Monroe school officials this week toured a newly renovated Middletown school to get ideas for what they hope will be their own partially state-funded new school building in the future.
But new school plans for the growing Monroe school district continue to be stalled by delays by a state facilities commission process that was originally expected to move on the Monroe’s initial request in 2017. It’s been an unexpectedly slow process, said Monroe Schools Superintendent Robert Buskirk, but the district remains undeterred as it adjusts to accommodate a rising enrollment in recent years that shows no sign of slowing.
In 2004, when Monroe opened its new grades 2-12 combined school with three wings for various grade levels, the school system’s enrollment was 1,515. The district, which separated from Middletown Schools into its own school system in 2000, now enrolls 2,914 students.
“The district is in a tough position because we do not know when the state portion of the funding will become available and we are in need of space for our students now,” said Buskirk, referring to Monroe’s pending application since 2017 for state funding assistance from the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission for a new school. “If we wait for the funding to come in, the state will fund 68% of the project, which would be an enormous benefit to our community.”
In 2019 the state commission told Monroe school officials it remains on the eligibility list for state funding to help build a new elementary school but the state process had slowed. To earn state funding, local schools must first convince local voters to approve school construction bond tax hikes to cover the portion of the building projects not funded by the state.
Then in 2019 the commission said Monroe’s place as an applicant would continue to be on hold as applicant districts statewide outnumbered available commission funds for the foreseeable future.
In recent years the district has employed a number of strategies to handle growing enrollment, including moving a grade from its other school building, a primary grade school opened in the 1950s and still in use for pre-kindergarten through 1st grade.
Two portable classrooms have been erected outside the primary school building to handle student overflow. And last summer the junior high/high school media center, an athletic training room and an additional unfinished area were converted into classrooms.
“Turning down 68% state funding on a new school and funding it completely local is always an option, but in my opinion it is not a fiscally responsible option. Therefore we are in this difficult position, trying to be creative and make space for our kids, and we just don’t know for sure when the funding will become available.
Despite the delay, Monroe officials continue to plan for when state building funds are freed up. Wednesday evening Buskirk and others toured Middletown’s Rosa Parks Elementary, which in 2021 underwent a $10 million expansion and renovation, and Middletown Middle School, which opened in 2018, for ideas for their own new school building in the future should local voters approve a tax increase.
“It was great touring the new facilities at Rosa Parks and the middle school in Middletown. It gave our facilities committee an opportunity to see some creative options to educational spaces that give students great chances for collaboration and hands on experiences,” he said. “Seeing those facilities will help our committee as we continue to explore options for our district to expand our current facilities.”
Source: Michael Clark, Journal News