Wednesday, November 6, 2002

Cincinnati Public Schools

Bond issue to build, renovate schools fails

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The razor thin defeat of the Cincinnati school bond issue Tuesday left supporters strategizing a new ballot request for next year to pay for an unprecedented school construction project.

The $480 million bond issue went down 50.8 percent to 49.2 percent.

Without the 4.89-mill bond issue, the district of 42,000 students cannot finance its $1 billion decadelong construction plan to build 35 schools and renovate 31 others.

The defeat also jeopardizes more than $200 million in state funding that the district would receive if it raises the balance of the project's cost.

"We have enough money to get started and we will bring the levy back," said new schools Superintendent Alton Frailey, who was hired in September from a suburban Houston school district, where he was assistant superintendent.

"This would have been a good time to pass it because interest rates are low and we could have easily sold the bonds. It would've been good to send a message to our children that we value them and we value our school system."

Officials said the money is needed to replace crumbling schools, many of which can't be wired properly for new technology and have drafty windows, leaky roofs and outdated heating systems.

"This is a big disappointment," said City Councilman David Crowley. "It would've been nice for us to pass it so we could have a model to show the children. Now we have to start all over and try to pass the bond issue, and that costs a lot of money."

District officials say the new and renovated schools would have offered state-of-the-art, air-conditioned facilities to support team-teaching programs. Classrooms would be arranged in pods where three to four classrooms would be built around a central learning area.

The district has enough money to complete the project's first phase of the planned four-segment project, even without the bond issue, but district officials said they have to evaluate their plans. That funding comes in part from payments by the city and Hamilton County in lieu of property taxes on Paul Brown Stadium and the new Reds Great American Ball Park.

That phase includes 15 new schools and two renovated schools. Mr. Frailey said the district intends to implement as much of the plan as possible.

Construction is expected to start in winter 2003 for schools such as Rockdale Academy in Avondale and the new pre-K-12 East End school.

Deborah Rambo, a North Avondale resident and parent, said she supported the issue.

She said her friends in Mason are trying to decide what kind of marble to put in their schools, while "we would just like to have working drinking fountains."

Ms. Rambo said investing in schools is necessary to maintain property values.

But many voters said they didn't support the schools because the tax increase was too much to bear. The issue would've cost an additional $143 annually for a $100,000 home.

"I'm glad the voters rejected it," said Jim Urling, president of the antitax group Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes.

"This has never been about educating the children. This has been more about satisfying the teachers union and increasing bureaucracy. The vote against the bond issue was a vote against waste."

"We'll bring it back again," said school board member Melanie Bates.

"I don't know exactly when. Let's just hope the interest rates don't jump too high."

Enquirer reporter Allen Howard contributed. E-mail

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