When two of the most highly rated school districts in Ohio need to increase their operating revenue to battle the twin evils of increased costs and diminishing state support, voters in those communities should respond to that need and pass the levies on next Tuesday's ballot.
And when two other Mahoning County school districts have the opportunity to replace badly deteriorating schools -- and garner about a third of the cost from the state while locking in low interest rates -- voters in those communities, too, should recognize that they may never have as good a chance as they do now to provide safe, secure and educationally sound facilities for their children .
Both the Poland and Canfield school districts have been rated as excellent by the Ohio Department of Education -- only 71 out of 611 districts received this highest rating. Significantly, both districts have kept spending well below the state average with operating millage among the lowest in Mahoning County
Continued excellence in Poland, Canfield
But continued excellence requires increased support from voters. The Poland schools have been notified by the state that funding for the district will be cut by $183,230 for the coming school year. And in the nine years since the district asked for an additional operating levy, the cost of such school essentials as textbooks, furnishings and insurance has risen dramatically. The 3.9-mill five-year levy on the ballot will allow the district to maintain its reputation for excellence.
The Canfield School District is also asking for additional funding in a five-year 6.9-mill operating levy. Without the revenue the levy will generate, the district could face a deficit and be unable to provide the level of programs, service to students and learning opportunities that residents expect for their children.
As we said on Tuesday, neither the governor nor the Republican-dominated state legislature have responded to the Ohio Supreme Court's ruling to shift the burden of school funding from local property taxes. But property owners should not take out their disgust with Columbus on their neighbors' children or their own. Strong school districts maintain strong communities, as both Poland and Canfield have demonstrated.
New schools for Austintown, Jackson-Milton
After 86 years, it's time that the children of Austintown had a new junior high school. When the cost to repair and renovate a building is almost as much as replacing it, there is little choice but to bite the bullet and do the right thing now. The Austintown School District tried to pass a bond issue to raise funds for construction of a new junior high school and renovation of Frank Ohl Middle School last November, but it was rejected by fewer than 20 votes.
Passage of the 3.9 mill bond issue will generate $32 million to be used to meet the facilities plan developed by the district's Community Strategic Planning Committee. If the levy passes, the state will provide 39 percent of the cost for the new facilities, which will feature a state-of-the art security system, achieve cost savings on utilities and maintenance of new buildings compared to old buildings and provide better educational opportunities for Austintown's children.
Voters in the Jackson-Milton school district are being asked to approve a 10.2-mill 27-year bond issue to raise $21.5 million for the Jackson-Milton School District. If it passes, the money will be used to construct a building to house all students in three separates wing: for the high school (9th - 12th grades), middle school (5th - 8th grades) and a pre-kindergarten through 4th grade wing for the youngest pupils. Common space -- a centralized media center, cafeteria, gymnasium, computer rooms, art rooms and music rooms -- will be shared for increased efficiency efficiency.
Whether the issue passes or not, the schools will have to be renovated. The high school is 90 years old with the life cycle of replacement and renovation coming to end.The current elementary school was built in 1973. An assessment by the State Facilities Planning Commission calls for both buildings to be abandoned for educational use.
New schools save on operating costs, too, in meeting today's building standards and codes. School officials say that based on past experience the 10.2 mills will go down quickly. In encouraging his community to vote for the bond issue, Superintendent Warne Palmer said, "Ten years from now this will be seen as an outstanding decision" because the district can take advantage of low interest rates and a state funding opportunity might not be available later. The Jackson-Milton School District will be eligible for a 31 percent reimbursement of approximately $7 million of the $21 million total cost.
Most homeowners understand the benefits of good schools in maintaining property values and generating community cohesion. But most important, good schools provide good education for children -- thus ensuring the future of us all.