For the third and final time, the administrators of Coventry Local Schools are seeking approval to issue bonds to raise $28.3 million over 34 years to build a new high school and renovate other buildings. The 4.9-mill bond issue would provide the district’s required match to secure $11 million from the statewide school rebuilding program. An additional property tax of 1.1 mills would yield about $300,000 a year for permanent improvements. If it passes, the levy will add to property taxes, roughly $15 a month on a $100,000 house.
When voters in the Coventry district head to the polls on Tuesday, it cannot be said that they have ducked a spirited debate of the combined levy for a bond issue and permanent improvement fund. The controversy over the levy has been intense, opponents challenging the need for a new building and a tax request that has failed twice already. Often, the debate has sounded more like an assessment of the costs and benefits of open enrollment.
To the question of whether open enrollment eases or contributes to the district’s strained finances, the clear indication is: Coventry has benefited financially and academically from embracing open enrollment — gaining more in state funds from outside students than what it receives; filling classroom space that might otherwise be empty; and offering advanced classes and programs that otherwise would not be feasible for a district with such a small population of resident students.
Inasmuch as Coventry exceeds nearly all other districts in drawing out-of-district students and tuition, state lawmakers considering a review of the open enrollment policy should take note of the concerns that have generated so much heat.
But the issue before Coventry voters is not open enrollment. With or without the policy, the small suburban district still will face the demands of accommodating its students. School officials have shown repeatedly that the buildings are old and deteriorating. The question is whether voters will authorize funding to build and maintain facilities that will stand up to technology and other needs that are vastly different from when a chalkboard and a textbook were adequate for a first-class education. Standards for building safety, space utilization and energy efficiency have changed.
State regulations require that a district have a permanent improvement fund, to cover such costs as maintenance and repairs, when the state is a partner in a school building project. Coventry does not have one. It has accumulated much debt patching and upgrading aging buildings, plumbing and electrical systems. Fewer, more efficient buildings in closer proximity, as school officials propose, would save money in the long run.
Voters have good reason to approve Issue 5. It would be a step forward for Coventry.