Voters say no to Issue 81

The majority of voters did not think South-Western City School’s Issue 81 was a "chance of a lifetime."

Voters rejected the 9.69-mill combined bond issue and tax levy by about 60 percent on Nov. 4.

District leaders and issue supporters gathered at the Career Academy to watch the numbers come in and they did not like what they saw.

"This is extremely disappointing," said Board of Education President Cathy Johnson. "I really hoped we had this opportunity for the community."

The bond portion of Issue 81 would have allowed the district to construct 13 new elementary schools to replace 15 buildings. It would have also funded four new middle schools and Franklin Heights High School. The facilities project would have also provided technology and security upgrades, space for all-day everyday kindergarten, and the elimination of modular units.

Several months ago, the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) informed the district that it was eligible for state funds. The state settled on a tobacco case and set aside some of those profits for education. The district was originally slated to receive state funds in 2011, but they were moved to the top of the list.

The state offered to fund approximately $206 million, or 47 percent, of the building project. The taxpayers would have funded the remaining $260 million over a maximum period of 28 years.

The Board of Education voted to tack on a 6-mill operating levy to keep current educational programs. The tax levy would keep the district out of trouble until 2012.
District Superintendent Dr. Bill Wise explained that by the end of the next school year, the district will face a $5.4 million deficit. The following year, they face a $33 million deficit. 

"Now we will have to look at a possible budget reduction in 2009," said Wise after learning the issue was rejected.

Johnson said the board will have to balance the budget somehow.

"We may have to make about $6 million in cuts," said Johnson. "We’ll have to look at where the cuts could be made."

Wise said the district would need to review why the bond issue and tax levy failed before they decide the next step.

"Was this a reflection of the economy? Was it a problem with the package or did we not explain the issue well," Wise questioned.

The superintendent said the district would have to go back and engage the community to find out what went wrong.

The district may be down, but it is not out. It has secured the state funds until June of 2009. They have until that time to pass an issue and receive the money.

Wise said the district would evaluate a spring option, but it is too early to tell if they will try to pass the same issue.

If the district cannot pass an issue before June, the state would move on and offer the money to another school district. Wise explained that while the funds are not guaranteed after June, they could continue to attempt to pass an issue then reapply for state aid.

"Right now, we just have to step back and take some time to look at this issue and why it failed," Wise remarked.

Support groups are not ready to throw in the towel. Ed Palmer, spokesman for Citizens for South-Western City Schools and former Central Crossing High School principal, thanked the supporters and said he was not ready to give up.

"I wish tonight would have turned out differently, but this is about kids and we’re not going to give up," said Palmer. "We are committed to the kids and we will be there for them."

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