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Rough financials, tough choices ahead for New Richmond schools

Posted at 9:47 AM, Sep 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-26 11:57:19-04

NEW RICHMOND, Ohio -- Public school officials in this Clermont County community say everything is on the table -- including a possible tax levy, program cuts and closing a school building -- as they consider how to overcome a $4 million annual revenue shortfall.

The New Richmond Exempted Village School District is hosting a community engagement session at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday evening to update residents on the financial challenges and get their input as part of a master facility planning process launched earlier this year.

The meeting is slated to be held at the district’s Locust Corner Elementary at 3431 Locust Corner Road in Pierce Township. It will mark the third public session to be hosted as the district works to chart a path for the future.

“This a community-wide issue,” Superintendent Adam Bird said. “It’s really important that we be totally transparent with the community to make sure they know what we’re going through and what’s happened to the schools.”

Since 2014, the district has taken one financial blow after another.

For more than five decades, New Richmond schools’ coffers had benefited annually from multimillion-dollar property tax payments from two neighboring, massive utility operations along the Ohio River: The former Duke Energy Beckjord Power Plant and the Zimmer Power Station.

Beckjord closed in 2014 and, following the sale of the Zimmer station to a Dynergy Inc. in 2017, that property lost nearly half of its value. The resulting revenue losses to the district combined with cuts from the state have totaled nearly $4 million each year since, Bird said. 

“This has been a big change for our community,” Bird said. “That’s why we want to engage the community as we go through this step-by-step process to develop a master facility plan and make recommendations to the board.”

The district -- which has roughly 2,400 K-12 students and fewer than 200 teachers and staff -- has hired downtown-based Elevar Design Group to oversee a master planning process.

That effort – expected to run through early next year – is examining:

  • School building configurations, including financial scenarios if the district chose to close one of its three elementary schools or sell other property.
  • Class sizes, staff levels and program offerings at each school.
  • A timeline for a possible tax levy request to address the massive revenue shortfalls. The district has not had a new levy on the ballot for voter approval since 1977.

During Wednesday’s community meeting, Elevar will offer an update on the process and solicit feedback from attendees, Bird said. “There are a lot of issues we have to consider, which is why we have a third party engaged to help us through this process,” he said.