The Coventry Local School District will be on the May 7 ballot, its third attempt since August to raise funds for new construction, renovations and maintenance. Like the earlier requests, Issue 5 has generated stiff opposition. Yet there is good reason for Coventry voters to support the levy request for capital funds, considering the conditions the high-achieving suburban district urgently needs to address.
Issue 5 is a combined bond issue and permanent improvement levy. The 34-year bond issue seeks to raise the district’s share — $28.3 million at 4.9 mills — to draw $11 million from the state’s school facilities fund. If voters approve, the revenues will finance construction of a new high school and renovations to other buildings. An additional property tax of 1.1 mills, estimated to yield roughly $300,000 a year, would give Coventry a permanent improvement fund for the upkeep of buildings and equipment and may also be used to reduce debts from energy conservation projects.
With the sophisticated technologies and equipment in modern buildings, it is almost irresponsible for public institutions not to have a dedicated fund to cover the rising expense of maintenance and replacements. Coventry lacks such a fund.
Issue 5 would add about $15 a month to the taxes on a $100,000 house. Opponents sharply question the need for new money. They contend, among other things, the district is financially inefficient and that open enrollment adds to its costs.
The reality is, Coventry’s expenditure per pupil is among the lowest in the county. Just over half of the total tax millage levied in the district goes to the schools. Also, open-enrollment tuition buoys Coventry’s budget. Considered a wealthy district, mainly because of high-value properties in the Portage Lakes, the district receives just one-third or so of its funds from the state. The district very early recognized the financial advantage of open enrollment. For example, in 2009, state aid per pupil for resident students was $2,012. Incoming students, 719 that year, brought state aid of $5,732 per pupil. School officials note that without open enrollment, the percentage of state aid would be less than 20 percent of the district’s funding.
A major source of pressure on the operating budget tracks back to the lack of a capital fund. The district participates in a state program that authorizes districts to borrow money for energy conservation projects without ballot approval. The debt is paid from the savings from improved efficiency. The district has accumulated more than $8 million in debt. It makes the substantial debt payments, and pays for day-to-day maintenance of old and deteriorating buildings, out of its general fund. School officials argue the proposed facilities projects would reduce the district to three energy-efficient, secure and safer buildings, all within a half-mile radius, which would greatly improve operational efficiency and save money.
In other words, revenues from Issue 5 would help relieve the need to spend operating funds that should be going to meet educational needs.
Like other districts facing revenue losses and cuts in state aid, Coventry has taken steps to stretch resources, including laying off staff members, closing buildings, freezing pay and finding efficiencies in services. The district needs a funding stream for capital projects. Issue 5 would provide it.