Opposing school levy signs compete for attention on Main Street in Swanton. Foes of the schools’ ballot issue include Jeff Michael, a former school board president.
The Blade/Lori King
SWANTON — Supporters of Swanton Local Schools’ proposed bond and tax levy view Tuesday’s special election as one last chance to build a school with the help of state funds.
But opponents contend the cost is too high and point out voters rejected the proposal in May.
Three months ago, about 60 percent of voters defeated the district’s request for a 35-year, 3.9-mill bond issue to generate $13.5 million for a building project and a 0.5-mill continuing maintenance levy. That same funding proposal goes before voters in portions of Lucas and Fulton counties for a second attempt.
If approved, it would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $110 a year, Superintendent Jeff Schlade said.
The funds would be used to pay the local share of a roughly $25 million prekindergarten through sixth-grade building at the high school campus, consolidating the district from four to two buildings, he said.
The state would pay the remainder of the project’s cost, but the offer to do so expires with this election.
“Voters said no, that’s obvious. But we’ve only got one more shot; we thought that with maybe a little more information and us doing a little bit better job communicating ... that might help those that were maybe on the fence,” Mr. Schlade said.
The district would demolish or sell Park and Crestwood elementary schools and the middle school and build a single replacement school, Mr. Schlade said.
Park Elementary is about 51 to 52 years old, while Crestwood is about 42 years old. The oldest portion of the middle school was built in 1904.
“Our need is real when you’re talking about buildings that are as old as ours are,” he said.
A group of residents campaigning against the proposal isn’t convinced.
Jeff Michael of Swanton, a former president of the school board, opposes the plan, which he said voters spoke “pretty loudly” against when they quashed the funding request in the spring.
“I think there’s a lot of options that we could do, and I don’t think that they explored them all,” he said. “The concern is the burden on the taxpayers. Our economic times are not the greatest right now.”
Swanton voters in 2000 passed a 25-year, 7.94-mill bond issue to raise $18 million, which included funds to build a high school and make improvements to the two elementary schools.
Mr. Michael said that expense is still being paid off, even as the district considers the current plan which would no longer require the use of those elementaries. It’s among the reasons he’s troubled by Tuesday’s request.
Mr. Michael thinks the district needs to consider cheaper options, such as moving junior high students to the high school but keeping the two elementary schools, or distributing the grades differently among the buildings.
“Before you come to us with new taxes, do your due diligence and understand all of the possibilities,” he said.
Rick Kazmierczak, the levy chairman of the Support Swanton Schools Levy Committee, said consolidating buildings would save operating costs, enhance safety precautions, and provide the benefit of having all grades on the same campus.
“It doesn’t make fiscal sense for us to turn our back on our own state funding,” he said.
He said the 2000 bond issue paid for a gym and revamped the library media center at Park and a couple classrooms at Crestwood.
In Erie County, Perkins Local School District also is returning to voters with a tax proposal after a funding request failure in May.
The district seeks voter support for a 10-year, 6.73-mill levy. It would bring in $2,875,000 in the levy’s first full year and cost the owner of a $150,000 house about $309 a year.
In May, voters defeated a 4.98-mill request, but Superintendent Jim Gunner said the district is asking again — and at a higher rate — because of declines in property valuation and state funding.
The district has laid off teachers, notifying 17 or 18 teachers in March of layoffs and an additional dozen at the end of May, he said.
“If the levy passes, we will bring back the dozen teachers that we laid off in May,” he said.
If it fails, Mr. Gunner expects the school board to move quickly to place another funding request before voters in November.
Contact Vanessa McCray at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6065, or on Twitter @vanmccray.