Columbiana schools planning information campaign for bond issue

COLUMBIANA – As much information as possible is being put out to voters this time around regarding the school district’s $4 million bond issue for South Side Middle School.

Superintendent Don Mook said Tuesday bond committees have been formed and a bank account has already been set up to accept donations for advertising.

The school district is prohibited by law to spend money on advertising ballot issues.

In April of last year board of education members agreed seeking a bond for refurbishments at the school was necessary. The bond was put on the August special election ballot but failed by a large margin.

Board members and Mook attributed the failure to voters’ disapproval of the timeliness with which the issue was presented and the lack of information made available.

During the swift few months before the special election no signs were distributed and voters were left to rely on information made available online by the Building Excellence Committee.

Board members and some district parents also met with voters publicly to explain the issue.

Since its rejection the board has agreed to seek the bond again, but this time making sure that voters are aware exactly where the money is targeted.

The 1.23 mill bond issue will appear on the May 7 ballot. About $4 million in revenue is expected to be generated over 29 years. The bond issue would cost an additional $18.83 a year in taxes for the owner of a $50,000 home.

As part of the district’s effort to inform voters about the bond issue, Mook said clarification is needed regarding the ballot language.

He said residents have expressed concern over exactly how the money was going to be used since language on the August ballot stated it would also go toward extracurricular facilities.

When board members began discussing the bond they considered putting some of the tax money toward the Ward Athletic Complex and replacing portable restrooms with permanent buildings as well as other minor improvements.

Mook stressed on Tuesday the focus now is the middle school only, and that if any money is left over from the bond once those refurbishments are done he and board members will go to the voters for direction on where the remaining money should be spent.

“The board will consider looking at a resolution of some sort that would assure our community and the public that our first and foremost responsibility is South Side Middle School,” he said.

The board will meet in special session on March 18 to discuss and possibly pass a resolution.

Mook said that the ballot language cannot be changed but the resolution will be in place for voters to know that money is dedicated to the middle school first.

The top priority is replacing the building’s 50-year old flat roof with a pitched roof, which Mook said was last estimated to cost $1.3 million. That figure doesn’t include any contingencies that could occur along the way, he added.

Treasurer Lori Posey has said the district doesn’t have the money available to pay for the work as a result of more than $663,000 in state cuts over three years, and not collecting the last year of revenue from an emergency levy approved in 2002.

Repairs and maintenance has been conducted on an as-needed basis over the years.

While a major repair to the roof is needed, upgrades to the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system are also needed along with handicap accessibility, flooring replacement, repairing and updating of restrooms and the installation of fifth and sixth grade lockers.

Mook expects the majority of the money will go toward the replacing the roof, however.

Should the bond issue fail again, he said the district will be left using operational money on the roof’s replacement and that will cause programs and potentially staffing to be cut to cover that cost.

The district is expected to operate in the black through 2015 but will dip into the red by $1.3 million the following year, according to the district’s five-year forecast.

The building on Columbiana-Waterford Road houses just over 300 students in fifth through eighth grades.

Bond committees have been set up to cover public relations, canvassing, signs, tri-fold brochures, and CD and DVD distribution.

Local attorney and district parent Rich Hura is overseeing the committees and Dani Clancy serves as treasurer. Residents can donate money to the committees at Huntington Bank, care of the Columbiana Building Excellence Fund.