SWCS makes final push for Issue 81

"It will never be cheaper to build new schools than it is right now."

That is the message Dr. Bill Wise, superintendent of the South-Western City School District, wants to get out before Nov. 4.

In days, residents will vote on Issue 81, a combined 9.69-mill bond issue and tax levy. If passed, the issue would allow the district to replace 13 elementary schools, four middle schools and Franklin Heights High School. Twelve additional schools would receive renovations and technology and security upgrades. All modular units would be replaced and space would be allocated for all day every day kindergarten.

Issue 81 would also provide the school district with operating funds to keep current educational programs. It would hold the district over financially until 2011.

"At the end of the next school year, we face a $5.4 million deficit," Wise explained. "The following school year, we face a $33 million deficit. This issue would provide us with much needed operating funds."

The Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) would contribute 47 percent of the cost to build and upgrade the schools. The local share is approximately $233 million.

"This gives us access to $206 million in tobacco settlement dollars," said Wise.

The district was originally slated to receive state funds in 2011. As a result of a tobacco settlement, the state had $4.2 billion to spend over the next six years. The district moved up on the list.

If residents vote in favor of the combined bond issue and tax levy, the owner of a $100,000 home would pay an additional $300 a year, or $25 per month, on their property tax. The owner of a $150,000 home would pay $450 annually, or $38 per month and those who own a $200,000 home would pay $600 a year or $50 a month.

"We can’t afford not to vote for it," said Wise.

The superintendent said the issue would impact the community for decades.

"It’s good for the economy and good for jobs," he noted. "It really is an economic stimulus package in and of itself."

Wise said he and district leaders understand the struggling economy. He said they were conservative with numbers and tried to keep the impact on homeowners down. Still the issue faces opposition from residents who believe it is not the right time to ask for additional money.

Wise said if voters reject the issue, the district would be left to face a deficit and there is no guarantee that the state tobacco money will be available in the future.

The district must pass an issue by June 2009 in order to receive state funds. If they do not, the state will move forward and offer the money to other school districts. Should an issue pass, the district could reapply for funding.

Wise said if voters reject the issue on Nov. 4, the district will continue its efforts to campaign and voters would likely see a ballot request for the spring.

"This really is a chance of a lifetime," said Wise.

South-Western is the sixth largest public school district in Ohio. It covers about 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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