Ohio County Board of Education Hears Info on Special Election

Levy Brings in More Than $18 Million a Year

Ohio County Board of Education members Sarah Koegler, left, Molly Aderholt and board President Zach Abraham listen in to discussion at Monday’s board meeting. Photos by Joselyn King

WHEELING — Ohio County Board of Education members will think awhile longer on whether to call for a special election this year to renew an excess levy set to expire in 2020.

During their meeting Monday night, members heard from counsel Jacob Manning of the Dinsmore and Shohl law firm, who suggested to the board four different dates for a special election this year if they intend to put the levy up for a vote. The levy, which expires at the end of fiscal year 2020, is expected to generate $18,379,627 in the coming fiscal year, according to Ohio County Schools business manager Steven Bieniek.

The Ohio County Commission office has asked for at least 120 days to prepare for a special election, and this means the earlier the excess levy could go before voters would be October, Manning told the board. Dates also could be set in November, December or January.

“After this, you would be running into the primary,” he told them.

Manning estimated the cost to Ohio County Schools for a special election at $75,000. The school district would not have to pay anything if officials choose instead to place the levy renewal on the May 12 primary ballot next year, he said.

If the levy would fail in the primary election, there would be no opportunity to put the measure before voters before it expires on June 30, 2020, Manning said.

Board members acknowledged county voters have always passed the five-year levy in past elections, but they are proceeding on this renewal. Just last year, Ohio County voters also approved a separate $42.2 million bond issue that is part of a $76 million plan to improve school properties across the district.

Board members said they will take more time to consider the issue and decide at a future meeting.

In other matters, the board met in private executive session for about 50 minutes during their meeting to get legal updates on three lawsuits currently facing the board:

∫ A suit filed by former student Christopher Birch who alleges former teacher Elizabeth Harbert mentally and sexually abused him from the time he was in middle school in 2005, leading to his fathering a child with Harbert by his senior year at Wheeling Park High School. Their relationship continued into Birch’s adulthood, and the couple now has four children.

∫ A suit brought by three teachers at Bridge Street Middle School, alleging they were sexually harassed by principal Joseph Kolb and later faced retribution from him in the school after they reported him.

∫ Litigation filed by Ohio County Education Association President Jenny Craig, who sought to stop board of education members from privately discussing actions against school personnel while they were on strike in February.

No actions on public discussion on the suits took place after the executive sessions.

Assistant Superintendent Rick Jones updated the board on the status of bond construction, and said 50 percent of the lighting in Ohio County Schools has now been replaced with LED bulbs.

Drilling at Elm Grove Elementary to place geo-thermal heating coils is 75 percent complete, and geo-thermal piping has been installed at both Elm Grove and Middle Creek elementary schools, he said.

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