ELYRIA — Superintendent Tom Jama is making the rounds to hear what residents have to say about the Elyria school district’s upcoming bond issue, and he’s finding that community members are questioning the inclusion of the locally funded initiatives, including a proposed $9 million sports complex.
On Tuesday night, school board members authorized a 600-household survey in the next two weeks to gauge how the community feels about the state’s offer to co-fund building new elementary and middle schools. The district hopes to piggyback the issue with locally funded projects.
“I don’t think it’s lost on anyone that we could get $120 million worth of schools pretty cheap,” said board member Jim Backs.
New schools — the master plan recommendation calls for two new K-4 elementary buildings and three K-8 campus-style buildings — don’t appear to be the problem. The estimated cost to build the new schools is about $120 million, with the state kicking in $80 million.
However, concerns are that the added projects will tack on another $20 million that falls squarely on taxpayers.
“I have heard zero — absolutely no apprehension about the school plan,” Jama said. “I don’t want to say I have heard reluctance or negativity, but the community has said, ‘Tell us more about the stadium complex.’ ”
A similar survey conducted months ago before the master plan committee put a price tag on the stadium said voters highly favored the idea to rebuild Ely Stadium. Yet, it’s hard to tell if that level of support will translate into passage in November.
In addition, in the last month the voting climate in Elyria has changed in three ways that could affect the outcome.
First, Elyria voters passed a city income tax increase that will result in a 0.5 percent rate hike for those who work in the city.
Soon after, the city rolled out its stormwater utility fee program affecting Elyria property owners with a new bill. The city also is starting to take steps to possibly dissolve its health department and merge with the Lorain County General Health District. The latter move will increase millage for city property owners by 0.5 mill. However, Elyria voters will not get to vote on approval of the health district’s fund for five years.
A new survey will help guide the district, Jama said.
“The residents trust us as a district,” Jama said. “They believe we do what’s in the best interest of their children and what is financially best for the district. This is just another example of the district saying it will continue to listen to its residents.”
Vanessa Tey Iosue, executive vice president of Burges & Burges Strategists, said the survey will be a random sampling of Elyria voters, and the district will have results in two weeks. It will offer strong community data on the issue. She strongly advocated for the updated survey before the board makes any decision to place any issues on the ballot.
“What you don’t want is to sacrifice one issue for the other,” she said.
Former Elyria Superintendent Paul Rigda, serving as a consultant for the district, said the district will be asked to only vote on the approving the co-funded building plan to meet deadlines with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission. There’s time before board members have to decide on the full package voters will see in November, he said
“Some of the questions (Jama) is getting doesn’t mean voters see it as a negative,” Rigda said. “People should ask all the questions they want to ask now. We don’t want people confused. We want them to know down the line exactly what this issue means, exactly what they are paying for and exactly what they are getting.”
Board President Mike Gebhardt said the feedback he has received from people has included people who believe the passage of Issue 6 signaled a rebirth in the city, so they felt the time was ripe for a full facility plan, and people who want new schools and nothing more.
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