Firelands regroups after levy loss

By Jason Hawk -

Dampened spirits were evident Monday as Firelands school board members faced their recent defeat at the polls.

“Still, I would say we were a small but mighty group,” said superintendent Mike Von Gunten, praising those who campaigned for a levy to build a new 6-12 school building.

That push failed Aug. 2 as just 38.8 percent of voters got behind a hybrid property and income tax levy. Had it passed, it would have raised $29.5 million and allowed Firelands to grab a $6.2 million offer from the Ohio School Facilities Commission.

Von Gunten noted that support for the levy slipped from last November, when it was backed by 43.5 percent of voters. A second try in the March primary garnered 43.7 percent approval before sinking in this month’s special election.

Now the school district has entered “lapsed status” to take the OSFC money.

That means the district officially had 13 months from the time the state first offered the funds to pass a matching levy here.

The deadline has passed but Von Gunten is still holding out hope that something can be done to cash in on the offer. He said he is still in talks with the OSFC and plans to meet with its reps again this fall.

Board of education members did not discuss next steps Monday in dealing with infrastructure problems at the 68-year-old Firelands High School or 106-year-old South Amherst Middle School.

“We’re still maintaining the buildings. It’s just getting to the point where we’re sinking money into them… particularly the South Amherst building is a very, very old building,” board president Ben Gibson told us in the lead-up to the special election.

In other district news, FHS principal Bob Maver said parents are embracing a new student drug testing policy that applies to athletes, club members, and students who drive to school.

“We’ve made it clear this is not a ‘gotcha,’ we’re going to help you,” he said.

If a student tests positive for drug use, the first step won’t be punishment. Educators will tap the LCADA Way and other agencies to help teens get on the right track.

Maver said he plans to talk to kids about the new policy on the first day of school, which in Firelands is Aug. 30, after the Lorain County Fair.

It’s worth noting that more than half of kids at FHS are involved in athletics.

At SAMS, principal Cara Gomez is celebrating a new robotics program.

It was launched in the spring with a $3,500 grant from the Norson Family Foundation. Since then, the Lorain-Medina Rural Election Co-op has agreed to give another $5,000.

Gomez said there was enough room robotics students in the former science and technology classroom. So over the summer, the space was flip-flopped with the school’s old library — which meant moving 15,000 books in 100-degree heat.

“We’re going to be able to offer opportunities for most of the students to get the feel of robotics in the classroom as well as a club,” Gomez said.

She is now soliciting more donations to take kids to competitions, which includes busing, snack, T-shirt, and entry costs.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

By Jason Hawk