Déjà Vu

On Jan. 10, the Board of Education voted to place the same issue on the April 4 ballot that voters rejected last November.

The Board is seeking to issue $140 million in debt to fund the replacement of H.C. Storm and Louise White schools, along with maintenance and improvement projects at the other 6 school buildings.

One of the main reasons board members cited for placing the exact same issue before voters was that the April election is the last opportunity to issue new bonds that coincide with the retirement of current debt. In other words, the annual debt payment (approximately 10 percent of school taxes) would continue for the next 20 years or so if the referendum is approved. If voters reject it, they will be giving themselves a 10 percent cut in their school property taxes.

In a statement issued by the school district Jan. 11, school officials said that following the November decision, they collected input from the staff and community through a survey, focus groups and feedback forms. Over 1,700 surveys and 170 additional feedback forms were completed, they said.

The most prevalent of all themes (n = 268) was that the plan lacked specificity and clarity. 

The second most frequent theme (n = 265)  largely focused on the tax burden. Many felt that the case for the referendum was not compelling to justify the taxes already collected. Many comments cited the truthfulness of “no tax increase” campaign literature, that taxes would otherwise decrease, and impugned the trustworthiness of leadership. 

In the Jan. 11 statement, officials acknowledged that  “If the referendum passes, the amount of that annual debt payment, and the taxes collected for it, would remain level. If the referendum fails, taxes will go down.” 

The district currently pays $9.1 million annually for current bond debt (approximately 10 percent of school property taxes). 

 H.C. Storm School and Louise White School will be rebuilt onsite. The full extent of school improvements are contingent upon economics, particularly bond interest rates, inflation, and construction costs.

School officials say  “it is more cost effective to rebuild, rather than renovate, these schools. The extent of renovations required to modernize these schools also triggers compliance with modern building codes (including fire sprinklers, handicap accessibility, and tornado shelters) and exceeds replacement costs.  Additionally, students would remain in their current school during construction.”

A fair question for voters to ask is whether the referendum could have been scaled back to cover specific needs over shorter periods of time, especially in light of forecasts that say Batavia school enrollment will continue to decline at an annual rate of about 2 percent.

Also, it is not as though current capital needs would go unmet if the referendum fails. The district now allocates over $2 million annually (and increasing) for capital projects from operating funds, according to the Jan. 11 statement. 

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