If supporting the future of Belpre by voting YES for the upcoming school levy is something you intend to do, I like the way you think, but I didn’t write this with you in mind. This letter is intended for those who remain undecided and/or unsupportive of the proposed levy initiative. But before I try to convince the naysayers to reconsider their position, I think it is important to explain that I’m not an “outsider” trying to tell you what to do, nor do I represent an organization with no skin in the game. The truth is quite the opposite on both counts.
As the son of a 1972 BHS grad, I grew up with the Black & Orange all around me. From the ages of 8 to 12, I played basketball in the Belpre youth league, and as a junior and senior in high school, I played baseball for Belpre Legion Post 495. I also lived in Belpre for a year as a young kid where I spent a considerable amount of time enjoying all the amenities Civitan Park has to offer. With strong family ties to Belpre, and numerous other anecdotes that endear me to it, it’s safe to say Belpre is a second hometown to me.
In 2019 I continued strengthening my connections to Belpre by joining the Belpre Area Chamber of Commerce (BACC) Board of Directors. Shortly thereafter I took over as Chairman of the BACC’s Economic Development Committee where I supported the launch and development of the City’s Economic Development Strategy (also known as the Burton Plan). By the time the final report was issued in March of last year, I was wrapping up my first year as Executive Director for the Southeastern Ohio Port Authority (SeOPA). As the lead economic development agency for Washington County, SeOPA has been actively engaged in development efforts in, and around Belpre for two decades. The Port Authority also supported the development of the Burton Plan by contributing $10,000.00 towards the cost, in addition to providing more than 350 hours of staff time in support of the project.
The final, and perhaps the most relevant connection I have to Belpre’s current situation, comes from witnessing firsthand Warren’s multiple failed attempts before finally passing their levy initiative. Now that the schools are built and operational, we are seeing the positive economic impacts that a more efficient, and welcoming academic and sports campus can provide. New schools are proven economic catalysts thanks to their ability to infuse energy into a community, unlike many other investments. Families flock to new schools and in the era of work-from-home, communities can recruit and retain families based on the quality of their schools as much (or more) as they can with employment opportunities. Belpre has long been considered a “bedroom community”, which I consider to be a positive affirmation that Belpre is a great place to live and raise a family, but there’s an undeniably weak link in that equation: the current physical condition of the schools.
To be frank, the future of Belpre looks bleak without new schools. Families (and businesses) will continue to choose other communities to put down roots, which will decrease Belpre’s tax base, which in turn creates a host of other funding issues that can – and will – impact police and fire, streets and sidewalks, and numerous other public service amenities. The voters of Belpre have an opportunity to change the status quo, to invest in their youth and the future of the community, and initiate transformational economic growth that will only be rivaled by Shell Chemical’s investment 60+ years ago.
As a lifelong neighbor from Warren Local, I am excited about the prospect of two adjoining districts transforming their communities by rebuilding and redefining their schools. As the Executive Director of SeOPA, in order for me to promote Belpre to potential funders and investors, new schools will be necessary to achieve any level of measurable success. I’ve spent enough time working in Belpre, with most of Belpre’s key leaders and stakeholder groups to know that Belpre’s youth are held in high regard by almost everyone. There’s no time like the present to ensure that the legacy of the Black & Orange is anchored by stable, sustainable funding for future generations of BCS students. If I had a vote, I’d vote YES in support of the Belpre City Schools levy on May 3, 2022.
If you remain undecided after reading my plea for voting YES, I encourage you to visit www.betterschoolsforbelpre.com to learn more about the costs associated with this project and why this investment is both reasonable and necessary.
Jesse C. Roush, Executive Director