, community calendars, and classroom updates from teachers.
Superintendent Larry Smith said that he believes a new website would improve communication between the district, parents, and residents.