Nashport Elementary: details on expansion project scarce, officials won’t comment

Nashport+Elementary%3A+details+on+expansion+project+scarce%2C+officials+wont+comment

By Staff Report

Nearly two decades after school board members, all of whom are no longer serving, chose to keep Tri-Valley’s four elementary schools against recommendations of consolidation, the district is looking to add on to its southernmost building, Nashport Elementary, likely due to rising enrollment numbers that aren’t being experienced at the other three locations.

An analysis by Y-City News has found that, at least in part, that decision has created difficulties for the district. The classroom expansion project at Nashport is expected to cost somewhere in the ballpark of $4.1 million dollars.

What Tri-Valley faced and is now dealing with isn’t unique, voters often want elementary schools close to home. The state, which often picks up a lion’s share of the cost of construction, prefers buildings that are capable of handling variations in student populations over time. Now the wealthiest district in the region, located in the northern part of Muskingum County, must spend millions to expand one of its buildings as overall district enrollment stagnates.

The issue of enrollment at school buildings has been a statewide and national issue for decades. Ohio in particular has been known to struggle with finding a good equilibrium. In 1915, the state had 2,674 school districts, many of which were one-room schoolhouses. Typically, if a student wanted to further their education, they had to enroll in a neighboring district that was lucky enough to have a high school. Many students in Muskingum County traveled to Zanesville to attend the city school district.

While the issue of consolating school districts was already in open discussion for numerous reasons during the 1950s, cost savings and class offerings being the major two, the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik 1 made clear to both civilian and military leaders one upsetting reality, America was falling behind, especially in the sciences. The Ohio Legislature offered incentives to small districts to merge or consolidate and they also made it financially difficult to keep those smaller districts operating. It was during those years that Muskingum County observed the most consolidations of recent memory.

Tri-Valley, for example, is the byproduct of the merger of the Frazeysburg-Nashport School District, the Jefferson School District (Dresden) and the Adamsville School District. Until recently with the introduction of majority state assistance in the construction of school buildings, thanks in part to the DeRolph v. Ohio school funding lawsuit, many of the buildings from former districts remained and were utilized. Before Tri-Valley built a new middle school, the old Jefferson High School and Frazeysburg-Nashport High School were used as various grades’ junior highs.

The state, first through the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission and later through the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, created universal floors for the minimum number of students a building could hold that they would help finance the construction of. The idea was to make buildings resilient to the ebbs and flows districts often observe with student populations from year to year. Overall, the state has seen an overall trend of less student enrollment.

Some districts, like Olentangy, have grown rapidly with an average growth of 30 percent per year, going from 1,487 students in 1977 to 20,640 in 2021. Others like Cleveland have gone from having 100,463 students districtwide in 1977 to only having 31,209 students in 2021. A majority of districts have lost students over time. Tri-Valley had 2,773 students in 1977, in 2021 they reported 2,638, a modest 5 percent decrease in enrollment. Zanesville, in comparison, had 5,554 students in 1977, 44 years later they reported only 2,560, a loss of roughly 54 percent, much of which has been taken by schools like West Muskingum and Tri-Valley, both in the movement of residents and through open enrollment.

In the early 2000s when it was decided Tri-Valley would construct new school buildings, one of the toughest decisions district leaders had to make was in regard to their elementary buildings. The state provides a majority but not the totality of funds, requiring local taxpayers to vote and approve a levy to cover the difference. What is seen around the state is that taxpayers want those buildings near to them, not just to keep their property values up, but because many express the desire to have at least their youngest children close by, thus multiple elementary schools and not one big consolidated building. The state’s often counterpoint is that it isn’t an economical or wise decision, buildings are designed to last for decades, and many reach their 100th year. As populations shift from rural to urban, there is a legitimate concern that some buildings will lose population and thus enrollment and others will exceed their designed capacity.

An example of such a scenario is that of the Switzerland of Ohio Local School District, which of all the 611 districts in the state, covers the most territory at 546 square miles. Tri-Valley, in comparison, is the 15th largest school district by land area with roughly 228 square miles.

In 1992 Switzerland had 14 buildings, many of which housed elementary students. As of 2021, they now only have nine, most of which are new buildings, including three high schools, each accompanied at its location by an elementary school, as well as one centrally located career center. Switzerland, a rural district east of Muskingum County, has lost 60 percent of its enrollment since the 1970s. After the newly constructed Beallsville High School, which houses grades K-12, was open for less than a decade, the school board voted in 2015 to close it, due to loss of enrollment and thus higher than average overhead costs, though a local court ultimately overruled that decision. During the 2021-2022 school year the building only housed 272 students, one classroom per grade, roughly what Adamsville and Frazyersburg Elementary each respectively hold now with preschool through sixth grade classrooms.

In other cases like with Olentangy, the school district is constantly having to construct new buildings to keep up with increased enrollment, as are many of the school districts that surround Columbus, for example, including those in western Licking County.

When Tri-Valley officials built the district’s four elementary buildings, they chose to make Adamsville and Frazeysburg identical and Dresden and Nashport identical, the latter of which are larger structures. The choice to build four elementary buildings helped get the levy passed but also established difficulties the district would have to encounter in the future. Three of the buildings, Adamsville, Dresden and Frazeysburg were built on or closely nearby where the former buildings stood, Nashport wasn’t.

The former Nashport Elementary was built and paid for by the Federal Government when the Dillon Dam was established and its predecessor had to be demolished, it was located nearby along SR-146. In the early 2000s, when the school board was planning the construction of the new buildings, they chose to relocate Nashport Elementary to Creamery Road, near the southernmost edge of the school district. Some neighboring districts, like Zanesville City Schools, chose to keep multiple elementary schools when they constructed new buildings, others like West Muskingum and Maysville chose to go to a single districtwide elementary, both of which placed such buildings into a campus with all their other buildings, like their middle school and high school.

To understand Tri-Valley’s current predicament, we pulled building and district enrollment data for every year since the elementary buildings opened in 2008. That year the district had 3,197 students across its six buildings. Last fall, the district reported having 2,858 students, though most of the loss appears to be at the high school and likely represents post-secondary and career center losses. To create a more accurate picture, we looked at K-8 enrollment district-wide over the 13-year span. Tri-Valley had 2,138 such students in the Fall of 2008 and 2,078 students in the Fall of 2021, a loss of only roughly 60 students. Hence it appears overall the district isn’t gaining students, it’s maintaining them with slight losses, but that those intra-district boundaries, the territory that determines what elementary school a student attends, each have different patterns of enrollment.

Tri-Valley, unlike many districts around the state, doesn’t make those boundary files available online and thus we haven’t been able to do a more thorough examination using Census Data.

What is evident is that Nashport is experiencing higher enrollment than the rest, what is unclear is if that is due to additional residents in the district with children or more open enrollment. When the buildings were opened in 2008, Dresden Elementary actually had 55 more students than Nashport Elementary. Last year, Nashport had more than 100 additional students and has for multiple of the past few years.

By examining Tri-Valley’s website, it appears that both Adamsville and Frazeysburg, each of which also houses preschool classrooms though they didn’t when they originally opened, have 2 classrooms per grade. Dresden has three per grade and Nashport a complexing assortment.

At Nashport this year, according to the school’s webpage, there are three kindergarten classrooms, four 1st grade classrooms, five 2nd grade classrooms, three 3rd grade classrooms, four 4th grade classrooms, four 5th grade classrooms and four 6th grade classrooms.

Some schools like neighboring Zanesville have opted to move their 6th graders to a proposed addition at its middle school allowing for more districtwide preschool classrooms.

It appears Tri-Valley also busses, or at least has in the past, some students that should go to Dresden Elementary to Adamsville Elementary, though beyond that it doesn’t appear the district has been making changes to its intra-district boundaries, and hasn’t since the new buildings were constructed.

According to documents we have examined, Tri-Valley plans to use $4.1 million dollars of its ESSER funds to pay for the expansion of classrooms at Nashport Elementary.

Superintendent Mark Neal and School Board President Scott Ford have not returned multiple requests for additional information surrounding the project, including if those who build or buy homes in the Nashport Elementary district will be allowed to attend the school or if they might be bused to Frazeysburg or Dresden, for example, to help alleviate overcrowding. Y-City News has also not been able to obtain information on open enrollment numbers, both districtwide and at individual elementary buildings, to see the numbers and patterns of students who attend from neighboring districts.

Do you have additional information about this construction project, other information you think our news organizing should know about or want to bring our attention to a matter that needs investigating? We would like to hear from you. Contact us at (740) 562-6252, email us at contact@ycitynews.com or mail us at PO Box 686, Zanesville, Ohio 43701. All sources are kept strictly confidential.