Financial plan for Issue 81 discussed

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 Messenger photo by Andrew Sharp
 The Franklin Heights High School marching band serenaded the Irish Hills neighborhood Sept. 28 in support of Issue 81. If voters pass the combined tax levy and bond, Franklin Heights will be replaced. Bands from all four South-Western high schools conducted mini-parades and rallies in support of the issue.

Election Day is just weeks away and leaders in the South-Western City School District want to make sure residents know the facts.

On Sept. 30, District Treasurer Hugh Garside laid out the financial plan for Issue 81 at a community conversations event at Franklin Heights High School. The issue combines a 6.33-mill bond issue and a 6-mill operating levy, which is the language voters would see on the ballot. Garside explained that a new state program allows the sale of bonds to be sold as needed. Because of this, the district would collect a maximum of 3.69 mills over what residents are currently paying.

The combined 9.69 mills would cost the owner of a $100,000 about $300 annually or $25 per month. The owner of a $200,000 home would pay about $600 a year of $50 a month.

The operating portion of the issue, to maintain current educational services, would keep the district safe until 2012.

"It would allow us to avoid deeper and more drastic cuts," said Garside.

The treasurer explained that the district spends less on operational items than state average.

"The proof is in the numbers that we are spending our money wisely."

Garside also said the district would try to stretch the dollars generated from the tax levy, but they may have to come back to the voters after 2012.

The bond portion of Issue 81 would allow for the construction of 13 new elementary schools to replace 15 buildings. It would also fund the building of four new middle schools and a new Franklin Heights High School.

Tracy Knowles, the parent of a senior at Franklin Heights said she sees the need for a new building, but is not sure this is the right time to ask the community for money.

"I normally support all the school issues, but I just don’t know," said Knowles, who is also a Franklin Heights graduate. "We could use the money to keep good teachers instead of building new buildings."

Lynette Ratliff, who is also a former Falcon, said the high school is in need of improvements, though money is too tight.

"There is no air conditioning at Franklin Heights like there is at the other high schools and it’s not a computer friendly school," said Ratliff. "They need major improvements, but there are too many seniors on a fixed income."

The state has offered to contribute $206 million to the facilities project that includes replacing the high school built in 1955. Garside said the project would replace or renovate all the district facilities and the new buildings would be more energy efficient.

"It would also eliminate $60 million in need for roofs, boilers and other repairs," Garside noted.

The facilities project would provide technology and security upgrades, space for all-day everyday kindergarten, and the elimination of modular classrooms.

The district was originally slated to receive state funds in 2011, but due to a statewide tobacco settlement, the state has bumped the district up. The Ohio Schools Facilities Commission (OSFC) would fund about 47 percent of the facilities project.

The $260 million, which would be funded by the taxpayers, would be repaid annually over a maximum period of 28 years. If voters fail to pass the combined issue, the district would lose the state money. They could reapply after a year.

For more information on Issue 81, log onto the district’s Web site at www.swcs.us.

The next community conversations meeting will be held on Oct. 8 at Central Crossing High School at 7 p.m. District leaders plan to address academic progress. Another meeting will be held on Oct. 16 at Westland High School at 7 p.m. to discuss the future of education.

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