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Columbiana BOE seeks levy, middle school repairs

April 12, 2012

COLUMBIANA - City school board members were in agreement this week that placing a $4 million bond issue and $1 million emergency levy before voters is necessary.

Superintendent Don Mook and Treasurer Lori Posey presented the newly formed finance committee recommendations to the board. Mook said the bond issue will pay for the refurbishment of South Side Middle School, which was constructed in the early 1960s.

"If we don't do this now it's going to deteriorate more and more and more. We don't want that. We want to build the future," he said.

Improvements needed at the school include the replacement of the roof and upgrades to the HVAC and electrical systems.

Mook showed the board pictures of ceiling tiles at the school that are brown and sagging from water leaking through the roof. He also showed pictures of the effects of the current HVAC system on the floors in the seventh and eighth grade hallway and media center.

He said the district is competing with other buildings in other areas and that the improvements are necessary to not only maintain the building but also to retain students, who could be attracted to other districts because of the school's condition.

Fact Box

Bond issue cost to residents

The $4 million issue is for 25 years and will cost $22.48 a year for the owner of a $50,000 home. Cost is $33.72 for a $75,000 home and $44.96 for a $100,000 home per year.

Emergency levy cost to residents

The $1 million levy is for 10 years and will cost $89.58 a year for the owner of a $50,000 home. Cost is $134.37 for a $75,000 home and $179.16 for a $100,000 home per year.

Figures were calculated by taking 35 percent of the value times the effective millage, less the 12.5 percent property rollback. Information provided by Treasurer Lori Posey.

"Enrollment is ultimately where we bring our revenues. We want to attract open enrollment students," he said.

Administration and staff conducted a walk-through of the building recently and he said it was "very enlightening" for some.

Joshua Dixon Elementary School Principal Kim Sharshan said she was "appalled" while walking through the building and agreed it is important for the district to stay competitive with other areas.

She also said that as a voter "it's important to let people that know we aren't just standing by and let this deteriorate."

She said that since the renovation of Joshua Dixon Elementary, enrollment at the school has increased. The renovations were completed at no cost to taxpayers and have extended the life of the building about 50 years, Mook said.

He also said it costs "far less" to renovate than build new since a new building would

cost roughly $8 million while the renovations are estimated at $4 million.

"If we had a beautiful building in our pocket it would help tremendously," Middle School Principal David Buzzard said.

Board member Mark Hutson said he is concerned about how the issue is presented to the community.

"I was on the financial committee. I think this district has cut a lot of things. I think if you start cutting more you're (hindering) the quality of education we offer. The building is in dire need of repair. If we don't do it now what is it going to cost in five years?" he said.

District parent Scott Caron, who also served on the finance committee, said the school has already made the necessary cuts.

"When we met the first thing I looked at was where to cut. I had some questions, and based on the things that we've seen in our schools, really, those cuts have already been made throughout the schools. After looking at the budget I understand that the importance of maintaining and building a successful community is an excellent school system," he said.

If passed, the 25-year bond issue will also pay for maintaining current building sites, the Ward Athletic Complex and improving and providing additional extra-curricular facilities.

The emergency levy will go toward offsetting funding losses as a result of state cuts.

Posey said she recommended the levy after looking at the district's updated five-year forecast, which projected deficit spending through all five years, with the district entering the red in 2015 and 2016.

The district is projecting a $1.8 million deficit by 2016.

Mook said the "hardest hit" is the loss of $663,000 in state funding.

"We aren't spending more money than before, we just aren't taking in as much money as before," he said.

The district has spent $144,000 more this year than it has taken in, he added, noting that staffing is the "biggest expenditure."

The district is slated to spend more than $1.9 million on employees' retirement and insurance benefits in 2016. In 2011 the district spent $1.5 million on the benefits, according to the forecast.

Posey said the district has saved money through some recent employee retirements but the levy is still needed since revenues are not increasing at the same rate as expenditures.

"(The levy) would help stop the bleeding somewhat and extend our current cash balance out longer," she said.

With the levy factored in, the district would remain in the black throughout the next five years and longer, she added.

Mook said it will help the district maintain current staffing class sizes, technology initiatives, level of programs and building grade configuration.

The finance committee is comprised of one member of the board, four members of the community, classified and certified staff, Posey, Mook and building principals.



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