Austintown district loses assured $31M for new school
By Robert Connelly
Austintown schools missed the deadline to put its bond issue for a new high school on August’s special election, meaning state-awarded building funds are no longer guaranteed.
Austintown Board of Education president Kathy Mock said, “I would think there would be a conversation very soon on how we move forward.”
She added that it will have to be a group effort — and that the conversation will be on “if we should move forward ... there’s a lot of variables.”
Superintendent Vincent Colaluca said that the school district will continue to ask taxpayers for funding.
“I see the community as being taxed-out, but what they need to understand is that the state of Ohio isn’t going to continue to give us more money,” Colaluca said. “There is no other alternative for us. We can’t go out and get a loan.”
He also said renovation is off the table, and district officials are moving forward only talking about building a new Fitch.
The bond issue failed 4,311 votes to 2,239 votes on May 6, almost 2-to-1.
The 4.1-mill bond issue was set to raise $46 million over 37 years. It would have cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $144 a year.
The Ohio Facilities Construction Commission awarded Austintown $31 million, or 47 percent of the cost to rebuild, last August. The district had 13 months to act on the funding, but since it was not able to get the issue on this August’s special-election ballot, the funding is no longer guaranteed.
The bond committee and district hosted two town hall forums leading up to the election, and many residents questioned why the district needed to replace the 1960s-built Fitch High School. To that point, Colaluca said the buildings were previously built together years ago. “We just have to do them all at once,” Colaluca said.
The Austintown school district has replaced three buildings on a campus site between Idaho and Raccoon roads. An elementary building, an intermediate building and a middle school are on the campus with the old high school.
Since the district missed the deadline of May 7 to put the bond issue on the August ballot, the district has become a “lapsed district” — meaning funds are no longer guaranteed.
“They’ve [the OFCC] already given dollars to non-school entities from that fund. Are those dollars going to be there in the future? We don’t know that,” Colaluca said.
He also said the cost of the project can rise in coming years, citing labor and material costs rising at a rate of between 3 percent and 5 percent a year.
Mock said they will discuss as a group how to go forward and if they should put a bond issue on the November ballot. For that ballot, the district has to decide by Aug. 6, the day after the special election.