Blanchester school district seeks levy renewal; emphasis on replacing aging buses

By John Hamilton - News Journal

BLANCHESTER — “We have buses that are older than our students,” according to Blanchester Local Schools Superintendent Dean Lynch.

Voters in the Blanchester school district will be asked to renew a permanent improvement levy on the May 2 primary election ballot. The board of education approved a resolution to place the expiring levy on the ballot at a January meeting.

“The five-year levy was first approved by district voters in 1987, and has been supported by the community six times in its 30-year history,” said Board President Keith Gibson. “Not increasing taxes and keeping the Homestead Exemption tax break for our taxpayers was a factor in going with a renewal.”

All dollars received from the levy can be used only for capital outlay projects in the district, stated district officials. None of the estimated $110,000 that the levy will annually yield can be used for employee salaries or benefits.

Some projects which levy funds have been used for in the past were new roofs, repairs on driveways, parking lots and sidewalks, interior/exterior doors, security cameras and keycards, lawn mowers, buses, hot water heaters, athletic facilities, and classroom equipment such as desks, smart boards and computers, officials from the district said.

“One hundred and ten thousand dollars sounds like a lot of money, and it is,” said District Treasurer Darlene Kassner. “However, the cost of one school bus exceeds $80,000, which doesn’t leave much money for other capital projects in the district.”

District Transportation Supervisor Barb Prater said, “Even with the purchase of three new buses the last couple of years, the average age of our fleet is approaching 15 years. The life expectancy of a school bus is about 10 years.”

“The last few years we have seen an increase in mechanical and in body repairs because of rusting to our buses,” Prater added. “A few days in December when we had that cold spell, nine of 27 of our buses — or 33 percent — were out of service.”

“The last couple of years the Board of Education has made an effort to begin replacing some of our older buses,” said Lynch. “Our current fleet has one 26-year-old bus, two 21-year-old buses, and four 19-year-old buses. Passage of the renewal levy will help the board to continue to address this need in our Transportation Department.”

Committee: New buses needed

Community members within the school district organized a committee to help with the longstanding Permanent Improvement Renewal Levy. Chairman James Kidwell, from the Wayne Township area, said, “We have good representation from Marion, Jefferson and Wayne Townships. Anyone wanting information about the levy can contact the school or any member on the committee.”

Committee members also include Jamie Bowling, June Bowling, Darlene Kassner, Donna Lansing, Dean Lynch, John Porter, Phil Trivett, Crystal Waldron, Jason Whitaker, Mike Williams and Kyle Wilson.

The committee organized in February and gathered information about the levy. In March discussions centered on obtaining revenue sources, how to promote the levy and what message they wanted to get out to the voters.

“The committee had a strong desire to put an emphasis on the purpose and type of levy during the campaign.” said Phil Trivett from Jefferson Township, adding, “The purpose of the levy is to provide new buses to address the schools aging bus fleet. Placing on the ballot a long standing “Renewal” type of levy means no additional taxes to the voters.”

“With the life expectancy of a school bus around 10-12 years, the district has shown to be good stewards of maintaining their buses,” said June Bowling. “However, the district is beginning to see an increase of buses breaking down on their routes, not starting in cold weather and rusting issues to the body and frame. Everyone knows putting older vehicles on the roads increases risk and creates safety concerns” said, Committee Vice Chairman Jason Whitaker.

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By John Hamilton

News Journal