THE Toledo Public Schools District is in the midst of constructing 57 new schools and renovating seven others, but it cannot afford to let slide the maintenance of its existing buildings.
That's why district voters should not hesitate to approve Issue 4 on the ballot in next Tuesday's election.
TPS officials call Issue 4, a 2.5-mill levy that would run for five years, a "substitute" for a five-year capital improvements measure that was first approved by voters in 1985 and has been renewed at three elections, the last in 2000.
Officially, Issue 4 can't be called a renewal or a replacement levy because its purpose would be expanded to supplement the $821 million construction program approved by voters in 2002.
The state is paying 77 percent of the overall cost. The remainder comes from a 4.99-mill, 28-year levy approved by TPS voters in 2002.
The extra money generated by Issue 4 would pay additional expenses that TPS has encountered during the construction program, including rapid jumps in the price of structural steel and the distinctive brickwork and pitched roofs district residents have demanded.
State funds can't be stretched for these purposes, making passage of Issue 4 a necessity to carry out the taxpayer mandate for well-designed, well-built, educational facilities that will last for generations.
The bulk of the money, however, would go for maintenance of TPS' current 67-building physical plant. Leaky roofs and other routine repairs to aging facilities must not be neglected during the 10-year period it will take to construct the new schools.
In addition, the capital improvements levy also would provide money to maintain the TPS bus fleet and $250,000 a year for new student computers.
Approval of Issue 4 would generate $3 million above the $4.8 million already being collected by the district each year. The cost to voters in addition to what they're already paying would be minimal - $2.25 a month or $27 a year for the owner of a $75,000 home.
Due to the state of Ohio's tax rollback formula, the current 2.5-mill levy, which expires at the end of the year, is generating an effective rate of just 1.3 mills on today's property valuations. The new levy would be collected at the full 2.5 mills beginning Jan. 1.
To their credit, TPS voters have shown that they value keeping their schools in good repair. When the capital improvements levy was last on the ballot in 2000, it received 73 percent of the vote.
The problem this time, if there is one, lies in differentiating between taxpayer money for upkeep and construction and funds used for operations, including teacher salaries.
Aside from maintenance, TPS is facing a $13 million deficit in its operating budget for the coming year. That is a separate matter from Issue 4, and it may have to be addressed in a fall election.
In the meantime, TPS residents should not be reluctant to endorse funding the district's urgent maintenance needs, which are at stake on May 3.
The Blade recommends that voters cast their ballots FOR ISSUE 4.