By MORGAN MANNS
FOR THE COURIER
BETTSVILLE — The last senior class has graduated from the Bettsville School District in Seneca County.
When school doors reopen in August, Bettsville’s Washington Street school building will be part of Old Fort Local Schools.
A resolution transferring property from Bettsville to Old Fort was approved this week by the North Central Ohio Educational Service Center board. The transfer goes into effect Monday.
The two neighboring districts began to consider a merger in February, when Bettsville was placed under a “fiscal emergency” with an estimated debt of $775,000.
This month, Gov. John Kasich signed legislation that forgives all of Bettsville’s debt. The section of the bill applying to the district concerns “debt forgiveness for certain consolidating schools.”
According to the bill, it “provides that if the voluntary transfer of a school district results in the complete dissolution of that district and satisfies certain specified conditions, the acquiring school district will acquire the transferring district’s territory free and clear of any indebtedness owed by the transferring district to the state Solvency Assistance Fund.”
Old Fort Treasurer Jaime Pearson said the biggest reason for Bettsville’s debt was declining enrollment, with only 148 students enrolled in the 2013-2014 academic year.
“Those numbers don’t generate enough revenues to cover expenses,” she said, adding that Old Fort had 455 students K-12 last school year.
All students formerly enrolled at Bettsville automatically become Old Fort students with the transfer of property, according to Bettsville school board President Michelle Davis. However, students still have the option to open enroll into other districts.
Former Bettsville students now “will have more opportunities,” Davis said. “They will have more classes to choose from. Bettsville just had the bare minimum for students to get their high school diploma. If we stayed open, we wouldn’t have extracurricular activities. This is actually better for the kids.”
Pearson said no debt problems are expected in the immediate future as a result of the merger. A five-year forecast showed the combined district won’t have any more deficit spending.
Old Fort will be closing its elementary building, according to Pearson. Bettsville will become a campus of the Old Fort School District. The Bettsville building will be used as a K-6 school, while students in grades 7-12 will attend Old Fort High School.
The buildings are located roughly six miles apart.
Old Fort board President Gary Cole said all that’s left to do is transfer equipment, books, desks, and other school supplies to and from school buildings. He said teachers are “working hard to get the rooms in order” before school starts in August.
Davis said most of Bettsville’s staff will be able to keep their jobs. Pearson said some cuts will be made, based on seniority.
Bettsville’s school board will be dissolved, but two members will sit in on Old Fort’s board meetings, according to Cole.
“We’ll need their input to see how their community is responding,” he said. “We’re really glad it’s happened. … We have had overwhelming support. There’s always going to be some naysayers but this is a chance for both communities to work together and get to know one another for the sake of our students.”