School Board okays plan to return book fees to parents

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The Switzerland County School Board on Monday night approved a plan put forth by the School Endowment Corporation to phase in the return of parents paying for textbook rental and fees over the next five years.

For more than a decade, textbook rental fees have been paid by the Endowment Corporation by the use of riverboat revenue sharing funds that are given to the endowment through the Switzerland County Council. Those same funds have been used through the years to pay the debt service portion on the schools that are found on property taxes that landowners pay.

Cuts over the past few years in the amount of funding that the endowment has received from those riverboat revenues means that the endowment can no longer pay both the debt service for the school and the textbook rental fees without dipping into its reserves.

The endowment approved a plan at its March meeting that it will pay 80-percent of the textbook rental fees for the 2017-2018 school year; which leaves parents to cover the other 20-percent.

That percentage will then slide over the coming years, each year adding another 20-percent that parents will be responsible for: 40-percent for the 2018-2019 school year; 60-percent for the 2019-2020 school year; 80-percent for the 2021-2022 school year.

Beginning with the 2022-2023 school year, parents will again pay all of the textbook rental fees for each child.

“The endowment had voted at their last meeting to start a 20-percent decrease each year starting next year, so the board did approve for next year to pay 80-percent of textbooks,” School Superintendent Mike Jones said. “There was some discussion on the board by Joe Bennett that he would like to see the county or the school corporation try and come up with the other 20-percent, at least for one year, to give parents another year to get ready. So I look for this to be revisited at some point.”

Jones said that the actual amount of each student’s book fees varies from grade level to grade level; along with what classes a student is taking while in high school. Also figured into the sum will be the Chromebooks that each student in grades 4-12 gets to do their school work.

Noting that it was only a guess and an estimate, Jones figures that the average book rental fee will be $200-$300 per student. If that holds true, parents for the 2017-2018 school year would pay approximately $40-$60 per student; then that figure would rise in following years.

“There can be some difference, based on students who qualify for free and reduced (book fees, which is based on the same criteria at free and reduced lunch programs), but we’re thinking overall we’re thinking that the entire sum will be $165,000-$170,000,” Jones said. “I don’t know that we have an average book bill, because it varies from class to class; but the number does include the Chromebook.”

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The school board also heard more information on the future of the old Elementary/High School on Seminary Street.

“The board had asked me to get some numbers, on one hand for renovation and on another hand for demolition; and I gave the board a range at the meeting,” Jones said.

For demolition, one estimate was between $100,000 and $150,000; but the firm providing the information said that the total sum could be impacted based on the amount of asbestos that is in the building once demolition starts. Because that is a hazardous material, special procedures must be followed in order to remove it and then dispose of it, so that cost could rise.

An estimate to renovate the building that mainly involves what the superintendent termed “cosmetic type” work, which would include: windows, carpet, ceilings, and plumbing – was estimated at $189,000; but the contractor noted that if an upgrade to the buildings heating and air conditioning systems was done, the number would rise to approximately $300,000.

“I think these numbers were not meant to be hard numbers,” Jones said. “I think the numbers were just meant to be a starting point for the school board to begin discussions. I think the board is moving in the direction of making a decision. We’re also going to get a company from West Chester, Ohio, and they basically come down and identify how much asbestos we have; and they’re coming on Friday to do that. We will know more after that.”