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The Suburbanite
  • Some residents, district at odds over need for facilities funding

  • Some voters have questioned both the district’s need for more money in general and its decision to ask for it with a special election.

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  • Resident opposition to the Coventry Local School district’s combined 4.9 mill, 34-year-bond and 1.1 mill continuing permanent improvement levy, to be decided in a Feb. 5 special election, has been vocal. Some voters have questioned both the district’s need for more money in general and its decision to ask for it with a special election. The bond/levy is the lone issue on the ballot.
    District officials, however, say that not only is the funding needed in a practical sense to renovate and replace aging buildings within the district, but also as a means of operating the district more efficiently.
    “It is about fixing buildings, but it is also about being more efficient, saving taxpayer dollars and giving the space to students that they deserve to be educated in,” said District Treasurer Aaron Butts. “Our hope is that the community realizes that it is for the betterment of the community’s students.”
    If passed, the bond/permanent improvement levy would generate $28 million in local dollars, along with leveraging an additional $11 million in state funding through the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OFSF).  
    The same bond/levy request was
    rejected by voters Aug. 7 by a 150-vote margin. In November, voters supported the renewal of the district’s 9.9 mill operating levy.
    Butts explained that, should voters support the effort at the ballot box, those state dollars would be used to construct a new high school at 1135 Portage Lakes Drive, on the current Erwine Intermediate School property. The Erwine building — which Butts said has, in some areas, roof and ceiling panel damage to the extent that rainwater is entering the building - would be demolished.  
    The district’s plan also includes using the locally generated dollars to make roof, window and flooring repairs to the Coventry High School and Middle School buildings — at 3089 Manchester Road and 3257 Cormany Road, respectively.
    Butts said other renovations would include an upgrade of the security systems at the buildings, as well renovating a part of the middle school administration area into “six or seven classrooms.”
    “The plan is to make the current high school building into a K-5 building, the middle school remaining a middle school — 6th through 8th grades — and constructing a new high school on the footprint of the Erwine building,” Butts said. “We also plan to eventually close Turkeyfoot Elementary (at 530 W. Turkeyfoot Road), but it is still up in the air whether we would sell that building or use it in some way.”
    He said the permanent improvement portion of the bond/levy request would also allow the district to pay down debt on three state-funded facilities improvement projects in 2011. Thus far, debt payments have been made out of the district’s general operating fund, Butts said.
    “What is unique about this (most recent ballot issue) is, since that debt is associated with facilities projects, we can use the 1.1 mill permanent improvement portion to pay down that debt,” he said. “Which would inject $500,000 into the general fund for operations — things like salaries and benefits, textbooks and other operating money.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Butts said this is particularly vital to the district given the $2.4 million in state and federal funding cut from the district over the past two years.
    “We haven’t decided what we will do if it fails,” Butts said of the administration and school board’s consideration of a “Plan B,” noting that the state is expected to take the OSFC funding offer off the table if local dollars cannot be generated by this spring. “We have to have it pass. If not, there are a lot of other issues that could enter in, such as fiscal emergency.”
    The bond/levy cost to homeowners 65 and older with a $100,000 home would be $11.47 per month. The cost to homeowners under age 65 with a $100,000 home would be $15.29.
    Residents
    question need
    Tony Kinsinger, a township resident and business owner, said he questions not only the need for the building renovations, citing the fact that two other buildings closed by the district — the former Lakeview and Lockwood elementary schools — are still in use by the new building owners, but how the district’s open enrollment policy has affected its financial situation.
    “I pay $2,600 in local taxes, and if this passes, that will go to around $5,000,” Kinsginger said. “In the past four years, that has been an additional $475 a year. And according to the district’s website, 20 percent of the student body is open enrolled students. Why should 80 percent of residents be held hostage?”
    Kinsinger said that while he believes inequity also exists throughout the township with regard to housing values — with properties on the Portage Lakes increasing property taxes overall — the open enrollment issue is his primary concern.
    “If future open enrollment was stopped, as of today, with no more taken after those who are open enrolled now graduate, the true student body would be reflected,” Kinsinger said. “Then, if you found you couldn’t keep a school open, you could decide to sell it or get rid of it in some way.”
    Kinsinger said the “artificially inflated student numbers” due to open enrollment could potentially have an even greater impact on township businesses, which, in many cases have higher property values than residential properties, if the bond/levy issue is passed.
    Butts replied that open enrollment has “nothing to do with” the district’s facilities plans, noting that all public school districts are reimbursed by the Ohio Department of Education for open-enrolled students. Rather, Butts said, the condition of the buildings, an effort to “shrink” the district with the planned closure of Turkeyfoot Elementary and potential operational cost savings in transportation and food service with the new buildings located within a half-mile of one another, is what is driving the bond/levy request.

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