“Contentious” Valley View bond among school taxes on the ballot

For the second straight election, five Dayton-area school districts will ask voters on Tuesday to approve bond issues so they can construct new schools or make dramatic upgrades.

VOTER GUIDE: What's on your ballot Tuesday?

The five issues bring to seven the number of local school systems that have sought bond money to build new schools in the past six months — almost as many as the nine who did so in the previous six years.

For some districts, it won’t be a walk in the park.

Xenia, Valley View and Preble Shawnee schools are asking voters one more time after being rejected in November, while Carlisle and the Miami Valley Career Tech Center are new to the ballot. In Valley View, where next-door neighbors post competing “Spartan Pride” and “Vote No” signs, the debate is heated.

RELATED: House budget would tweak education plan

“I think it’s very split, and I would say even at times contentious,” Valley View Superintendent Rick Earley said.

The argument the districts make for the bond issue4s is that local residents are footing only a fraction of the bill for buildings they say are much needed. If local voters agree to pay their share of the project via property taxes, the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) will chip in millions of dollars, often covering about half of the construction cost for new schools.

But the tax issues are different from standard five-year school levies. Most bond issues require a 30- to 40-year tax commitment from residents. In many cases, the new buildings would replace those built 40 to 50 years ago. Some are in bad shape, but the deterioration is not always visible to people in the community.

RELATED: Small districts’ bond levies failed in 2016

“They were excellent buildings at the time, but right now we have safety issues, we have costly repairs, we do not meet state guidelines,” Xenia Superintendent Denny Morrison said of the 1962 Warner Middle School and 1976 Xenia High School. “They’re just outdated and they cannot accommodate the technology that our students need if they’re going to be competitive in the 21st century.”

Bond issues

  • Valley View: The 5.39-mill bond issue to build new schools has divided the communities of Germantown and Farmersville, leading to tense emotions on both sides. A similar levy was rejected by a 57-43 ratio in November, and another one was turned down back in 2008.

The district hopes to replace two 1920s school buildings, a 1950 elementary school and the 1968 high school with three buildings on existing sites. The state would pay 53 percent of demolition/construction costs.

The OFCC gave all but the high school its lowest rating of “poor” — the only local district on the ballot to have any schools given that designation. The high school received the middle rating of “borderline.”

RELATED: Fairborn voters approve bond for two new schools

Superintendent Rick Earley said new schools could improve safety, handicap access, science lab quality, technology options and spaces for project-based learning. But he said it goes beyond those specifics.

“I think the schools can help drive the economic well-being of a community,” Earley said. “I think people look at the facilities when they (decide) whether to locate in a community.”

Some residents are upset that an alternative to demolition isn’t being pursued. A community survey commissioned by the district in 2015 showed that renovation was clearly the most popular option, with less than 25 percent in favor of building new.

But Earley said the state’s assessment put full renovation costs even higher than new construction, so the district chose its path.

German Twp. resident Lora Dima said the community is very historically minded, and many people wanted the district to get other estimates on fixing the existing schools.

RELATED: Ohio graduation questions answered

Germantown resident Lucy Gilbert accused the levy committee of peddling misinformation, saying the SpartanPride levy website underestimated the district’s interest repayment cost by several million dollars. Earley called it a simple miscalculation that was corrected.

The website also said earlier this spring that “the air quality in all buildings is well below optimal and safe for students.” But Gilbert showed air quality testing results that found no measurable problems.

Earley acknowledged those tests, but referred to the issue as “sick building syndrome,” where workers can get sick even when there is not a clear cause.

Gilbert and Dima emphasized that even if voters reject this project, the district could still seek state money for a renovation in the future. But Earley said there’s no guarantee this pool of money will be available forever. He acknowleded the big investment being asked of voters and said the district will do its best for kids regardless of the levy’s outcome.

  • MVCTC: The state has agreed to pay 47 percent of a huge project to add classroom space, upgrade technology and improve safety at the Miami Valley Career Technology Center's 50-year-old campus in Clayton if voters approve 1.43 mills for the rest of the funding.

Superintendent Nick Weldy said because his buildings are used for both day and night classes, deterioration is accelerated. In one building, the state listed the heating, roofing, ventilation, electrical and plumbing systems all as needing complete replacement. Overall, the state rates the facility as “borderline.”

“We were initially started in 1968-69, and we have not asked for any facility money since then,” Weldy said. “So we’ve been, I would call it “Frankensteining” as we’ve added an addition here to meet the needs and an addition there. So you have mechanical (components) from completely different eras that you’re trying to get to talk together.”

Weldy said MVCTC has to turn away more than 200 students per year because of a lack of space, at a time when many employers say they can’t find enough graduates with technical skills. The bond revenue would allow the school to expand capacity, and upgrade to state-of-the-art technology in key fields such as precision machining.

This levy is on the ballot in multiple counties, but primarily in communities that don’t have their own local career tech program.

  • Carlisle. The state would pay 59 percent of Carlisle's $49 million project to demolish its four existing schools and replace them with a single PreK-12 school building.

The state rates all four schools as “borderline.” Superintendent Larry Hook said the last of the four roofs will be out of warranty this summer, boilers are more than 50 years old, wiring problems limit computer usage, and the high school was designed with no windows.

“Comes a point where you’re throwing good money after bad,” Hook said. “This (bond issue) is the smart move for taxpayer dollars. I have nothing against old buildings … as long as they work and it’s not a sinkhole for money.”

  • Xenia: Voters will decide whether to approve a 4.2-mill bond levy to build a combination middle/high school at Ohio 42 and Ledbetter Road.

“How often in any deal will you get 40 percent savings?” Morrison said. “That’s what we’ve got coming from the state, if we can raise our 60 percent local share.”

The state rated both existing buildings as “borderline.” Xenia voters rejected a 3.9-mill plan in November by a 53-47 ratio. Morrison said this issue is 4.2 mills now because of a change in interest rates.

The new building would solve space and technology limitations at the existing schools, plus create economies of scale by only needing one mechanical room, one auditorium and one kitchen, Morrison said.

  • Preble Shawnee: A combination 2.5-mill bond levy and 0.75 percent income tax was rejected by a 53-47 ratio in November, and is back on the ballot. The plan would replace a 1982 high school rated "satisfactory" and two much older elementaries rated "borderline" with one elementary and a combination middle/high school. The state would pay 65 percent of the cost.

Renewal levies

  • Beavercreek: The school district hopes to make an existing 6-mill emergency levy permanent, and turn it into a "substitute" levy. An emergency levy collects a fixed dollar amount each year, but a substitute gradually produces more operating revenue for the school district as new construction occurs. Existing property owners' millage would not change.

“That would actually give us some additional (revenue) growth, so we won’t have to go back to our voters as soon,” Superintendent Paul Otten said.

  • Northmont: Wants to renew its five-year, 5.9-mill tax for daily operating expenses and turn it into a permanent levy.
  • Oakwood: Seeks to renew its 1.8-mill levy for facility improvements for another five years.
  • Tipp City: Has a large, seven-year, 13.9-mill renewal on the ballot that makes up more than 20 percent of its general fund budget.
  • Bethel: Has a pair of five-year renewals on the ballot – a 7-mill operating levy and a 2-mill levy for facilities.
  • Yellow Springs: Wants to renew its 7-mill levy for eight years.
  • Lebanon: Has a three-year, 4.84-mill levy on the ballot.

About the Author