JEFFERSONVILLE, IN (WAVE) - The future of a proposed downtown school in Jeffersonville will be decided by the community.
A petition with more than 500 signatures opposing the $15-million project was turned in to the Clark County Clerk's office, bringing the final decision on the downtown school project to the community to see which side can collect the most signatures. The side with the most support will determine if a school will be built.
Many in the community and even on the Greater Clark County School Board are split on the issue.
"I think everybody deserves to have their voices heard without it being a fight," said Katie Hutchinson, a GCCS school board member. Hutchinson was the sole board member who voted against the downtown school project.
Hutchinson has said she'll respect the board's decision but stressed many of the constituents she's spoken with are against the project. Now that the signatures are in opposing the project, a petition remonstrance process will begin, allowing each side to weigh in and determine the project's future.
Superintendent Andrew Melin said he believes he has the community's support for the project, but expected this opposition.
"Disappointed," Melin said. "Not surprised."
Sides both for and against a proposed downtown elementary school will soon work to collect the most signatures to see if the school will be built. Hutchinson said many in the area don't want it.
"A majority of the people did not support the bond or the location of the school," she said. "But a lot of it is about the money."
Melin said building a new school would be less expensive than keeping what the district currently has. Both Spring Hill and Maple elementary schools cost more to run than other GCCS schools, he said, and both need renovations should the district continue to use them. Building a new school would cost taxpayers $15 million.
"Both of those buildings are in need of upgrades and those upgrades would be about $19 million," he said. "So to upgrade those two buildings would cost more than building the downtown elementary, and to keep those buildings open operationally is more expensive.
"And that's again why this is disappointing, because we feel like we really are acting in our taxpayers' best interest."
Building that new school would raise taxes an average of $23 each year. Hutchinson said the dollar amount of the increase matters but it's not the point.
"And it doesn't take into account all the other times that taxes have been raised," Hutchinson said. "And in the grand scheme of things, it's not a lot of money. But when you keep adding 'not a lot of money', it becomes a lot of money."
One group opposing the district in the project is Say No To GCCS Wasteful Spending. Alice Butler said people are not against a downtown school.
"We already have two downtown schools, and one or both could be renovated for much less money," she said. "We feel that the continuous issuance of bond after bond without another referendum is deceitful of taxpayers and disrespectful.
"(It's) time for honesty and transparency, which are both sorely lacking from this school district."
Melin said from everything he's seen, there is overwhelming community support for the new school, and he believes he'll get the signatures that proves it.
"Hopefully here in a few months, we'll be ready to move forward on building a downtown elementary," Melin said.
A timeline for when that signature collection can begin is expected to be announced by the end of the week. Once the signature collection timeline is publicized, there will be a 29-day waiting period. Once signature collection begins, each side will have 31 days to try and collect the most signatures. The side with the most signatures will win.
If the community chooses to move forward with plans for the school, classes could begin by January 2020.