Licking County News

Southwest Licking Schools

Officials fear if levy fails, state facility dollars will disappear


Southwest Licking School District Board of Education members, administration and staff see the Nov. 5 ballot as a "now or never" opportunity for taxpayers to revamp overcrowded district facilities.

District officials are working hard to convince voters to approve a 6.04-mill tax issue that would help the district to begin a massive $109 million construction and renovation project, of which the State of Ohio would fund roughly 45 percent, or a little less than $42.5 million.

District officials said they worry if voters do not approve the bond issue soon, the state will divert the funding to another district willing to take advantage of it and the opportunity would be lost.

"It's not just a want, it's a need," said Robert Jennell, SWL superintendent.

"Our facilities need an upgrade and this is the opportunity to do it."

Jennell said all district buildings are overcrowded and the district must enhance its academic programming to compete with surrounding schools and prepare students for the modern world.

He also said the state funding is available for one year after it is offered, which in Southwest Licking's case was this past summer.

So, Jennell said if the bond issue is defeated Nov. 5, there will be very few opportunities to place the bond issue on the ballot again before the state funding vanishes.

The bottom line is the total cost to the Southwest Licking taxpayers for the entire $109 million project would be a little more than $66.5 million. In property tax terms, the tax issue would cost the owner of a $100,000 house $211 per year.

The district plans to build one new elementary school to house grades K-5; and complete renovations at Etna, Kirkersville and Pataskala elementary schools also to house grades K-5.

The district plans renovations and an addition to Watkins Memorial High School to house grades 6-8, and then build one new high school to house grades 9-12 and Career Tech students.

Finally, the district plans to demolish the old Etna Elementary School if the district can't sell it first.

The breakdown of expenses is complex, and includes Locally Funded Initiatives, or additions to the state's estimated project budget of a little more than $96 million that the Southwest Licking administration knows the project needs, but the state is unwilling to fund.

Locally Funded Initiatives include items such as terrazzo (extremely durable flooring), energy efficiency upgrades, sloped roofs and all brick exteriors, among others.

Board members approved other LFIs outside of the buildings, such as safe walking paths between some schools.

In total, the board approved a little more than $15 million of LFIs board members said they believe are necessary for the new buildings and renovations to serve district students adequately and safely. The LFIs are included in the $66.5 million local portion.

The expenses also include an Expedited Local Partnership Program credit. ELPP is a program that allows districts to begin their facilities projects with local funds instead of waiting for state dollars to become available.

Southwest Licking has been part of the program since 2002 and would receive credit for $2,377,640.

Here are the project's specifics:

* The basic project budget (not including LFIs) is $96,063,488.

* The ELPP credit is $2,377,640.

* The project budget minus the credit is $93,685,848.

* Locally Funded Initiatives equal $15,301,748.

* The total project including the LFIs would cost $108,987,596.

* The state would cover $42,462,230.

* The taxpayers will vote to cover $66,525,366.

Jennell said he is unaware of any organized opposition to the bond issue.