CUYAHOGA FALLS — The fate of the city schools for generations to come could be decided Nov. 5, as Cuyahoga Falls City School District voters are being asked to approve Issue 6, the district's proposed 9.83-mill tax issue.
The millage from Issue 6 includes:
• A 4-mill levy for the district’s operating budget, that would be effective for 10 years and would raise around $3.1 million a year;
• A 5.33-mill, 36-year bond issue that would generate about $80.6 million. The bond issue would pay for a $113.8 million in new construction. The state would pay $33.2 million of the cost; and
• A 0.5-mill continuing permanent improvement levy. The funds from this levy would be put in a maintenance fund for the new construction.
If the levy is approved, the entire issue would cost homeowners $344 per $100,000 of their home’s value each year.
The key project the district hopes to finance through the bond issue portion is a new, 370,000-square-foot school building that would house both the district’s sixth through eighth graders, and its ninth through 12th graders at where Bolich Middle School and Newberry Elementary School stand now. Other projects officials with the district are eyeing include a new 5,000-seat outdoor stadium for football, track and soccer; a new 1,400-seat performing arts center, along with a separate 200-seat Black Box Theater.
Superintendent Todd Nichols said in previous interviews that this is the first segment of the district's Master Facilities Plan; the second segment will review the district's elementary school buildings.
This is the Cuyahoga Falls City Schools second attempt in four years to get voter approval of its Master Facilities Plan. In 2015, Cuyahoga Falls district voters rejected a 5.98-mill, 36-year bond issue and tax levy that would have raised $71 million for $93.5 million worth of construction, with $22.5 million being paid for by the state facilities commission.
Concerns raised and answered
Issue 6 has seen both supporters and detractors, with those in favor of the issue touting the possibility of building a modern school with 21st Century learning requirements in mind, with those more skeptical of the tax issue raising concerns about the cost and whether the district would be better off working with what it has and renovating its current structures instead of building new.
"It is the institutional design of the current structures leading to classroom filled with rows and columns of desks which promote lecture-style instructional strategies that hamper 21st Century learning," Nichols said. "Twenty-first century learning is based upon communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. Current facility design promotes 21st Century learning by incorporating flexible spaces — large group and small group — variable and comfortable furniture, natural light, etc."
Noting that the relocation of schools would increase the district’s transportation burden, Nichols said that the district has addressed those issues, and noted detailed information on the plans are available via the district’s Facebook page and website, www.cfalls.org.
Some residents have expressed concerns that the district has not prepared any building plans or renderings to show what their tax dollars will be paying for. Nichols said the district's leaders "are not locked into any particular design," adding renderings and architectural design is a large chunk of the cost for new construction.
"It would not be cost-effective to purchase these services until we secure our local share of the cost and an architect of record is determined," Nichols said.
In addition to specific concerns about the facilities plan and reconfiguration of schools, other residents had more general concerns about the school district.
Nichols also addressed the common question about merging the Woodridge Local Schools with the Cuyahoga Falls City School district. He called the merger of two school districts "a fairly complicated process" that wouldn't save a lot of money because the greatest costs school districts face are directly related to the number of students and amount of square footage needed to house them — two factors that would remain the same if the districts merged.
Other concerns center around the school district’s “D” grade on the recently released report cards from the Ohio Department of Education. Last year, the district received a “C” grade overall.
Nichols said that in addition to bringing facilities up to 21st Century standards, “research suggests that new facilities positively impact student achievement.”
The general election is Nov. 5. Polls are open between 6:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. However, the Summit County Board of Elections office will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 28 through Nov. 1, as well as from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Oct. 2, from 1 to 5 p.m., and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 4, for voters to cast their ballots early.
For elections information, visit https://www.summitcountyboe.com.
Reporter April Helms can be reached at 330-541-9423, email@example.com, or @AprilKHelms_RPC