Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Schools remove fund issue

Middletown plan clashes with state's

By Sue Kiesewetter
Enquirer Contributor

        MIDDLETOWN — The Middletown school board has removed a funding issue from the May 8 ballot because of the board's differences with a preliminary master plan prepared by the Ohio School Facilities Commission.

        The board voted 4-0 Tuesday to cancel the 4.1-mill combination issue that would have provided a $30 million bond issue, and a permanent improvement levy that would raise $18.5 million over 10 years. The money was to have been used in a $71 million plan that called for renovating and repairing all the schools in the district over several years.

        In a March 9 meeting with school officials, the commission unveiled a $118 million proposal that calls for the closing of all elementary schools except Amanda. Those 11 schools would be replaced with five new buildings under the state's plan, said Edmund Pokora, treasurer for Middletown schools.

        Founded in 1997, the commission provides funds for districts to make repairs to schools or rebuild them based on a formula that takes into consideration residents' income, enrollment and property values. Under the formula, Middletown would be eligible for money in 2009-2011.

        “Their plan is more expensive and takes away neighborhood schools,” said board member John Venturella. “It closes some buildings and consolidates others.”

        Removing the issue from the ballot was done to give school officials time to negotiate with the commission on a final plan. Mr. Pokora estimated the state would pay 26 percent of the costs, and the district would pay 74 percent.

        Over the past two years the community has said it wants to keep smaller, neighborhood schools, said Mark Frazer, president of the school board. But under state guidelines, the cost to renovate cannot exceed 66 percent of the cost to rebuild, and enrollment has to be 350 or more.

        “It's not that one plan is better than the other, but that one does more,” Mr. Pokora said. “If we want their money, we have to follow their (guidelines).”

        The district has two years to negotiate with the commission, Mr. Pokora said.

        “In short, much work needs to be done to align the commission's preliminary plan with our locally developed facilities plan that is based on community input and the retention of neighborhood schools,” Mr. Pokora said.

        Renewal of Middletown's portion of a $4.9 million operating levy, approved in 1995 and renewed in 1998 when Monroe was part of the district, will remain on the ballot, Mr. Pokora said. Now that Monroe is a separate district, Middletown voters are being asked to renew its share - 4.35 mills, which would bring in about $4 million.


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