The Westerville City School District's school board unanimously approved legislation July 15 to proceed with placing a 1.95-mill bond issue and 5.9-mill operating levy on the Nov. 5 ballot.

CORRECTION: The print and an earlier online version of this story contained an incorrect year for when deficit spending is projected without additional operating money.

The Westerville City School District’s school board unanimously approved legislation July 15 to proceed with placing a 1.95-mill bond issue and 5.9-mill operating levy on the Nov. 5 ballot.

District treasurer Nicole Marshall said the 5.9-mill operating levy would allow the district to maintain programs and services at the current level.

“The district would most likely need to consider another ballot issue in fiscal year 2023 for operating (needs), depending on what happens at the state level during this time period,” she said.

If approved, the estimated annual cost of the 5.9-mill operating levy and 1.95-mill bond issue to the owner of a $100,000 home would be $274.75.

The board had also considered a smaller operating levy of 4.9 mills, but Marshall said it wouldn’t be enough to maintain programs and services at current levels for three years, which should be expected from any operating levy.

She said if the operating levy is approved, collection would begin in fiscal year 2021, a delay of one year.

“It would be for tax year 2020 and collection year 2021,” she said.

In addition to the operating levy, a 1.95-mill bond issue is being proposed, which would generate $103 million.

Marshall said the bond is intended to provide funding for a new middle school, new elementary school, safety and security updates districtwide, renovations and additions at Annehurst and Whittier elementary schools, renovations at Hawthorne Elementary School and address facilities assessment needs at Hanby, Emerson and Longfellow elementary schools.

“I want to remind everyone the district did acquire land at no cost in the southern end in the Minerva Park area for the middle school and elementary school,” she said.

In discussing the proposals, Marshall said it has been seven years since the district asked voters for new operating money.

In 2009, she said the district’s unreserved balance was $3.3 million.

“The district’s monthly expenditures at the time were about $13 million,” she said. “In 2012, the unreserved balance was $8 million. And this was the year the district had to move the payroll date, because of cash flow issues at the time.”

Marshall said the district reduced expenditures between 2011 and 2014 by $12.7 million. Without additional operating money, she said, the district is projected to see deficit spending in fiscal year 2021.

Marshall advised the board go with the 5.9 mills for the operating levy, because it allows the district to maintain what it already has.

Board member Nancy Nestor-Baker said it’s important for everyone to understand how quickly a fund balance is depleted.

“With no additional funds, we end up in ’24 with a $13 million (unreserved) balance,” she said. “That sounds like a lot of money. In all of our personal lives, that’s a lot of money. But $13 million within the context of a school district of this size isn’t a lot of money. That amount of money is enough, roughly, to run the district for about a month.”

Nestor-Baker said she has gotten fairly comfortable with her tax bill over that the past years.

“Looking at this does cause me to think heavily about what we’re doing and what the rationale is,” she said. “As we look at what to do, the 5.9 (mills) keeps us off the ballot longer and potentially reduces the ask later.”

In terms of the bond issue, board member Vaughn Bell said it’s important for the public to know the board isn’t acting on a wish list members devised.

“We’re acting on the recommendations of the masters facilities planning team that made recommendations to us in terms of what the needs are in our district and what needs to be addressed,” he said. “We’re dealing with an aging fleet of buildings that are in need of updating and repair.”

Bell said he’s convinced kicking the can down the road doesn’t make it any cheaper.

“I believe us acting now is in the best interest of our district, our families, students, staff,” he said.

Board President Tracy Davidson said she had butterflies all day before the vote, mulling it over and knowing what’s probably responsible to choose for the district and the voters going forward.

“A couple things I keep thinking about is the facilities committee we brought together,” she said. “We mapped out this 10-year plan. Finances for this would help us complete the first five years which is huge and amazing, especially with our increased enrollment. Safety and security is always on everyone’s mind. That would touch those things, too.”

Superintendent John Kellogg said the 5.9 mills would position the district for three years.

“There’s a life cycle to school funding in Ohio that follows that trajectory,” he said. “We’ll always work to extend that and make it longer and make it more manageable to the best of our ability. As a reminder, it’s a year delayed collection on the operating side.”

He said the bond issue is critical moving forward, and he believes 5.9 mills is the right move on the operating side.

Board Vice President Rick Vilardo said he knows the public will consider the issue.

“I don’t make this decision casually, but confidently,” he said. “For me, this is the right decision. I hope voters will hear us and work with us.”

Colleen Moidu will be co-chairing Our Community, Our Schools, a group to support the issue.

“It has been seven years since the district asked for new money and almost 19 years since the district asked for money for facilities,” she said. “It accommodates projected growth in the district over the next 10 years and will alleviate current crowding in our classrooms.”

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