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Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

Celina schools levy fails decisively

By Amy Kronenberger

Celina school board president Matt Gilmore looks over election results Tuesday n. . .

CELINA - School district residents overwhelmingly denied a bond issue that would have built a new elementary school.
Nearly 68 percent of voters - or 5,806 people - living in the Celina school district voted against the levy, and about 32 percent - or 2,789 people - voted for it.
"I'm very disappointed it didn't pass," newly hired superintendent Jesse Steiner said Tuesday night. "Obviously, the previous superintendent and school board thought it was very important, and we had a good committee who thought it was very important."
The 3.8-mill, 33-year property tax would have brought in $27.7 million, paying for the majority of the $35.8 million project. The remaining funds would have come from the Ohio School Facilities Commission, which has committed $8.1 million toward a project through 2013. The school has until September to get a levy passed before the OSFC money would be offered to another district.
Of the $27.7 million from taxpayers, $10.7 million would have covered the base building costs and the remaining $17 million was marked for locally funded initiatives, additional work the state will not cover.
The project called for the demolition of the current East and West buildings with a new school built at the site of West elementary off Logan Street. Celina's LFI's included additional classroom space so the fourth grade could remain in the elementary - the state has said the fourth grade could fit in the intermediate building; a second gymnasium at the elementary; air conditioning at all district buildings; a fixed-seat auditorium at the high school; and a contingency fund to cover possible overages.
Some commenters on The Daily Standard's Facebook page this morning said the issue failed because the school board was asking for too may extra add-ons and that they pushed the issue too quickly, not educating voters. Another cited the school's existing debt.
The school board received state approval to move forward with the construction project because the new bond would push the district over its debt limit. A district's debt must not be more than 9/10 of 1 percent of the school's overall valuation - $33.5 million. Celina's debt would have been $37.3 million if the issue passed.
Residents are still paying on a 1996, $17 million bond issue that paid for the intermediate school, additions to the middle and high schools and renovation of the Franklin building in Montezuma. The district owes $9.6 million, with payoff expected in 2020.
Steiner said the building committee will meet Nov. 19 to discuss the next step. Though nothing is decided, the school board likely will try again and place the levy on the May ballot, Steiner said.
Steiner said the board may consider paring the number of LFIs, lessening the cost to taxpayers.
"It's premature to discuss any changes" they might make to the levy, Steiner said. "But I'm sure the board will talk about it at their meetings."
Levy campaign chairman Chris Mohler said he still plans to fight for the new school.
"I do believe that although it (levy) was passed down pretty handily, we still have 1950s buildings with issues that need to be addressed," he said. "The question is when will the community be ready? Will it be while we have state funding and interest rates are at record lows or not."
Steiner agreed.
"The percent of votes against is discouraging, but it doesn't change the fact that we need those items," he said.
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