Asks for support of United Local bond levy
To the editor: The voters in the United Local School District have the opportunity to vote on a 3.92 mill bond issue on May 3. If approved by the voters, the bond issue would allow for partnering with the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) to build a new K-12 school building for our school district. The OSFC will pay 79 percent of the cost and United residents will pay 21 percent of the cost for the facility. The reason United's percentage is 21 percent is because in comparison to other school districts in the state, we are considered a "low wealth" district. The OSFC master plan for the building has a total cost of just over $38 million and includes the building, heating, cooling, electrical, plumbing systems, and all the furniture, fixtures, and technology needed to educate our students (except for computers). United's bond issue would be for $9.75 million, including our share of the building project, including an inflation factor and locally funded initiatives (LFI). The OSFC will not pay for certain things in school building projects, including auditoriums and administrative offices; those are not considered educational space. The United board of education has proposed that under this plan we would retain the newest portions of our building; the current high school gymnasium, auditorium, and three-story classroom wing and the elementary office and kindergarten wing. Some confusion exists about this project and I would like to clear up some of the biggest misconceptions. First, United Schools have been well maintained over the 60 years that our district has been in operation. There have been 11 additions to the initial main building that opened in 1951. An independent assessment of our school building was conducted as part of the OSFC process and that assessment determined that United's current building, particularly the elementary and junior high, is not up to today's building codes and standards for schools and needs demolished. The high school portion of the building is also deficient in numerous areas and needs many upgrades. For anyone entering our building, it looks like everything is OK from an appearance standpoint. However, appearances can be deceiving and I urge you to come to the school and take one of the building tours being offered. Come and see the 1971 boiler which helps to heat our elementary; come and see the windows that don't open and can't be repaired (since the window manufacturer went out of business five years after they were installed in the 1980s); come and see our original 1950s floors with the asbestos tiles; come and see the "spaghetti" of wires in our classrooms that are providing technology needs; come and see the 1966 stoves in our kitchens; come and see the water damaged areas from leaking roofs and plumbing problems; come and see exterior brick walls needing re-pointed; come and see floor to ceiling cracks in walls; come and see the inefficient lighting in classrooms and hallways; come and see (and hear) our ventilation system. In addition to these items, the flat roof on our building will need replaced within the next 10 years. A list of repairs needed in the next 10 years carries a price tag of just over $3.9 million and that's just for things that are known at this time. Don't take anyone's word for itcome and see for yourself! Second, some have questioned how will we be able to afford the new building - won't there be a separate maintenance levy? Ordinarily the OSFC does require districts to have a separate .5 mill maintenance levy as part of the project; they want to be sure the district is able to pay for upkeep of the new facilities. Since the United Local School district has a continuing .5 percent income tax, the board of education is allowed to move a portion of the income tax funds (equivalent to the .5 mill maintenance) and put them into a "permanent" account for the maintenance of the new facility. This would satisfy the OSFC's requirement for upkeep of the new facilities, so a separate .5 mill levy is not needed. Third, some people have questioned the "community use" aspect of facilities at United. United has always had community use of the facilities. Over the years, United has welcomed the use of our building by other groups, including the United Community Scholarship Foundation for their "eggstravaganza" breakfasts, Little Eagles athletic programs, United Booster club meetings, and PTO and United Alumni Association Jubilee shows. Additionally, groups have used the facilities for membership dinners, meetings, community programs, recreation, church services, concerts, and various other events, and they pay for their use of the building and facilities. Some people have mistakenly thought that "community use" equates to "community center" and that United's building would become a fully staffed operation with various community programs offered. That is not the intention or plan of the board of education. Instead, by keeping the three-story classroom wing of the current high school, we could offer an area able to be used during the school day by community groups for various events or meetings. Other possibilities suggested have been a library or medical facility, which of course, if established, would pay for their usage of our facilities. On May 3, the voters have a wonderful opportunity to get $30 million from the OSFC for our school district to take care of the problems associated with our aging building by building a new facility. According to a March 11, 2011, letter from OSFC Executive Director Richard Hickman to United Superintendent RuthAnn Rinto, "your district is considered a 'first priority' for funding in July 2011 if you pass a bond issue in May 2011 or are otherwise able to obtain your local share funding without a bond issue." (So, yes, we are the number one school district on the OSFC district priority list!) Unfortunately, no one's "rich uncle" has stepped forward to offer us $9.75 million for United's share of the OSFC project, or $3.9 million to take care of needed building repairs for the next 10 years, so it's up to the voters to decide what they want to do regarding the future of United Schools. Do we want to keep repairing our current building with United residents paying 100 percent of those costs, or do we want to build a completely furnished, state-of-the-art, new facility with United residents paying only 21 percent of those costs? United voters, the choice is up to you.
SUE DROTLEFF, United Local Board of Education member, Salem