Rocky Fork Enterprise

Permanent improvements

Board going with 2.16 mills on Nov. 4 ballot

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The Gahanna-Jefferson Board of Education took the final step Aug. 4 to place a permanent improvements levy on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The board unanimously voted to approve a 2.16-mill levy that would generate about $3 million annually.

District treasurer Julio Valladares estimates the levy would cost an additional $75.60 per $100,000 of assessed home value.

If approved, funds from the improvements levy could be used only for items with a life expectancy of five years or more, such as building repairs, buses and technology.

The board held a special meeting with the community July 31 to discuss their perceptions and options concerning the improvements levy.

Scott Schmidt, executive director of elementary education, said the district historically included language in bond issues that provided money for building repairs.

Over the past five years, though, the district has been able to budget only $550,000 annually for buildings, Valladares said.

"Purchasing a bus at $80,000 or an air compressor at $60,000 takes up the bulk of the money," he said. "Proper maintenance on buildings prolongs the life of buildings. We've gone through time doing less than what was needed."

SHP Leading Design, a firm the board hired in February to establish a five-year capital-improvements plan, estimates a cost of roughly $26 million to upgrade and remodel all buildings.

"The current budget of half million (dollars) a year won't cover those needs," Schmidt said. "A (permanent improvements levy) that would bring in $3 million a year -- we would prioritize needs and work within the $3 million budget range."

Resident Bob Tomsik asked the board to share the top 10 expenses from the SHP report.

School board president Jill Schuler said the report isn't comprehensive.

"We want to provide that to you," Schuler said. "Off the list, it's HVAC, roofs, all those housekeeping things. We will make it available on the website. We will prioritize it."

Several community members asked the board to provide a long-term plan.

"I commit to the community on behalf of the board, we offer that transparency," Schuler said. "We've been dissecting the report. The community deserves to know how the money will be spent. You need to know that before you vote. That's the goal, meeting your expectations. While not moving as quickly as you'd like, we'll provide a plan, access and transparency."

Resident Daphne Moehring said other districts have formed a task force with residents to devise a plan before going to the public.

"I don't think the SHP report is complete," Moehring said. "I wouldn't want to use it as a starting point."

Schmidt said the district has put together a community group in the past, like a task force, but the board couldn't implement the recommendations at that time.

"We've established a need we've known about for years," Schmidt said. "We're asking the board to take the first step to get it on the ballot in November. We know even a $3-million ask isn't enough to cover needs, but it's a responsible ask."

Resident Darren Schehl said the road map is the most important thing to him.

"When the board needs something, it should be obvious," Schehl said. "You need to have your stakeholders involved or you'll have discontentment in the community."

He suggested a short-term, 2-mill improvements levy until a sustainable plan is devised.

Resident Kate Kautz suggested that the board wait until 2015 to go on the ballot.

"I think 2014 is too early," she said. "I don't think it needs to go on the ballot with the things that have come up. If it's put on in November, I think you will crash and burn."

Resident Jeannie Hoffman said past school boards haven't been transparent.

"I don't know the public can totally trust the school board," she said. "I could wholly support it if you wait a year and put together a task force. Put together a good, solid plan and even ask for more money."

She said anyone who goes into the district's buildings can see the need.

Longtime school board member Windy McKenna said the district has been successful with school levy campaigns over the years.

"We ask for what we need," she said. "We try to stay on the plan we put out. We've done well keeping taxes low and getting your bang for the buck. We squeak so much out of the money we do get.

"As far as a plan goes, I know we need a plan. It's in the works.'

McKenna said the permanent improvements levy would be used for transportation, technology and building upgrades.

"That's what's needed," she said. "I hate to put it off a year. Everything will cost more a year from now."

If the community doesn't support the levy, Valladares said, money would have to come from the general fund to support maintenance needs.

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