Friday, February 25, 2011

Another Look at the Ballantrae Question

As I've continued to ponder this question about whether Ballantrae is truly in jeopardy of being "taken over" by Columbus City Schools, I thought it would be a good idea to reread the language of the Win-Win Agreement. My thinking has changed somewhat as a result.

The Win-Win Agreement defines some terms which need to be put in the context of this discussion:
Annexed Territory means all areas of land which have been annexed to a city or village for municipal purposes, but on the effective date of this Agreement, have not been transferred to the school district of which the city or village is a part.
I believe this definition was created to deal with neighborhoods like The Glen or Golfview Woods, which at the time of the Agreement had already been annexed into Columbus, but remained in the Hilliard School District.

This doesn't seem to apply to Ballantrae, because those parcels of land had not yet been annexed to Dublin when the Win-Win Agreement became effective.
Future Annexed Territory means any area of land that is annexed to a city or village for municipal purposes after the effective date of this Joint Agreement
This would seem to be the definition that applies to Ballantrae. In other words, for the scope of the Win-Win Agreement, Ballantrae is a "Future Annexed Territory."
Municipal School District means the school district of the city in which the Annexed Territory or Future Annexed Territory is located.
If Ballantrae is a Future Annexed Territory, then "the school district of the city in which the... Future Annexed Territory is located" would seem to mean Dublin City Schools if you evaluate the Agreement as though it were written today. But at the time the Win-Win Agreement was signed, the parcels which now make up Ballantrae were in the Hilliard City School District, making Hilliard Schools the Municipal School District for the purposes of the Win-Win Agreement.

I think the challenge of interpreting this definition has to do with the fact that at the time the Win-Win Agreement was written, the focus was the relationship between Columbus Public Schools and the suburbs. It wasn't written with much thought given to cases where the two parties are both suburbs.

Section 4 of the agreement implements the first of my assertions, which is that any parcels in the City of Columbus but a suburban school district at the time the Win-Win Agreement was signed - e.g. The Glen and Golfview Woods - would remain in the suburban school district. It says:
Unless otherwise provided herein, Annexed Territory shall not hereafter be transferred to the Municipal School District for school purposes.
Section 5 of the agreement deals with all future annexations. I'll take the liberty of reordering the phrases to help make it more understandable:
Future Annexed Territory [e.g. the parcels which now make up Ballantrae] shall be automatically transferred for school purposes to the Municipal School District [e.g. Hilliard City Schools], except Future Annexed Territory from such other school districts as are identified and set forth in Exhibit A1 through A7..."  unless:
  • otherwise provided within, OR;
  • otherwise provided in a valid agreement entered into between two or more Boards of Education [ie - an annexation/transfer agreement already in force between two or more school districts], OR;
  • provided in an agreement between two or more Boards of Education, reached not later than ninety (90) days after the effective date of an Annexation [ie - an annexation/transfer agreement can still be worked out for 90 days following an annexation].
So what of all that language applies to the Ballantrae situation?

The exhibits referred to in the first paragraph of this section are descriptions, in words, of various areas of undeveloped land which Columbus City Schools agreed could be left in the suburban school district without fear that Columbus City Schools would later lay claims, even after it is developed, houses built, and there are kids attending the suburban school district.  The areas described in the exhibits closely mirror the areas described in the water/sewer service agreements each suburb has with the City of Columbus.

While this implements the second of my assertions - that undeveloped land annexed into a suburb under the water/sewer service agreements would remain in whatever school district it was in prior to the annexation - it still doesn't seem to address Ballantrae, because those parcels are not included in Exhibit A4, the one which applies to Hilliard City Schools. Nor are they addressed in Exhibit A6 regarding Dublin City Schools, which seems much more concerned about the parts of the Dublin school district on the east side of the Scioto River. So how then does Ballantrae fit into this Agreement?

The Win-Win Agreement contains a clause which isn't often seen in a civil contract:
Section 8: This Agreement shall become effective only upon the effective date of legislation enacted by the Ohio General Assembly fully authorizing and enabling the provisions of this Agreement... In the absence of such legislation, this Agreement shall be deemed as never having been entered into by any of the Boards of Education.
In other words, this agreement is governed not only by what is "within the four corners of the contract," as the lawyers like to say, but also by that which is written into the Ohio Revised Code, in particular Section 3311.06, which I referred to in the previous article. This law contains its own set of definitions, one of which uses the same name as the Win-Win Agreement, but with a slightly different meaning (text from the ORC is shown in blue to help distinguish it from the language of the Win-Win Agreement):
Annexed territory means territory that has been annexed for municipal purposes to a city served by an urban school district, but on September 24, 1986, has not been transferred to the urban school district.
Compare that to the definition of "Annexed Territory in the Win-Win Agreement:
Annexed Territory means all areas of land which have been annexed to a city or village for municipal purposes, but on the effective date of this Agreement, have not been transferred to the school district of which the city or village is a part.
Notice the introduction of the term "urban school district" in ORC 3311.06, which defines this term this way:
Urban school district means a city school district with an average daily membership for the 1985-1986 school year in excess of twenty thousand that is the school district of a city that contains annexed territory.
In the context of central Ohio, the only school district which meets this criterion is Columbus City Schools. 

It is also ORC 3311.06 which addresses contiguous territory:
The territory included within the boundaries of a city, local, exempted village, or joint vocational school district shall be contiguous except where a natural island forms an integral part of the district, [or] where the state board of education authorizes a noncontiguous school district, as provided in division (E)(1) of this section
... and (E)(1) says:
If territory annexed after September 24, 1986, is part of a school district that is a party to an annexation agreement with the urban school district serving the annexing city [This is true, the Ballantrae parcels are part of the Hilliard School District, which is a party to such an Agreement], the transfer of such territory shall be governed by the agreement [But the Agreement is silent in regard to this situation!]
If the agreement does not specify how the territory is to be dealt with [Which seems to be the case here], the boards of education of the district in which the territory is located and the urban school district shall negotiate with regard to the transfer of the territory which shall be transferred to the urban school district unless, not later than ninety days after the effective date of municipal annexation, the boards of education of both districts, by resolution adopted by a majority of the members of each board, agree that the territory will not be transferred and so inform the state board of education.
Uh-oh.  This seems to say that Columbus Public Schools and Hilliard City Schools should have negotiated a side agreement when the Ballantrae parcels were annexed into Dublin. Or should the negotiation have been between Columbus Public Schools and Dublin City Schools, implying that Ballantrae should have been transferred to Dublin City Schools before the first homes were ever built and occupied?

This is where I need to again remind you that I am not an attorney. I can read the law and agreements as a lay person, and try to interpret what I read based on what I see in black and white before me, using the skills I learned studying logic, computer science and one course in Business Law. But the law is much more complicated than that, as it is augmented and clarified over time through the case law developed from trials and the decisions of judges.

So it seems that the situation with Ballantrae is not clear. Perhaps there is some case law which solves the ambiguity, or perhaps there are some side agreements between the Columbus, Hilliard, and Dublin which clear things up, although I doubt this is the case as it seems like such an agreement would have become public knowledge at some point.

I also suspect that this is an issue which didn't have to be raised right now, just to solve what seems to be a legal and contractual ambiguity. It is not at all clear that the City of Columbus will continue to enforce its long-standing policy of requiring annexation before water/sewer services are extended. One of the principals of the Big Darby Accord is that Columbus will extend water/sewer service into the Accord area while allowing it to remain in the townships. While the land immediately adjacent to Ballantrae is not included in the Big Darby Accord territory, the same motivation for Columbus applies - that the City simply isn't all that interested in taking on the fiscal and operational burden of continuing to extend the frontiers of the City - unless it results in more tax revenue for the City than it will have to expend to serve the newly annexed territory. Residential developments don't meet that criterion - only commercial developments do. 

Note that the development along Hayden Run Rd which was annexed into Columbus also includes a new substantial commercial development at its westernmost reaches, where the Giant Eagle and other businesses now sit. I don't know this to be the case, but I can surmise developers working deals with the City of Columbus where they promise to build a commercial component along with the residential component, as an incentive for the City to accept the annexation and extend the water/sewer service. 

The developer just needs to be willing to make the bet that new housing in the Columbus School District will sell, albeit at a reduced price compared to housing in a suburban school district. So far, that seems to be paying off for the Hayden Run Rd developers, perhaps because that area is served by Centennial High School and its feeders, which have demographics not that different from the suburban districts. If Columbus City Schools reassigned that area to Linden-McKinley High School, I suspect the demand for more houses would evaporate.

Whatever all these dynamics might be, I still feel there is some other motivation for initiating this conversation right now. The people of Ballantrae should ask the instigators exactly what that is.


  1. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for the detailed breakdown on the Ballantrae School District issue. I'm considering buying a house in this area. Are there any updates on this topic? In your opinion, is this subdivision more likely to change hands between Hilliard and Dublin, or is it looking like Columbus will take it over.


  2. Although there hasn't been anything in the news for a while, I believe there continues to be some amount of activity on the part of the folks that seem to want to have Ballantrae transferred to Dublin Schools. I recommend that you make contact with the Ballantrae homeowners' association. Your real estate agent should be able to help with that.

  3. Paul,
    I live in Westerville in Blendon Township served by Westerville Schools. If water and sewer are installed by Columbus along my road, which would put my house within 200 feet of the sewer, and if the board of health makes me tap into the sewer to abandon my septic tank and which to tap would require annexation into Columbus, do you think my school district would change? I don't see any parcels for Westerville in the win win agreement exhibits which lists any exempt future annexed territory. Had the exhibits listed my property I think I would be able to be served by sewer, via annexation, but still maintain Westerville schools. Based on your research do you think I should be concerned?

    1. As I understand things, the Win-Win requirement that when a parcel is annexed into Columbus, it is also reassigned to Columbus City schools was intended to be applied to undeveloped parcels, therefore not impact any existing homeowners.

      However, I do know of a case near me where the homeowner found himself adjacent to a parcel which was in a township when his home was built, but was subsequently sold to developers and annexed into Columbus. This homeowner applied for annexation into Columbus so that he could tap into the Columbus water/sewer system, and as a consequence this home was reassigned to Columbus Schools.

      If your parcel were to be involuntarily annexed into Columbus as part of a requirement for you to hook into Columbus sewer/water, that would seem to be a situation not really contemplated by the designers of Win-Win. However, I don't recall there being any language to exempt a homeowner from the general requirements.

      So yes, I would be concerned. I'm not an attorney or an expert on the Win-Win, so I would advise you to begin asking questions. A good place would be with the Westerville City Schools. The questions that would be on my mind:

      1. Would you indeed be required to tap into the water/sewer system? You would probably need to ask this of the Columbus utility people.

      2. If you are required to tap into the water/sewer system, would you also be required to annex into Columbus? One of the concepts of the Big Darby Accord is that Columbus would no longer require annexation to provide water. But this is a unique situation, and may not apply to your area. Again, a question for the Columbus utilities folks.

      3. If you are required to annex into Columbus, would that trigger the Win-Win condition shifting you to Columbus City Schools? The school district should be able to answer this.

      Please report back as you get answers. The concern you have is exactly what drove the creation of the Win-Win. I've felt it myself, as our home at the time which was on land that had been annexed into Columbus for water/sewer, prior to the development, and we were exactly the kind of neighborhood Columbus Schools was trying to "get back."

  4. I have a question... how would one get a variance for your children to go to a hilliard school directly behind your house, instead of columbus school 45 mins away?

    1. Hilliard City Schools is currently not offering such variances. Please see my response to your other comment.