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Coventry voters again reject bond issue

2/7/2013 - South Side Leader
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By Emily Chesnic

District still deciding if issue will go before voters in May

At the Feb. 6 Coventry Local Schools Board of Education meeting, the students shown above were honored as students of the month, from left: Kayla Rafferty, of Erwine Intermediate School; Sarah Horn, of Coventry Middle School; and Anthony Bokar, of Turkeyfoot Elementary School.
Photo: Emily Chesnic
COVENTRY — Coventry Local School District officials were counting on parents to show up at the polls Feb. 5 to pass a combined 5.99-mill levy and bond issue. However, the issue was defeated by 58 percent.

According to unofficial results from the Summit County Board of Elections (BOE), 1,010 voted in favor of the issue and 1,402 voted against it. Voter turnout was 27 percent, according to the BOE.

“We obviously are devastated the issue went down,” said Superintendent Russell Chaboudy shortly after the Special Election results were reported. “We campaigned and were disappointed with the turnout. We were expecting more voters, especially more parents, to support it.”

District officials may try one last time to obtain funding needed to construct a new Coventry High School and rehabilitate the other district school buildings and put the issue back on the ballot in May.

This was the district’s second attempt to get the combined levy and bond issue approved. In the Aug. 7 Special Election, the same issue failed by 53 percent, according to the BOE.

Chaboudy said district officials worked “very hard” the last couple of months explaining to parents why the combined issue was needed.

“Our buildings are crumbling around us,” Chaboudy said.

The superintendent explained the district daily struggles to function amid outdated boilers, leaky roofs, collapsing ceilings and deteriorating pipes.

“We continue to raise our expectations for student achievement, and we asked this community to support our students and teachers and provide for them the type of teaching and learning environment that meets the level of their talents,” Chaboudy said.

The district currently spends $250,000 to $300,000 a year in duress spending to maintain and fix problems in its buildings, Treasurer Aaron Butts has reported.

The 1.1-mill permanent improvement levy specifically would have provided the district with funds that only could have been used to repair and maintain buildings and grounds and to pay off debt, Butts said.

District officials explained Coventry is one of the few school districts in the state that does not have permanent improvement funding, so all repairs and maintenance costs come directly out of the General Fund.

“This reduces the amount of money we can use for everyday expenses, specifically for all areas of teaching and learning,” Chaboudy said.

In May 2012, the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) — an independent state agency that helps fund the construction of new schools or renovations to existing ones to improve the education experience — offered the district $11 million toward the $39.3 million construction and renovation project.

The project called for the construction of a ninth- through 12th-grade high school and gymnasium at the site of the current Erwine Intermediate School. Erwine, which was built in the 1920s, would have been torn down, the superintendent said.

The current high school would have been renovated to house the district’s kindergarten through fifth-grade students, and Turkeyfoot Elementary School would have closed, as part of the project. The new elementary school would have received a new roof and technology and security upgrades, district officials have said.

Additionally, Coventry Middle School would have received a new heating and cooling system, windows and roof; additional classrooms; and technology, security and paving upgrades, officials have said.

On Feb. 5, before the Special Election results were known, the Coventry Board of Education held a special meeting and approved placing the same combined issue back on the ballot for the May 7 Primary/Special Election.

Chaboudy said Feb. 6 was the BOE’s deadline to get the measure on the ballot in May.

After the election results were reported Feb. 5, however, the superintendent explained the board may decide to pull the issue from the ballot.

“The people have spoken twice,” he said. “However, our buildings still are in poor condition, and we need to figure out some way to attack that problem.”

Chaboudy said people simply do not want to pay higher taxes.

The 34-year bond issue and levy would have cost $15.29 a month for someone younger than 65 who owns a home valued at $100,000, Butts said. The cost for someone older than 65 who owns a $100,000 home would have been $11.47 per month, he said.

Chaboudy and board members said they were disappointed with the negative campaigning that took place in the community.

The superintendent explained an anonymous group put up signs and stuffed mailboxes with literature urging voters not to support the measure.

In addition, district voters received a mailer from the Northern Ohio Associated Builders and Contractors, said board President David Andrews. The mailer charged the board with already accepting a bid for the project, but Andrews said much of the information was false.

The outcome of the election was discussed during the regular board meeting held Feb. 6.

“This has been a very difficult day around here,” said board member Tina Gable.

She apologized to the children because the voters “did not think they were worth it.”

“We think you are worth more than this,” she said to the district students.

Gable also thanked the district staff for continuing to work in “less than ideal conditions.”

Board member Vicki Tavenier said it breaks her heart the community could not be convinced of the need to get the kids out of cold, wet and moldy classrooms and into improved learning environments.

“It is a difficult day, but we are going to keep trying,” Andrews said.

He explained the board would continue to try to give students the best education and learning atmosphere possible.

Andrews took time to praise the levy committee for meeting faithfully each Monday for months to spread the word on the combined issue.

Chaboudy said the committee is headed up by parent Kim Blackert and long-time district resident Terri Pfaff.

“The 35 members of the committee have been working since last May to try and improve our school district for our students,” the superintendent said Feb. 5.

Due to the absence of board member Robert Wohlgamuth at the Feb. 6 meeting, the board did not vote on whether or not to leave the combined issue on the May 7 ballot.

A special meeting is scheduled for Feb. 13 at 6 p.m. at Coventry Middle School, 3257 Cormany Road, so the board collectively could decide the direction it wants to go, Andrews said.

To obtain the $11 million being offered by the state, Coventry has until June 30 to approve a combined ballot issue, Chaboudy has explained.

If a bond issue and levy is not passed, he has said the state money would be offered to another deserving district.

Chaboudy said district officials welcome suggestions concerning the combined ballot issue and aging buildings. All of the ideas would be discussed during the special meeting.

Also during the regular meeting, Feb. 6, the board publicly acknowledged Middle School Principal Tina Norris. Andrews said Norris soon would receive the Northeast Regional Award from the Association of Middle Level Education.

Norris credited the success of the middle school to her staff and students.

Additionally, the board named current Director of Curriculum and Instruction Lisa Blough as the assistant superintendent in charge of curriculum and instruction.

Chaboudy said Blough’s change in job title comes with more responsibility but not an increase in pay.

The board also approved paying $12,000 out of the General Fund to Fowler Pump and Softeners. Chaboudy said a large water tank went out at Turkeyfoot Elementary School, so the company replaced a pump Jan. 21, Martin Luther King Day, so students did not have to miss a day of school.

An executive session, with no action taken, was held at the close of the Feb. 6 board meeting to discuss confidential matters.

The next regular Coventry Board of Education meeting will be March 19 at 6 p.m. at Erwine Intermediate School, 1135 Portage Lakes Drive.

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