Tuesday, October 26, 1999

Group finds support for tax hike

Talawanda backers poll voters

Enquirer Contributor

        OXFORD — An informal phone survey shows overwhelming support for a school bond issue/income tax package among parents with students in the Talawanda schools.

        The nonscientific poll was conducted two weeks ago by 100 members of the Citizens for Talawanda Tomorrow. Using a list of school district parents, they got responses from 1,006 registered voters. Of those, 57 percent favored the ballot question, 14 percent opposed it and 28 percent were undecided.

        Residents Nov. 2 will decide a single ballot question that includes a 5.84-mill bond issue and a 0.75 percent income tax.

        The bond issue would raise $34 million that would be used to build a high school, remodel the existing high school into an elementary, and make improvements at other buildings.

        The income tax is estimated to raise $2.7 million annually and would be used to raise teachers' salaries to the mid-level of those in Butler County, for operations, and to hire 43 employees.

        Because the poll was not scientific and excluded voters who do not have children in the schools, the results do not indicate how the community at large might vote on the issue.

        Still, “We're very heartened by those results,” Superintendent Susan Cobb said. “Our job now is to provide information to those undecided voters.”

        One such voter is John Trump, a former board member, assistant principal and coach. He said he has always supported Talawanda issues and thinks the district needs the money. But he's uncomfortable about closing Stewart Elementary School, which would be sold.

        “My concern in the whole thing is saving Stewart,” Mr. Trump said. “I would like an outside, objective view of Stewart. I think it's worth saving. It's still a serviceable ele mentary school and that gives me a dilemma about the issue. The two items are tied together. You can't vote for one without the other.”

        Under a plan approved this year by the board of education, the high school would be built on 157 acres on Millville-Oxford Road, across from the College View Motel. If the ballot question is approved, construction would begin next summer and the school would open in 2002.

        Once built, the high school would close for a year so it could be remodeled and then opened as an elementary in 2003. During that year, attendance districts for elementary students would be revised and the changes implemented when the remodeling work was finished. The new school and Maud Marshall and Kramer elementaries would house kindergarten through 5. Stewart Elementary would be sold to Thriftway.

        “This levy is about several things,” Ms. Cobb said. “It's about program improvements — adding courses and teachers. We want to raise teachers' salaries to the average in the county so we can attract and retain good teachers. It's about improving school facilities.”

        It is important to pass the levy on the first try because of rising interest rates, district treasurer James Rowan said. When the issue was first discussed last March, interest rates were 5.4 percent. Since then, they've risen to more than 6 percent.

        “If the market is this vola tile, the failure of a November issue could cost us more money whenever it would pass,” Mr. Rowan said.

        Said Jim Haley, who is chairing the levy effort: “The economy is good now. We can't envision the times would be better in the future.”

        The committee has the endorsements of more than 800 residents who gave permission to be identified as backers of the levy, Mr. Haley said.

        A family with a combined income of $50,000 would pay an additional $375 annually for the income tax portion of the ballot issue, Mr. Rowan said. The bond issue portion would cost the owner of a house with a market value of $100,000 an additional $175 in new taxes.

        Voters last approved a money issue 11 years ago.


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