Wednesday, July 18th, 2012
No new levy now
Consultant warns board to mend fences with voters
By Margie Wuebker
NEW BREMEN - Board of education members have decided the time is not right to make another levy attempt.
A community survey conducted after the March 5 defeat of a 7.55-mill bond issue to construct and maintain a new K-8 building costing nearly $20 million shows the majority of respondents are still against the project.
"For a significant number of residents, the need to construct a new K-8 building is neither clear nor compelling," consultant William O'Callaghan told board members during a meeting Tuesday night. "As a result of being asked to support a tax increase when the need wasn't clear, the levy has left a sour taste in many people's mouths and brought to the surface a number of issues and concerns - including public trust and confidence in the board of education - that need to be addressed."
The $13 million levy was defeated 972 to 607 at the primary election. Board members later that month approved the $2,500 survey.
O'Callaghan said surveys were mailed to 1,879 homes in the school district, with 360 residents returning the forms for a 19.4 percent response rate. He admitted surprise at the high response rate.
"The return rate for this type of mail survey has seldom exceeded 10 percent," he added.
Reasons for the defeat as cited by respondents included they simply could not afford the cost and did not want more taxes during poor economic times. Others noted the district continues to pay off the high school building and the current K-8 building is good enough, even though people were unaware of existing infrastructure problems.
Some mentioned they did not like the location of the proposed 80,540-square-foot building to the west of the high school with a connector joining the two. Others claimed there was a lack of input from the community, and school officials only presented a one-sided view with no other options. Some respondents said the decision to proceed with the levy was rushed.
"The bottom line is that the need to build a new K-8 building was not urgent enough to overcome all of these public concerns," O'Callaghan said. "Some seeds of potential distrust have been planted in the community - a phenomenon that often occurs as a result of the unsettling and divisive nature of asking voters to increase their taxes."
The levy, if it had been approved, would have cost the owner of a $100,000 property, $231.24 annually for a period of 33 years. The Ohio School Facilities Commission has pledged $6.845 million toward a project.
Only 36 percent of respondents termed utilization of state money for the project as very important while 39 percent termed such use not very important.
"A significant number of residents feel that state funds should be used only if a new K-8 building is really needed," the consultant said. "Without a clear sense of urgency to construct a new K-8 building, the availability of state matching funds, by itself, is not a good enough reason for residents to want to raise their taxes."
Board president Kami Fox nodded her head in agreement.
"I am definitely thinking now is not the time to put a levy back on the ballot," she said. "There is no point to moving ahead until we get a message from the community."
Howard Overman, who assumes superintendent responsibilities on Aug. 1, said district residents should have the opportunity to peruse the survey results.
"There has to be discussion on what is best for our kids and what needs to be addressed at the current building," he said. "There are things we need to do ... maybe not next year but in the future."
Interim superintendent John Basinger admitted the survey results are a lot to digest, adding, "There needs to be healing between the board and the community."
The consultant agreed, "This is an opportunity to begin the healing process. Like a marriage or any other relationship, there is a need to sit down and talk."
The board scheduled a 6 p.m. work session July 24 to discuss how to best get the results into the hands of the public and to lay groundwork for small community meetings where residents can express their concerns.