We struggled with whether to endorse the permanent improvement levy that the Lorain County Joint Vocational School is asking voters to approve in November.
We don't disagree that the $4.5 million the 0.75-mill levy would generate annually is a princely sum, but we also recognize that the JVS provides an invaluable educational service to students from 13 school districts in the county.
Ultimately, we concluded that the genuine need of JVS for money to repair, renovate and upgrade its sprawling facilities outweighed our concerns about the levy, identified on the ballot as Issue 8.
There is also the overall low cost to taxpayers to consider. The owner of a home valued at $100,000 would pay $26.25 per year if the levy passed, according to county Auditor Craig Snodgrass. We believe that's a reasonable price to pay to support JVS students.
It is instructive to look at the long list of work that JVS Superintendent Glenn Faircloth told us needs to be done on the 50-year-old building, which extends across roughly 11 acres under one roof.
"It's a wonderful facility," Faircloth said. "It's been maintained well. However, there comes a point where you can't maintain; you have to repair."
This year, for instance, JVS has had to replace two of its 12 air handlers, a project that cost $877,000. Nine of the remaining handlers will need replacement in the next decade or so, according to the school.
The building also needs to upgrade its electrical, fire-suppression, HVAC, lighting and fire-alarm systems. None of that is cheap. The lighting and fire-alarms work, for example, is projected to cost $3 million.
The school estimates it would take about $6 million to replace the building's aging roof sometime in the next decade.
Another $2 million would be devoted to repairing the parking lot.
It is expected to cost $500,000 just to put new caulk on the exterior of the building next year.
That is not to mention the daily wear and tear that roughly 1,000 students, and another 500 adult students who take career-training classes put on the building.
The JVS serves students in the school districts of Amherst, Avon, Avon Lake, Clearview, Columbia, Elyria, Firelands, Keystone, Midview, North Ridgeville, Oberlin, Sheffield-Sheffield Lake and Wellington.
Most of the districts are on board with the levy, as evidenced by the nearly unanimous vote to put the levy on the ballot. The lone exception was JVS board member Ayers Ratliff, who represents Wellington Schools.
Ratliff has argued that JVS doesn't need all of the money it's asking for. He has said he would have supported a smaller levy.
"It's not needs, it's wants and greed," he said back in August.
Although Ratliff has portrayed himself as the lone voice of prudence on the board, it is hard not to doubt his motives. He has a visceral dislike for Faircloth, and his time on the JVS board has been contentious enough that we previously called for him to step back and let someone else from Wellington Schools take his place.
Ratliff has waged a sort of one-man campaign against the levy, sending letters to the media, elected officials and others contending that the permanent improvement levies in the county's other school districts total $8 million. That figure is wrong, although the error strengthens Ratliff's argument. The other districts bring in about $5.3 million through permanent improvement levies, Snodgrass told us.
Regardless, the JVS is asking for a sizable amount of money.
The difference is that JVS is like none of the 13 school districts it serves.
Its students learn trades such as carpentry and heating and air-conditioning repair, digital technology, cosmetology, health care basics, public safety, cooking, welding and fabrication, precision machining and automotive and truck repair.
The school offers 23 separate programs.
These are expensive trades to teach, and JVS has a well-earned reputation for preparing students to enter the work force. The cost of updating the welding lab, for instance, is pegged at around $2 million, according to the school.
"We can't prepare for today's jobs or tomorrow's jobs with outdated equipment," Faircloth said.
We agree, and we believe that voters would be well-served by supporting the JVS levy when they head to the polls.