Vocational School Resists City Annexation


Bryan Rubin, Photo editor

The Joint Vocational School in Pittsfield Township is currently engaged in a legal battle with the city of Oberlin. Oberlin sued the Lorain County Vocational School last June in an attempt to legally annex the school.

Oliver Bok, Editor in Chief

The city of Oberlin wants to expand city limits to include the Lorain County Joint Vocational School, but the school doesn’t want to join.

JVS is currently located in Pittsfield Township, an unincorporated part of Lorain County that does not levy an income tax to residents or day workers. The city of Oberlin believes it has a legal right to take possession of JVS. If Oberlin successfully annexes the school, JVS employees will have to pay Oberlin income tax.

According to Oberlin City Manager Eric Norenberg, when JVS was in the planning process, the number of school districts opting into the vocational school kept increasing, necessitating a larger school. Eventually the school became so large that plans to use a septic tank became unfeasible.

In 1971, the city of Oberlin offered a solution to extend the city’s sewer system outside the city boundaries for JVS use. In return, JVS agreed to be absorbed by the city if Oberlin ever grew to border JVS. Legally, cities can only annex contiguous property.

Norenberg stated that sometime around 2008, Oberlin annexed a property across the street from JVS that made the city contiguous with the school. To Norenberg, Oberlin’s annexation of JVS is simply a matter of ensuring that the school upholds its promise.

“We have a law on the books that’s been there for years — decades — that says we will not provide water or sewer service unless you are annexing into the city. In order for us to continue to enforce that policy for others, we need everybody who has agreed to do that to fulfill their obligation. … We did what we were obligated to do. We installed the sewer line, we have been managing it, maintaining it and treating their sewage for 40 years and they have not fulfilled their part of the obligation.”

To Pittsfield Township Trustee Mark McConnell, however, Oberlin’s push to annex JVS is nothing more than a shameless gambit to increase tax revenue for the city.

“As a private citizen and a public servant, I cannot condone a money grab in public education; public education has enough problems as it is,” McConnell said.

McConnell also noted that he personally opposed the annexation, even though Oberlin would give the township a share of the tax revenue as stated in an agreement made between Oberlin and Pittsfield years ago.

JVS Superintendent Glenn Faircloth also cast doubt on the idea that Oberlin and JVS are contiguous after all.

“We’re looking at different land plots to see what may be possibly contiguous, getting land surveys and all that,” Faircloth said. “It’s a big process because this district was created by land plots: Farmers had donated certain plots of land, you have a railroad track that comes in between. There’s a lot of different land situations that have to be investigated, so we’re still working through that process.”

To Norenberg, JVS has much to gain from becoming part of Oberlin.

“Right now, they get fire protection from Wellington. I think it will be much better for them in terms of emergency response and for their insurance to have fire service from the city of Oberlin right across the street from their facility.”

But in Faircloth’s opinion, the school has had excellent and responsive emergency services for more than 40 years.

“We have never been dissatisfied with the service we have already been receiving, which has been superior,” he said.

Norenberg and Faircloth also sharply disagree on how they would prefer to see the case resolved. Norenberg decried the use of taxpayer funds for attorneys on both sides of the case and said he would love to find a “win-win” solution with some kind of settlement. Faircloth, on the other hand, wants the case to play out in court and have it resolved by the ruling or recommendations of a judge.

A judge recently filed a preliminary injunction allowing Oberlin’s case to progress. According to Norenberg, the case won’t go before a judge for another month or two.

Faircloth took care to emphasize that regardless of the school’s legal battle with Oberlin, JVS will keep doing what it does best: educating young people and teaching them valuable skills.

“We’re still chugging along here at the JVS. We received straight A’s on our report card. We’re very pleased by that. … We’re moving along, we’re moving along,” Faircloth said.