A'town forum focuses on issue

Until the state changes school funding, property taxes are needed to pay for education, the superintendent says.
AUSTINTOWN -- Schools Superintendent Richard Denamen took his case to the people Thursday night, leading a public forum on the 3.9-mill, 26-year bond issue that will appear on the ballot here in May.
If it passes, the bond issue will allow the board to borrow $32 million to pay for the renovation of Frank Ohl Middle School and the construction of a new junior high school. The junior high would replace Austintown Middle School, which was built in 1916 and is in need of repair.
"All we can do is present to the community, the community has the final say-so," said Denamen, who was wearing a bright yellow "For the future, yes schools" T-shirt.
About 20 people attended Thursday night's hourlong forum at the middle school. They asked if the bond issue had to last 26 years, and if the school board plans to place another tax issue on the ballot in the future.
If the bond issue were less than 26 years, the board would have to increase the millage in order to borrow $32 million, Denamen said. That would mean each property owner would pay more each year than they would if the 26-year issues passes.
Denamen also said most school districts try to pass a levy or bond issue every three to five years in order to pay for increased expenses. He said he couldn't promise that the school board won't try to pass another levy in the future.
A resident also asked Denamen why the board doesn't try to pass the bond issue 10 years from now, when the district could receive capital improvement money through the Ohio School Facilities Commission's Expedited Local Partnership Program. The program calls for the state to pay 39 percent of the cost of bringing the schools up to state standards. The school board would pay the remaining amount.
What's needed
Denamen stressed that Austintown Middle School needs to be repaired or replaced soon. He added that even though the state money may not be available until 2009, the $32 million still would count toward the school board's percentage under the local partnership program.
Denamen also noted that even if the district doesn't receive state money, the middle school still needs to be replaced.
After the forum, people said they were concerned about the effect the bond issue could have on retirees and senior citizens. In addition, some said they weren't sure if they should vote for the bond issue if it meant they couldn't afford other needed tax increases in the future.
Denamen has said that until the state changes the school funding system, property taxes are needed to pay for education.
On Thursday, Denamen said he "doesn't have a negative feeling" about the bond issue's chances this May. The bond issue also appeared on the ballot last November, when it failed by 17 votes.

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