Did you know today is Election Day?
Well, it is if you live in the Southwest Local School District area, Mt. Healthy or the Village of Elmwood Place.
For the second time in less than a year, the Southwest Local School District has a bonds issue on the ballot to provide funding for a facilities assistance program.
“This ballot is extremely pivotal for the future of our school district and community,” said John Hamstra, superintendent of Southwest schools. “It will allow us to put out students in a 21st century learning environment for decades to come.”
It would be in the amount of $0.395 per $100 of property tax valuation. If this passes, the bonds would be issued in the amount of $43,150,000, with the money going to constructing new buildings to replace the existing, outdated ones.
The district also has a levy on the ballot, in the amount of $0.05 per $100 of tax evaluation to provide funding for the construction, renovation, and financing of permanent improvements.
“The middle school was built in 1957; it doesn’t have air conditioning,” Hamstra said. “A lot of times, teachers are trying to decide between having an oscillating fan plugged in or a laptop.”
Students start back to classes Aug. 17, so the heat will remain an issue for weeks, if not months, into the school year. The only academic building in the district that currently has air conditioning is the high school.
The reason for the August ballot is to get a portion of the funds matched by the state of Ohio. The school district had their plans approved by the state in July of 2015, after which it was given 13 months to get local approval for the issue.
If that happens, the state will kick in $0.26 on the dollar, which would be a huge bonus for the district.
“In November, we got shellacked,” Hamstra said. The issue then, which averaged nearly $100 more per homeowner, was defeated with 62 percent of voters shooting down the bond.
The district regrouped after the November defeat to see how they could get the bond issue passed.
That took them past the time they could get on the May ballot, so August is the last chance they have to get the bond issue passed and receive the matching funds. This time, instead of looking at renovations for all schools, the bond would cover a renovated high school and brand new junior high. The money raised would also cover the operating cost of both schools for the life of the bond, which is 38 years.
“People think we are trying to sneak the issue in, and that’s simply not true,” Hamstra said. The district sent home a summer newsletter that dedicated numerous pages to the issue, and has had a heavy social media presence concerning it, he said.
They have a website dedicated to the issue and educating people about it, as well as a Facebook page supporting the project. Hamstra spent some time discussing the issue on a podcast as well, which can be heard here.
“It’s a very heated climate politically, and unfortunately, schools and local issues are not immune to that,” Hamstra said. He does feel more optimistic this time around, though.
“There are two sides to it, for sure, like any bond issue, but we have a lot more voices who are supporting the issue,” he said.
In fact, the Facebook page has over half a dozen videos shared by residents of the district explaining why they are for the bond. Many of those videos are of current students or recent graduates.
Rick Seal, a recent grad and Northern Kentucky University student, posted a video where he explained that his college experience is what made him in favor of the bond.
“When you get to college, almost everything is paperless, everything is online,” he said in the video. “To better prepare our students, we need to take the next step in technology. Some of the buildings we have now are not capable or able to sustain the changes that we need in our schools.”
The other side of the issue is stated on the website. If defeated a second time, the school district knows they will simply have to make do with what they have.
“We would also hear the public loud / clear – with two bond issue defeats in one year, that new or renovated schools are not a priority for the students in this community. More than likely, we would not go back to voters for bricks / mortar money for several years,” it said.
Other Issues on the Aug. 2 Ballot
- Mt. Healthy is asking to renew a levy that costs tax payers $0.154 per $100 of valuation. The levy goes toward the city’s general fund, and is renewed every five years – meaning this isn’t going to raise taxes in the city.“This has been a continual operating levy, subsidizing funds for police, fire, parks, and even streets,” said City Manager Bill Kocher. “It amounts to a little over $100,000 for the city.”
- Elmwood Place has two levies on the ballot: one to pay for police services and the other for fire and emergency medical services. The levies, which are renewals, are $0.15 per $100 valuation for police and $0.20 per $100 valuation for fire/EMS. They are on the ballot for the special election in case they don’t pass, in which case they would be back on the November ballot.