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Published: Friday, 8/15/2008

TPS to ask voters for bond issue and a levy

BY MEGHAN GILBERT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Voters will be asked to support the Toledo Public Schools twice on the November ballot.

The Toledo Board of Education yesterday approved putting a bond issue for $37 million in capital improvements and a nearly $16 million levy renewal before voters on Nov. 4.

District officials say neither will cost more money because the levy renewal asks voters to continue what they pay now and the bond issue is a reauthorization of what they approved in 2002.

"We're not asking for anything new," board President Steven Steel said.

The 10-year, 4.9-mill levy renewal will generate $15.7 million a year to pay for operating costs like staff, programs, textbooks, and utilities. The millage needed now to raise that amount is 4.8 mills, which is the figure that will appear on the ballot.

To finance the $37 million in bonds, voters will be taxed an average of 0.7 mills over 28 years.

The requests would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $147 annually for the operating levy and an average of $22 a year for the bond issue.

The school board unanimously supported the bond issue, but Darlene Fisher voted no for the levy renewal, saying it was risky to place both on the same ballot.

Ms. Fisher also objected to the levy being extended from a five-year to 10-year period without first developing strategic and capacity plans for the district, which she has requested repeatedly. Voters need to know what their tax dollars will buy, she said.

"I don't want our employees to think I'm not willing to invest in the district. I am, but it's got to be the right time and the right place," Ms. Fisher said.

Although the district hasn't asked for new money since 2000, Mr. Steel said, it seems like it is always asking voters to renew levies.

Voters in March approved the renewal of a five-year, 6.5-mill operating levy that accounts for $15.8 million of the district's budget. And the district likely will ask voters to renew a 2.5-mill capital improvement levy that expires at the end of 2010 to preserve its annual revenue of about $4.9 million.

"It seems like every few months we're going back for another renewal, then another renewal," Mr. Steel said. "This gives us stability and the ability to have a strong fiscal plan."

The district had considered going to voters with a renewal plus an increase or a new levy to bring in additional money to offset a projected deficit, but decided to ask for just the renewal because of the economy and uncertainty at the state level regarding future school funding.

Even if voters approve the 4.9-mill levy that expires at the end of next year, TPS projects a $26 million deficit by the 2010-2011 school year that would grow to $60 million by 2011-2012.

If it's voted down, the district will go into the red one year earlier and will have to find a way to cut about $7 million out of next year's budget, Treasurer Dan Romano said.

The bond issue had been discussed frequently before yesterday's meeting, and the board unanimously agreed to pursue the money to renovate buildings outside of the Ohio School Facilities Commission plan.

It will appear as a new bond issue for $37 million, but the district is calling it a reauthorization of a bond issue passed in 2002 for the district's Building for Success new building campaign.

The original bond issue was approved six years ago to cover the 23 percent co-funded portion of the building campaign. The facilities commission contributes 77 percent.

It was an $800 million project at the time. It has since been scaled back to $640 million.

The bonds that could be issued for the larger project were $183 million, but since they were tied directly to the facilities commission plan, they also were reduced to about $146 million. The $37 million represents the difference.

Mr. Romano said the total bonds to be issued will not exceed the $183 million approved in 2002.

The money will be used to renovate buildings outside the building campaign - Waite High School; the former DeVilbiss High School, which houses Toledo Technology Academy; the Old West End Academy, and Crossgates, Edgewater, Glendale-Feilbach, and Harvard elementary schools.

Some funds also will go toward a Scott High School renovation to make up the difference of what the state will not cover.

The district recently put together a "wish list" of facility needs that added up to almost $58 million.

Mr. Steel said they immediately will start prioritizing those needs and decide where the $37 million will be spent.

Contact Meghan Gilbert at:

mgilbert@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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