Election 2020: Area districts ask voters to pitch in for new schools

Superintendent Mike Sander talks about Franklin schools’ plan to construct new buildings

Fairborn, Xenia and Franklin have bond levies on Nov. 3 election ballot

Fairborn, Xenia and Franklin school officials are asking voters to approve 37-year tax investments this election cycle to replace aging school buildings and leverage future state funds.

All three districts are working with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, which will contribute a multimillion-dollar “state share” in the future if local residents agree to fund their own multimillion-dollar piece now.

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Since last decade, more than a dozen local districts including Dayton, Northmont and Carlisle have built new schools via this state/local partnership, while other communities such as Troy, Jefferson Twp. and Preble Shawnee have rejected those plans.

Bonds are not exactly like most property tax levies, which have a set millage they don’t go above. By approving a bond ballot issue, voters are agreeing to repay the debt, and the millage can vary up or down based on interest rates and a community’s property valuation.

Franklin schools

Franklin hopes to use the local bond funds to build a new high school by fall 2023 and renovate the existing high school into a middle school. A few years later, it would use state funds to replace its five elementary schools and one early childhood center with three new elementaries.

The Warren County auditor certified Franklin’s ballot issue at 6.52 mills, which would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $228 a year. But Superintendent Mike Sander said the district has vowed to collect no more than 4.95 mills, which would cost $174 annually on that $100,000 home.

Treasurer Rob Giuffre said Franklin plans an “even-millage” approach, with residents paying about 4.94 mills all 37 years, rather than a model where residents pay 5-8 mills per year in the first decade, then 2-4 mills per year near the end of the debt. The district’s “anticipated debt schedule” shows that model could cost $8 million to $17 million more in interest over the 37 years.

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Warren County Auditor Matt Nolan said bond payments are rarely at the exact voted millage.

“Most are lower, in fact right now all are. Occasionally, in the course of the last 20 years, some have been higher,” Nolan said. “I think the school district is trying to explain to voters what they will actually pay based on what similar bonds have done recently.”

OFCC documents list the cost of the new high school and renovation of the old high school at $59.1 million with the state share for that portion at $25.3 million.

Franklin’s new high school would be built on the site of the current 99-year-old junior high. The three new elementary schools would be on the sites of the current Gerke, Hunter and Schenck schools.

All of Franklin’s schools but the junior high are 51-70 years old. Sander and district business manager Rodney Roberts said they have a host of physical problems ranging from asbestos tile to brick and roofing issues that lead to leaks, to inefficient steam heat systems and window air conditioning units.

Students take music class in what was once a gym at the 99-year-old Franklin Junior High School. Franklin voters will decide this fall whether to support a ballot issue to build new schools.

Credit: Jeremy P. Kelley

Credit: Jeremy P. Kelley

Academic issues include overloaded electrical systems that hinder classroom technology and a lack of flexible group project spaces. The junior high’s former auditorium is now the library media center, with students using tables and chairs that sit on the slope rising away from the stage.

“The public consensus was, we need a new high school and we need it now. That’s why we’re moving forward with it first,” Sander said. “The other part is that we like our small community schools. The state would pay for two (larger) elementaries. But … the community would rather pay a little bit more to have three elementaries so they’re not so big.”

Public comment on social media about the bond issue has included a mix of support for the plan and frustration at how often levies are on the ballot.

Fairborn schools

Fairborn’s 5.83-mill combo bond/levy is estimated to cost the owner of a $100,000 home $204 per year, with the proceeds funding construction of a $65 million to $70 million high school, performing arts center and athletic complex. Fairborn officials say they would eventually use the estimated $33 million in state money to build a new middle school.

In 2016, Fairborn voters approved a separate bond issue to build a new primary school, which opened this year, and an intermediate school, which is starting construction.

“With one building done, on budget and on time, people now see what we could have district-wide,” Fairborn treasurer Kevin Philo said. “We’ve gotten a lot of positives from that. We know in a pandemic, dollars can be tight … so we put together a plan to really do this right.”

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Public discussion of the levy has included supporters saying old schools limit students' technology use and keep property values down. Others oppose having a levy on the ballot during tough economic times or are voting no because the two pieces of the tax are 37 years and permanent.

Fairborn schools' goal would be to build the new high school (along the east side of I-675), then close the 68-year-old Baker Middle School and move those students to the 1970-era high school until the new middle school could be built near the new high school. A donor gave $2.5 million so the district could buy the new land.

Philo said the middle school and high school “have not been kept up well.” Superintendent Gene Lolli cited outdated “infrastructure and wiring.” Lolli said the lack of air conditioning at the middle school is a bigger problem than generations ago, because safety procedures don’t allow for doors to be propped open for air flow.

They said the new facilities would also have educational benefits, with more flexible spaces for small group work and larger gatherings.

The state will not pay for athletic or arts complexes as part of OFCC projects, so those will be locally funded. Lolli and Philo said the district also would locally fund extra classroom space, on the idea that new buildings might lead to an increase in enrollment.

“We think if we have the newest buildings in the Miami Valley K-12, we’ll get more families to move here,” Philo said.

Xenia schools

Xenia’s 2.6-mill bond issue would generate $36 million for construction of a replacement for Warner Middle School, costing residents an estimated $91 per year for a $100,000 home. Superintendent Gabe Lofton said the estimated $16 million state share later would either be used to pay off that debt, or pay for renovation of Xenia High School.

In 2009, Xenia voters approved a bond issue that paid for five new elementary schools. But in 2016-17, when the district asked voters for another bond to build a new middle school-high school complex, they were rejected three times.

Lofton said the new request is only to replace the 58-year-old middle school (on land between Warner and Arrowood Elementary) because a two-year community input process identified that as the district’s biggest need.

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“It’s in dire need of electrical work, the fire system doesn’t meet current codes and there’s no central air,” Lofton said. “The heating, we have one boiler left, and it’s on its last legs. The safety and security measures are not 21st century.”

Credit: Sharahn D. Boykin/STAFF

Lofton said the most basic school building criteria of being warm, safe and dry are not met by the current school. He said if the levy passes, the new middle school would open in fall 2023.

“It’s not that we want a new building, it’s that we need a new building for our children. They deserve it,” he said. “That building is not equipped with state of the art technology needed to educate our children in a digital age.”

On social media, several residents supported the levy, largely citing the condition of the current school, while others were opposed because of cost after they were notified their property value increased.

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