CCS ready to take it to voters

The decision to replace outdated textbooks and buses, upgrade technology and begin a facilities construction and renovation plan rests in voters’ hands in less than two weeks.

Columbus City School district voters will face Issue 75 on the ballot Nov. 4, which involves a $164 million, 1.13-mill bond issue and a 7.85-mill permanent operating levy.

Though the bond portion of the issue won’t cost taxpayers any new money, the levy will cost an owner of a $100,000 home an estimated $240 a year.

If passed, the $164 million bond issue would have a lifespan of 24 years and would be collected at its current level of 3.9 mills. The bond would assist in the purchase of 187 new buses to replace an outdated fleet, textbooks and new technology, according to district spokesperson Jeffrey Warner. He added some of the buses in the district’s fleet are more than 20 years old, with more than 300,000 miles driven. The computers, he said, are more than seven years old, with outdated technology.

The bond would also allow the district to move forward with a construction plan, which would include building up to 12 new schools and the renovation of 18 buildings.

The 7.85-mill permanent operating levy would restore a 40-minute period that had been previously cut from the school day two years ago, in order to keep a 3 percent cap on annual spending increases, according to board member Gary Baker, II.

The levy would also assist with additional staff to support course requirements of the Ohio Core curriculum, and help create four new theme-based schools throughout the district.

If the voters turn down Issue 75, the district cannot purchase the buses, textbooks, technology as well as restore the class period, add staff to support the Core curriculum, or build the theme-based schools.

"Without the passage, we’re making huge cuts, but it also means that students don’t get those things they need," Warner said. "There’s no way to afford to get those out of the general fund expenditures."

Regardless of how district residents vote, according to Baker and Warner, the district will have to make some reductions in order to align with its five-year forecast.

"Even with the passage of the issue, the district will still plan to cut spending growth by more than $15 million each year for the next four years," Baker said. "If the issue does not pass, there could be additional lay offs."

If Issue 75 passes, as part of a promise made in August, the board will make the operating levy money last until at least 2012, in part by making $76 million in cuts between this year and 2012. Those cuts would include closing six buildings and reducing staff accordingly. The district also will look at ways to maximize efficiency in the transportation and food services department.

If the issue doesn’t pass, according to Warner, the district will still be financially sound through this fiscal year, ending June 30, 2009, but reductions will have to be effective the next fiscal year, beginning July 1, 2009.

"There will clearly be reductions in staff, in order to balance the budget," Warner said. "While there are no specific positions or programs identified, it will most assuredly impact the students as the staff delivers the information and supports the students."

More than 80 percent of the district’s budget covers personnel, according to Warner.

According to the district’s budget analysis, the district expects a general fund revenue of more than $667 million in fiscal year 2008-09.

School board President Dr. Terry Boyd affirmed the district will remain financially safe until the end of this fiscal year, but said the board will have to begin planning the reductions if the issue fails, immediately.

"We’ll still have to close a couple of schools, at least," Boyd said. "And layoffs will unfortunately be substantial. I foresee the bus service being reduced, maybe the busing of the high school students. And unfortunately, maybe some other extracurricular activities could be reduced."

Boyd anticipates going to the voters again if the issue doesn’t pass Nov. 4.

"We have no choice," he said. "We want to continue the positive trajectory on with our students. If the issue fails to pass this time, it will hurt us."

It’s better to pass the issue this year than the next election, Boyd added.

"Even if we pass the issue in spring 2009, we won’t begin collecting on it until January, 2010," he said. "So, the first half of the 2010 fiscal school year is affected. It will hit home how important the levy is (if it doesn’t pass). And I hope people don’t have to go through the pain of the levy not passing."

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