"We are in desperate need of so many repairs that we have put off for years. We cannot even begin to save enough to address this many buildings without the help of our community."
Stow-Munroe Falls City Schools Superintendent Tom Bratten summed up the need for voter approval of Issue 42, the 1.99-mill tax levy for permanent improvement funding on the Nov. 8 ballot.
The Board of Education voted in August to place the tax levy on the ballot. The levy is proposed to be a continuing levy and the district would begin receiving the funds in 2017.
For the owner of a $200,000 home, the levy would cost approximately $10 a month or $120 annually. Based on the Summit County Fiscal Officer's current tax valuation of the district of $905 million, the levy would raise a little over $1.8 million annually if approved.
District treasurer Dave Osborne has stressed the funds gained from this levy would be used for "general permanent improvements" to the district; by law, the funds from a PIF levy cannot be used for operating expenses such as salaries.
A permanent improvement is defined by the Ohio Revised Code as any property, asset or improvement with an estimated life or usefulness of five years or more, Osborne explains. That would include textbooks and computers and even playground equipment that needs to be replaced.
According to the district, it averages more than $1.5 million in annual building, equipment and facility repairs, "but less than $650,000 to pay for those repairs" from the general fund.
"If the [permanent improvement] levy does not pass and the General Fund is required to cover the types of expenses the PI levy could pay for, then the General Fund will deplete at a much quicker rate," says the treasurer. "The renewal in 2020 would not be affected by that more rapid depletion, but the need for a new operating levy would come sooner than otherwise."
Highland Elementary is one building that would require funds generated by the PI levy. Continued water issues in the elementary's basement have plagued the district for quite some time, according to Mark Fritz, the district's director of operations.
"We are dipping into our General Fund to address the electrical issues in the basement to the tune of $48,300," he says. "We were told by our insurance underwriter that should repair and deferred maintenance not be implemented, we could potentially be denied coverage under our umbrella policy and would be required to get high risk coverage for Highland. This would be at a high premium."
The high school is another building looking at some costly repairs, including "the delayed completion of the roof in the front of the high school," Fritz notes. "To move forward on that will require approximately $750,000 to resolve."
Also needed is a new chiller for the high school's air conditioning, which is estimated to cost around $450,000.
Fritz says, districtwide, tuckpointing is needed of exterior walls. Tuckpointing is the refilling of the joints between the brick, block, or stones that make up a structure and becomes necessary when the mortar starts to develop cracks and holes. The cracks and holes can come from causes such as the burrowing of bees, inclement weather and natural wear and tear. Fritz estimates that work will cost around $2.75 million.
"Add to that the drainage, plumbing, HVAC, electrical and security items that have been deferred for years and that I estimate to be around $3 million -- you have immediate needs totaling around $6.5 million. Should the levy pass we would immediately prioritize the most immediate needs and work down the list over the next five years to address these items while, at the same time, maintaining and improving what we have," say Fritz.
Bratten also notes the fine arts facilities at Lakeview Intermediate, Kimpton Middle School and the high school "are in embarrassingly awful shape."
Fritz also notes the district rotates "our bus inventory to the tune of five buses per year. We keep our buses running on the road for as long as possible with safety being our primary focus. This is done by utilizing an in-house mechanical garage that is top-notch and by very conscientious bus drivers who report the smallest need for repair. We also are inspected regularly by the Ohio Highway patrol and have a good handle on when a bus has reached end-of-use."
He adds, "A new bus is approximately $90,000, so if we maintain our rotation we are looking at approximately $450,000."
Bratten has told the Stow Sentry the purpose of the PI levy "is to allow a school district to make needed significant building structural repairs to maintain high standards for safety, security and education."
"Our district has a high standard for education and safety," he said. "We are committed to maintaining this standard while being fiscally responsible to our residents. We must address the significant facility issues including roofs, foundations and safety upgrades to align with best safety and security practices. A PI levy this November will allow us to address many of these needs."