SWCS levy millage reduced

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District leaders in South-Western City Schools said they have a plan to reduce the millage rate for Issue 81, a combined 6-mill operating levy and 6.33-mill bond issue.

At the Sept. 8 Board of Education meeting, Treasurer Hugh Garside explained that a new state funding program allows districts to segment Ohio School Facilities (OSFC) projects and sell bonds, as the funds are needed.

“We are very pleased with how the financing worked out,” said Garside. “We are fortunate to get new schools for this dollar amount.”

When the county auditor set the bond millage rate at 6.33, it factored in interest rates and property value. Garside said the district would only collect 3.69-mills.

Combining the operating levy and bond issue, the owner of a $100,000 home would pay $300 a year or $25 per month. The owner of a $150,000 would pay $450 annually and the owner of a $200,000 would see an increase of $600 per year or $50 per month.

Garside said this is the maximum impact that taxpayers would face. The price could decrease, but it would not increase.

“This allows us to take chunks of money as needed for construction,” Garside noted. “It also allows us to keep the burden on taxpayers down.”

The state would contribute $206 million to the facilities improvement project that would enable the district to replace 13 elementary schools, four middle schools and Franklin Heights High School. The remaining buildings would be upgraded. The plan calls for the elimination of all modular units and space for all-day everyday kindergarten.

“I think this is a phenomenal deal,” said Board President Cathy Johnson. “We would get all those new buildings for such a low rate.”

The operating levy would carry the district through 2012. Garside said the district would otherwise face an $8.1 million deficit. The levy is designed to maintain educational programs currently offered by the district.

Board Vice President, Greg McCarty suggested that the board of education send a letter to residents, explaining Issue 81.

“We have never dealt with such a complex issue,” he said. “It is a little much to comprehend.”

McCarty said the board has an obligation to make this issue clear.

“I fear residents will not vote on it if they don’t know all the details,” he remarked.

One resident who will not vote for Issue 81 is Terry Jones, a member of the opposition group South-Western Alternative to Taxes.

“This issue will devastate the income of a lot of families in the district and those on a fixed income,” he told the board at the Monday meeting.

Jones said the group (SWAT) aims to safeguard the interest of Southwest property owners. He believes that in the tough economy, people need to pay their bills or pay for gas or groceries. They do not need to fork over additional funds to the school district.

“This chance of a lifetime comes at a cost to property owners.”

Jones added, “Year after year we are asked to throw our money away at a district that gets a ‘continuous improvement’ grade every year. This district will never get better.”

Despite tough economic times, some residents believe the issue is a “chance of a lifetime” because the state would contribute 47 percent of the cost to build the new schools.

Jill Billman-Royer, a mother of three in the district and a member of the Southwest Public Library Board, said property values would increase and the local economy would improve if the district could construct new buildings. She said by offering updated facilities, parents would want to move into the district and current students would receive a better education.

“I would like my 6-year-old daughter not to take classes in a trailer,” said Billman-Royer. “I would also like to see my kid going into Westland High School get the same advantages as those who go to Central Crossing.”

Les Bostic, the former city administrator for the city of Grove City, said Issue 81 is an “awesome” opportunity to provide each student with a quality education.

“It would also build pride in the students and the community,” said Bostic.

He added to the board, “Don’t allow the community to fail our kids.”

South-Western is the sixth largest school district in Ohio and it serves approximately 21,000 students. Enrollment is expected to increase by 1,700 students over the next ten years.

Residents will have the opportunity to vote on Issue 81 on Nov. 4.

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