Hilliard Northwest News

District officials mull ballot issue for infrastructure work

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Hilliard schools officials are contemplating seeking a bond issue or a permanent-improvements levy to fund infrastructure improvements.

School board members met with Superintendent John Marschhausen, Treasurer Brian Wilson, and assistant superintendents Tim Hamilton and Leslie McNaughton during a two-hour work session May 5.

The district has a $4.6 million annual permanent-improvements fund, Hamilton told board members.

"There are challenges facing us (and) we are running out of money (each year) before we run out of projects," Hamilton said.

Hamilton outlined recently completed projects in several major categories of permanent improvements and those planned this year and in the future.

"We are facing some paving challenges," Hamilton said.

The district spent $553,000 in a two-year improvements project at Hilliard Crossing Elementary School that concluded last year and $467,000 at Weaver Middle School in a multiyear project that finished in 2012.

The district is set to spend $360,000 in 2015 to repave parking lots at Avery Elementary School and $365,000 for resurfacing in 2015 at J.W. Reason Elementary School.

The district is allocating $3.4 million, spread across two years in 2015 and 2016, for repaving at Davidson High School.

"It will cost about $1.4 million if we do only the (football) stadium and student parking lot," Hamilton said.

Even more costly will be new roofs at several schools.

In 2011, the district replaced the roof at Darby Creek Elementary School for $612,000 and last year replaced the roof at Alton Darby Elementary School for $817,400.

The district fast-tracked a $650,000 roof replacement this year at Scioto Darby Elementary School.

The district is planning to replace the roof at Darby High School in 2017 at $2.3 million and Davidson High School in 2018 at $2.1 million.

The purchase and replacement of school buses also are part of the district's permanent improvements, as well as technology, which includes the purchase of security systems, public-address systems, personal and handheld computers, network infrastructure, telephones and wireless access, according to district officials.

The district has 157 buses, 130 of which run daily, Hamilton said.

The oldest buses in the fleet are 2001 models, Hamilton said. Ten of those still are in use.

In 2015, the district plans to purchase eight new buses at about $90,000 each.

"We look at our (permanent-improvements) dollars every year and have to make it all balance," Hamilton said. "We squeeze as much as possible out of every budget."

Voters approved a 2-mill permanent-improvements levy in 2006.

The effective millage rate has not fallen far below the original 2 mills because property values have not increased much since 2006, Wilson said.

The district has opened two new schools since 2006: Washington Elementary School and Bradley High School.

Board members discussed the possibility of the district seeking an operating levy in 2015 and the need to communicate to the voters about the possible need for a bond issue or permanent-improvements levy.

Voters last approved an operating levy in 2011, with the district pledging not to return to the ballot until at least 2014, Marschhausen said.

"No one is excited about new taxes," said Marschhausen, reiterating the need to clearly explain and properly time the issues.

Board member Paul Lambert said before discussing any kind of operating levy or bond-issue strategies, the "public needs to (first) understand school funding."

"A lot of the public is ignorant about funding," Lambert said.

He said many people incorrectly believe the district receives more funding when property values increase.

Lambert said many are not aware that operating levies are designed to generate the same amount of revenue each year regardless of changes in property value.

District officials also addressed the need to make clear the difference between operating levies -- revenue for which is used for the operation of schools, including salaries and benefits -- and bond issues and permanent-improvements levies, which fund the construction and maintenance of schools.

After Marschhausen asked the board how the administration could assist it with a direction concerning funding for permanent improvements, board member Doug Maggied asked the administration for a clearer vision of education in the future.

"Are we going to have (12 grade levels)? If we know more about our model of education, we will know better what kind of buildings we need," said Maggied, adding that several school buildings should be considered for replacement rather than repairs.

Board President Andy Teater suggested the newly formed educational advisory committee, which is scheduled to meet for the first time May 20, could take up the issue.

"I think it's time for some public conversations," Teater said.

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