SWCS levy and bond stirs debate

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Residents in the South-Western City School District are butting heads over the need of a combined operating levy and bond issue.

Citizen groups for and against the issue attended the Aug. 11 board of education meeting to address board members.

The issue combines a 6-mill operating levy with a 6.33-mill bond issue. The bond would generate approximately $261 million for the district to upgrade facilities. The Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) would contribute 47 percent of the cost, which is around $205 million.

The operating portion would keep the district afloat until 2012.

For the issue

Citizens for South-Western City Schools’ slogan is "chance of a lifetime."

"This is indeed a chance of a lifetime," said group spokesman and retired Central Crossing High School Principal Ed Palmer.

The advocacy group thanked the board of education for passing the resolution that would put the two-part issue on the November ballot. Palmer said voters should accept the state’s offer of $206 million.

"The funds would dramatically improve facilities across the district," he said. "I believe in taking advantage of a bargain."

Palmer also said the operating levy portion of the issue would avoid drastic cuts in the district.

William Phillis, from the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Advocacy of School Funding said he supported Palmer’s citizens group and the efforts of the board.

"This board has been very conservative," said Phillis, who has lived in the district for 32 years. "This district is not high in terms of local property tax."

Phillis said it is critical that voters pass the issue because "the state won’t step up."

Against the issue

While some groups campaign to pass the levy, others fight it.

Terry Jones, from South-West Against Taxes (SWAT), said he is fed up with the drain on his income that comes from the district. Speaking on behalf of SWAT, Jones said with record high gas and energy prices, along with the decline in the housing market, this is the wrong time to ask voters for additional income.

"This combined issue could not have come at a worse time," he said.

Jones added, "This board never seems to have an alternative plan. Alternatives are needed."

Jones said the board of education should consider the idea of district conversion schools.

"Charter schools could be the wave of the future," he remarked.

Jones said charter schools operate at a lower cost than most public school districts. He also said SWAT is considering having a few members of the opposition group run for board seats when they become available.

About the issue

The 6-mill operating levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $189 a year. The owner of a $150,000 home would pay $284 annually and those with a $200,000 home would pay $378.

District Treasurer Hugh Garside said this is the least amount of millage that would carry the district through 2011 otherwise SWCS would face an $8.1 million deficit. The levy would maintain educational programs currently offered by the district.

The bond issue allows the district to replace 13 elementary schools, four middle schools and Franklin Heights High School. The other schools would receive facility upgrades and improvements in technology and security. Most of the replacement buildings would be at the same location as the current standing buildings.

All modular units would be eliminated and space would be allocated for all-day everyday kindergarten.

Garside said he does not have the exact figures as to how the bond would break down to homeowners, but said he is having a meeting with OSFC representatives within the next few weeks to discuss the funding.

"We want to only pass the bonds as the money is needed," said the treasurer. "That way it will help keep the cost down."

Garside said he should have the break down by the end of the month.

South-Western is the sixth largest public school district in Ohio. It covers approximately 127 square miles and serves more than 21,000 students. Enrollment is expected to increase by 1,700 students over the next 10 years.

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