A regional construction group is renewing its criticism of the Coventry Local School District’s management of taxpayers’ money, urging voters to shoot down a $28.3 million bond issue and 1.1-mill additional tax levy on Tuesday’s special ballot.
The Broadview Heights-based Northern Ohio Associated Builders and Contractors sent a critical mailing to school voters over the weekend asking: “Can taxpayers trust Coventry Schools with a $30 million levy?”
It was the same message sent in a last-minute, negative mailer before a special election in August. School administrators called it a “cheap shot” and blamed the mailer for tanking the same 4.89-mill bond issue in August by 154 votes.
School leaders again are irritated by the mailer and say it is misleading.
Bryan Williams, a lobbyist for ABC, said his firm is again opposing the measure because Coventry board members proposed a bid process that demanded construction companies to satisfy unrealistic requirements.
Those requirements, which asked companies to show $10 million in cash and $55 million in assets, stymied competition that Williams argues would have driven down construction costs and ultimately given taxpayers the most value for their dollar.
“Well, they’re back asking for another levy, and they’ve done nothing to repudiate that previous bid,” Williams said of Tuesday’s measure. “Anyone who looks at this objectively realizes that it wastes a lot of money by eliminating all competition.”
Coventry Board President David Andrews and Superintendent Russell Chaboudy haven’t confirmed that similar bid qualifications would prevail should the bond measure pass on Tuesday.
“Really it’s no one’s business as to how we do this, as long as we follow the letter of the law,” Chaboudy said.
School administrators would announce concrete plans Wednesday when the board meets to discuss the bidding process if the measure passes public muster. If the measure fails, they would discuss contingency plans to deal with dilapidated facilities and disappearing funds.
That wouldn’t be the first time they’ve assessed their dire financial situation following a failed bond measure.
The $30 million bond and improvement levy — just as it would have been in August — would have raised funds over the next 34 years. Those funds would be used to demolish Erwine Intermediate School and Turkeyfoot Elementary School. The existing high school would be converted into a K-5 building. The district would construct a new high school on the Erwine site and repair leaky roofs, drafty windows and boilers at Coventry Middle School.
“These kids certainly deserve a better learning environment,” Chaboudy said.
Aaron Butts, Coventry school treasurer, explained days after a district operating levy passed in November that Tuesday’s bond measure could save the district hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs and cost each local taxpayer about $100 to $150 a year, varying by tax exemptions for senior citizens.
District curriculum and financial officers said the bond measure would stop the hemorrhaging of funds flowing to annual repairs. They also said the funds would help the district mitigate soaring class sizes and reinstate programs cut under a strained budget.
But even after the successful operating levy in November, Butts projects Coventry’s coffers to slink into the negative by the end of fiscal year 2015, accumulating about $500,000 additional debt each year, bottoming out at a negative $1.5 million balance by the end of the most recent five-year forecast in 2017.
The bond issue and additional levy would help because the district wouldn’t have to divert money to repairs.
Chaboudy and others at Coventry question Williams’ intentions. The ABC lobbyist also serves on the state school board in Columbus.
But Williams said he is taking on a fiscal responsibility that the district’s elected officials have shrugged. He agrees that the buildings are in poor shape, but opposes the restrictive requirements under the previous bidding process.
“It’s unfair. It’s unwise. And more importantly, it’s a waste of the taxpayers’ money,” Williams said.
The prior “single-source” bidding process, known as design build, allowed the district to contract with a single company that would then subcontract specific jobs to individual companies like carpenters, brick-layers, plumbers or electricians.
Williams and ABC represent area and regional construction companies. He said there are few in Ohio that met the cash-on-hand or total assets qualification. He also said he does not care who receives the bid so long as multiple companies can apply.
After Ruhlin Co. of Sharon Township failed to qualify last year, the only successful bidder was Chevron Corp., a national oil and gas conglomerate based in San Ramon, Calif.
District officials said that no contract currently exists between Chevron and Coventry. And they stressed that a specific bidding process would not be discussed until the fate of the bond measure is decided on Tuesday.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.