Summit County school board asks voters for $70M come November
Summit’s school board on Tuesday evening unanimously approved a question for the November election, asking that county voters provide the district more than $70 million in funding in 2017 to address growing needs.
The two-part ballot measure is broken into a bond issue offering $68.9 million to make pressing repairs and safety improvements to existing school buildings, and then a property tax in the form of a mill levy to generate $1.8 million in its first year. The latter will specifically go toward construction, maintenance and technology costs and will continue year-to-year while the bond must be used within three years and repaid within 20.
The funding request comes off the completion of the district’s 10-month master-planning process that assessed each of its existing structures and each one’s necessary upgrades, as well as what the future may look like with rapid enrollment growth. But, to mend buildings and add energy efficiencies district wide, it takes a considerable amount of money.
“Our master plan has been well-vetted,” said school superintendent Kerry Buhler, “and we’re pretty confident that going forward this is what we need right now. We know that things will change and evolve, and we … feel like we have come to a place where now it’s time to really make a decision.”
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Simply put, a mill levy is a tax that equates to $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value over the course of a year. The board considered the option of an alternate version of this type of tax that would have provided just slightly more money and gone directly into a general education fund, but settled on ensuring that the citizens who will possibly give their blessing better understand how the money will be spent.
“I think taxpayers want to know where money is going to go,” said board member Cindy Bargell. “They’ve said this is where we would want the money to go, and so this attaches accountability by statute to what we’re doing.”
The technology portion is of particular interest for the district as it moves forward with its Vision 2020 strategic plan, of which the $1.5 million One2World initiative is a prime component. The plan approved by the board this February reimagines classroom settings for the future, providing a one-to-one ratio of students to devices.
Fixing urgent needs remains the main focus, though, and, following the master plan, the district went back and cut down what was initially a $97 million estimate across the county’s eight public schools, narrowing it down to only the highest-priority deficiencies. That ultimately slimmed the necessary bond appeal down to the $68.9 million.
As part of the months-long process of settling on the right question for voters, the district sent out a letter to members of the Summit community in late May to introduce the idea of the funding measures. That was followed by a random 300-person phone poll and then a subsequent 13-question public opinion poll in July. Based on the percentage of returned surveys suggesting a favorable outcome for a potential ballot measure, the district felt confident moving forward.
“We always will have instructional needs and an instructional wish list,” said Board President Margaret Carlson, “but we’re identifying just our most urgent needs. And that’s what we want to do in this election, really just identify the most urgent needs, and this is a good match for those.”
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