Tuesday, August 13, 2002

School bond issue approved

$480M would help finance construction

By Jennifer Mrozowski jmrozowski@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Cincinnati school board voted unanimously Monday to place a $480 million bond issue on the Nov. 5 ballot to help finance the biggest school construction project in the city's history.

        Board members say the district could save tens of millions of dollars over the life of the bond issue by locking in low interest rates.

        The next step: Persuading voters to support it, even those whose children aren't in public schools.

  Cincinnati Public Schools' levies and bond issues:
  Under consideration: 4.89-mill bond issue to raise $480 million.
  November 2000: 6-mill operating levy to raise $35.8 million annually passed.
  March 2000: 6.5-mill operating levy for $38.8 million annually failed.
  March 2000: 10.9-mill, 5-year renewal of two emergency operating levies to raise $65.1 million annually passed.
  November 1999: 4.5-mill operating levy to raise $21 million annually failed.
  1996: 8.8-mill, 5-year emergency operating levy renewal to raise $45.8 million annually passed.
  1995: 5-mill operating levy to raise $26 million annually passed.
  1995: 7.43-mill, 5-year emergency operating levy renewal to raise $19.4 million annually passed.
  1994: .74-mill, 5-year permanent improvement levy renewal to raise $2.5 million annually passed.
  1994: 7.43-mill, 5-year emergency operating levy renewal to raise $19.4 million annually failed.
  1993: 4.85-mill bond issue to raise $348 million failed.
  Source: Cincinnati Public Schools
        “I think we've got a lot (of) interest going in the schools and in the neighborhoods,” board member John Gilligan said. “If we run the kind of campaign we're capable of running, this can be done. It won't be easy, but it can be done - and it's worth doing.”

        District officials say the money is badly needed to rebuild the district's aging schools. It would be used to build 35 new schools and renovate 31 others at a cost of $1 billion over the next decade. Other funds would come from the state, the district and other sources.

        Outgoing Superintendent Steven Adamowski, who is serving his last week as the district chief, said it was gratifying to see the board unanimously vote to place the issue on the November ballot.

        “All the work on the master facilities plan over the last two years has been geared toward replacing or repairing all the schools,” he said. “This is a very positive step forward.”

        The 4.89-mill bond issue would help fully finance the project's four phases. It would cost owners with homes of a $100,000 market value $143 annually.

        Board members say they'll turn to organizations such as Cincinnatians Active to Support Education - which raised money to support the district's 2000 operating levy 1/2ndash 3/4 to help champion the bond issue.

        Among people they will urge to register to vote are African-American parents, whose children make up 71 percent of the district's population, Mr. Gilligan said. The district will also have to win support from private school parents.

        Representatives of the Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati came to the meeting Monday to urge the board to place the issue on the November ballot.

        “The question tonight is not, "Can we afford new taxes?' ” said Sister Joan Krimm. “The question is: "Can we afford to abandon our children and not give them the safe and modern environment needed for good learning?' Let us show our children that they are more important to us than money.”

        The district's record on passing levies and bond issues is mixed.

        Voters passed a 6-mill operating levy in November 2000 to raise $35.8 million annually. That was after voters rejected a 6.5-mill operating levy in March 2000 that would've raised $38.8 million annually - but at the same time passed a 10.9-mill, 5-year renewal of two emergency operating levies to raise $65.1 million annually.

        This is the first time in almost a decade that the district is asking for money to build schools. The last time was in 1993, when voters were asked to pass a 4.85-mill bond issue for $348 million. That issue failed.

        Board members and district officials say this construction plan is much different than that of 1993.

        As part of this plan, the state will contribute more than $200 million for the project if the district can finance the rest through taxpayer support and other revenue. The district also has identified $300 million from other sources, including payments from the city and Hamilton County in lieu of property taxes from Paul Brown Stadium and Great American Ball Park.

        Also, long-term interest rates on bond issues, which are under 5 percent, are as low as they've been in two decades. In 1993, the interest rates were around 6 percent. Treasurer Michael Geoghegan said for every 1 percent increase in interest rates, the district would have to pay an additional $70 million over the life of this bond issue - which could span 28 years.

        Board members note that residents, not just children, would benefit from the unprecedented construction project because the schools would be built as neighborhood centers open day and night and on weekends. The planned East End school would even house a YMCA.

        “Unlike the levy campaigns for operations that impact mostly the school community, this is a project that actually changes Cincinnati neighborhoods,” board president Rick Williams said. “It affects all of us. It is about inclusion into the economics of the project as well as the opportunity to improve the community physically.”

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