BARLOW - A Warren Local Schools bond issue was voted down for a third time during a special election by a margin of only 155 votes.
According to unofficial results from the Feb. 8 special election, 2,174 residents voted for the issue, while 2,329 voted against it. That's 51.72 percent versus 48.28 percent, with about 30 absentee ballots and 33 provisional ballots still to be counted, according to the Board of Elections.
When the bond issue failed in May and August, 58.8 and 57.7 percent of voters opposed it, respectively.
Barlow-Vincent Elementary students try to listen to their teacher as students visit their lockers and move in the hallway behind them. Most of the classrooms at the school have no walls or doors to block sound, one of the issues the district hoped to address with a bond issue that was defeated for a third time Feb. 8.
It passed Feb. 8 in six of 14 precincts, with 44.5 percent of registered voters casting a ballot.
"There are a lot of positive things to take away from this," said Warren Superintendent Tom Gibbs, after the results came in at the Washington County Courthouse. "We had a higher yes vote and higher voter turnout. We gained 500 yes votes, give or take, and about 100 no votes over the last time. It was very close."
If passed the bond issue would have provided the local share of building all new schools in the district, with the Ohio School Facilities Commission funding 58 percent of the project.
The Warren Local Board of Education has another chance to pass the issue in May before their window for obtaining the state money closes.
The board planned to meet the week after the election in the administration office for its regular February meeting and Gibbs said he expects a decision then on whether the board will move forward with placing the entire bond issue on the May 3 ballot or choose to pursue a segmenting option, which would mean constructing only some of the new buildings.
Board member Sid Brackenridge said the close results reinforced his belief that the board should place the full issue back on the ballot.
"It was almost a split decision," he said. "I think we need the whole thing. It's a chance for five new buildings for the entire district and $40 million we're being given to do it."
Lydia Hunter, president of the Warren Local Education Association, said she also supports placing the bond issue back on the ballot without changes.
"We should not segment," she said. "In my opinion we should put it back on at full tile because the need is real. We made up lots of ground. It's very encouraging. Obviously they're getting the message that this is not some trivial situation."
Gibbs said he'll also be making recommendations on reductions to go into place for the next school year. If the bond issue would pass in May, those items can be reconsidered, he said.
"This puts the board in a very difficult decision because they can't bank on anything passing in May," he said. "It's failed three times now so we have to assume it will fail again and plan reductions and get bids on repairing buildings."
Gibbs had given the board a list of possible cost-cutting options in January, including instituting a pay-to-participate sports program, eliminating high school busing and significant teacher and staff cuts. The reductions would be necessary in order to fund needed repairs to the district's existing facilities, which would take five to six years to address even if every cut on the list was made.
"It's going to be difficult," he said Tuesday. "We've already reduced 50 full-time positions, gotten rid of electives, closed school buildings...and done everything we could reasonably consider. The previous cuts hurt but the next ones are going to have a significant impact on families."