SIDNEY — Voters in the Sidney City Schools District are being asked to approve a 3-mill permanent improvement levy during the Tuesday, Aug. 2, special election. The proposed 5-year levy would raise an estimated $1.3 million for the district each year.
“Monies generated by the levy will not be used to pay for teacher salaries and benefits,” said Superintendent John Scheu. “The money can only be used for specific permanent improvements with a life of five years or more.
“This means the money can be used to purchase school buses, replace and repair windows, doors and roofs and purchase computers,” said Scheu.
If approved, property owners would pay $105 per year if their property value is $100,000.
The ages of the buildings in the district, said Scheu, is one reason why many repairs have been needed over the past several years. Emerson, Longfellow and Whittier were all built in 1950, making the buildings more than 65 years old. Northwood School was built in 1957; Sidney Alternative School in 1930; Lowell Elementary opened in 1950; Sidney Middle School was built in 2003; and Sidney High School was built in 1960 and renovated in 2004.
“The current high school is older than the old high school was when it was torn down,” said Ken McElroy, chairman of the levy committee.
Scheu said one of the questions he answers about the levy is “why put money into an old building?”
“This is a double-edged sword for us,” said Scheu. “We have done a very good job maintaining our buildings. Sidney High School is going on 60 years and we added onto it.
“We get asked, ‘why not build new buildings?’ We don’t feel we’re at that point yet with our buildings,” he said.
Scheu compared the Sidney and Piqua school districts, which are similar in size.
“Piqua just built three new buildings — two for K-4 and one for grades 5-6,” said Scheu. “Their project was $50 million. If you think paying $105 extra a year is a lot, you have no clue what a $50 million project would cost.”
“Even if the district did decide to build new buildings, that’s a plan that’s five years out,” said McElroy. “Our old buildings would still have to be used during that time.”
The levy, said McElroy, would allow the district to properly maintain the buildings without taking money from the general fund.
“Five years ago, the district had to do a salary reduction to make ends meet,” said Scheu. “There was a salary freeze for three years. We didn’t know where our next dollar was coming from.
“We were watching our expenditures and now we’re being criticized for having too big of a carryover,” Scheu continued. “We can’t keep draining from our general fund to do the repairs that should be coming from a PI levy. We have spent $1.4 million over the past three years on permanent improvements. We have to have a healthy PI fund to continue maintaining our buildings.”
McElroy said the uncertainty of the state budget every two years adds to the district’s concerns about money coming into the district.
“You’re never sure what the state and federal government is going to do,” said McElroy. “Having a little bit of cushion is not a bad thing.”
The distric had a .8 PI levy on the tax rolls, but district voters failed to renew it numerous times. In 2009, the board made the decision to allow the levy to expire. Through the years the district used all the PI funds until there were none left. At that point, monies from the general fund were used for PI projects.
In 2015, the board opted to reduce the millage for the Sidney Middle School Bond levy by 1.2 mills. Bond millage is not automatically reduced for increased property valuation which is why the board reduced the millage being collected.
The .8 PI levy cost a homeowner with a $100,000 house $28 per year. The 1.2 mill reduced in 2015 saved a homeowner with a $100,000 home $42 per year.
If a property owner with a $100,000 house takes both those figures — $28 from the PI levy and $42 from the millage reduction — their taxes were reduced by $70 per year.
Scheu said if you take that figure and look at the 3 mill PI levy on Tuesday’s ballot, the property owner would only be paying $35 more — if those two items were still on the tax rolls.
“Sometimes people can’t see the forest through the trees,” said Scheu. “You can’t just look at the PI levy. You have too look at the whole package for the district.
“The board, administration and school district has done everything they can to be very frugal with the district’s spending,” said Scheu.
“In the machine tool business, if something is broken you never neglect it, you take care of it,” said McElroy. “In a school district’s case, the customers are our students. If they see a broken faucet, they wonder if the administration cares about them.
“The money provided by this PI levy will be used to maintain our facilities,” he said. “We have people here (board office) to make the decisions for the district and they do it very well.”
Scheu commended McElroy for stepping up to the plate and becoming the chairman of the levy committee.
“We listened to what the voters said after the March election,” said Scheu. “We are more in the public eye with this election. We’ve run a question of the week in the Sidney Daily News. We have levy yard signs all over town. We’ve done a door-t0-door campaign.
“We didn’t try to sneak the March levy through,” he continued. “We opted not to put signs up in February/March because of weather conditions. But who knew the months would be mild.”
Scheu and McElroy both encouraged district voters to go to the polls Tuesday and cast their votes.
“The costs to run the district will continue to go up,” said Scheu. “Fifteen years ago, the state paid for 50 percent of the purchase of a new school bus, which cost $80,000. Today the same bus costs $100,000 and we receive no state reimbursement.”
“I want to see the levy be successful,” said McElroy. “I said I do it (levy chairman) for a good reason. This is a good reason. Even if we did nothing, the buildings will still be here in Sept. 1 and they will still require maintenance.”
Scheu said he hopes the voters will give the board the chance to prove what they can do with the funds from the passage of the PI levy.
“Give us the benefit of your doubts,” said Scheu. “You get to decide our fate in five years.”
Both men said in the future the district will have to address the needs of the aging buildings.
“But we’re not there yet,” said Scheu.
“We haven’t reached the point in the maintenance budget where we need to start thinking about new buildings tomorrow,” said McElroy. “But we do need to maintain what we have. And I believe we have a good maintenance program in place.”
“The buildings have been well maintained through the years,” said Scheu. “That’s a tribute to the priority the district has taken through the years.
All materials purchased for the levy campaign, said Scheu, was done so with private donations.
If the levy is approved Tuesday, collections will begin in 2017.
In addition to Scheu and McElroy, members of the levy committee are Mike Watkins, Jayne Smith, Tiffany Wildermuth and Eric Finke. Scheu said “lots of volunteers” have helped deliver levy information to the district’s voters.
If anyone would like more information about the levy, contact the board of education office, 937-497-2200.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822; follow her on Twitter @MelSpeicherSDN. Follow the SDN on Facebook, www.facebook.com/SidneyDailyNews.