In a matter of days, Olentangy Schools voters will decide on a measure that rolls three funding issues into one.
Residents of the growing district will see a three-part tax issue on the ballot Tuesday, March 17: a $134.7 million, no-new-millage bond issue to fund the construction of a new middle school and two elementary schools; a 0.5-mill permanent-improvements levy to fund the ongoing maintenance and improvement of facilities throughout the district, including technology upgrades; and a 7.4-mill operating levy for day-to-day operating expenses, such as staff salaries and program costs.
For residents, approval of the issue would increase property taxes by about $277 annually for every $100,000 of home valuation. For the district, it would generate about $31 million each year for operations and $2.1 million for improvements, starting in 2021.
The three parts are combined into one ballot issue, meaning each voter will cast a single vote to approve or defeat the full package.
Superintendent Mark Raiff said the district has employed the strategy for about 20 years.
"Some districts do put up multiple issues, but our board has not done that," he said. "I think it's good strategy."
"You can't open a building without operating dollars, so it's smart to ask for funds to operate new schools when you ask for funds to build them," said Tracy MacDowell, co-chairwoman of the Olentangy for Kids campaign group.
With approval, the district would build two elementary schools and a middle school, with the first elementary school set to open at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year.
District officials say many of the schools at those levels already are over capacity, and enrollment projections indicate significant growth at the elementary school and middle schools levels in the next 10 years.
Raiff said a new elementary school wouldn't be ready to open for the start of school in August 2021 unless the bond issue is approved by voters. The district could, and almost certainly will, Raiff said, be on the November ballot if the issue fails in March, but that won't leave enough time to have a new school open by the start of next school year.
The levy portions of the ballot issue not only would provide funding to fully staff and operate the three new schools, but also update playground equipment, construct security vestibules at all schools and purchase new school buses.
Increased class sizes, reduced academic programs, reduced busing, elimination of some sports programs and building security are among the areas district leaders have said will be impacted if the issue is not approved.
Raiff said the district will work until Election Day to provide voters the information he hopes will lead to "yes" votes.
"Educating our community about the district is an ongoing endeavor," he said. "We have a lot to celebrate at Olentangy Schools, but we also have two significant challenges: enrollment growth and state funding. Those challenges have been the focus of our messaging for the last 18 months, and we're encouraged by the conversations we're having with community members about the levy.
"They understand why the levy is necessary and they are eager to help the district share factual information with friends and neighbors."
But Raiff said leaders are making no assumptions about the outcome of the election.
"We will continue to share information and answer questions through Election Day, and we encourage everyone to vote," he said.