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Coventry seeking to ‘create community pride’

3/21/2013 - South Side Leader
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By Emily Chesnic

District officials answer questions on levy/bond issue

These photos were on display at the March 13 community meeting at Coventry High School, so district voters could see the current maintenance issues inside the district’s buildings.
Superintendent Russell Chaboudy discusses the unfavorable conditions students learn in each day during a community meeting focused on the combined 5.99-mill levy and bond issue on the May 7 Primary/Special Election ballot
Photo: Emily Chesnic
COVENTRY — More than 100 people gathered inside Coventry High School March 13 during a community meeting to learn more about a combined 5.99-mill levy and bond issue appearing on the May 7 Primary/Special Election ballot.

The issue would help fund the construction of a new high school and allow for numerous improvements to be made at the district’s aged facilities.

“Good schools create community pride,” said Superintendent Russell Chaboudy.

District officials used the meeting to convey the need for the passage of the combined issue and answer any remaining questions.

Chaboudy said this would be the last time the district asks voters to support the measure.

The same combined issue failed by 58 percent of the vote Feb. 5 and 53 percent this past August, according to the Summit County Board of Elections.

If the combined issue fails again, the district would forfeit $11 million being offered by the Ohio School Facilities Commission toward a proposed $39.3 million construction and renovation project, he said.

District Treasurer Aaron Butts shared the district’s financial data during the meeting, focusing on the lack of state funding Coventry receives.

If the district is unable to increase its revenue through the combined issue, cuts have to be made to end the 2013-14 school year with a positive balance in the General Fund, he explained.

Earlier this month, the Board of Education approved about $600,000 in cuts that would take place if the ballot issue fails: The Portage Lakes Fitness Center would be closed; one administrator and five music teachers would lose their jobs; elementary music classes and middle and high school choirs and the marching band would be eliminated; one custodian, three lunch aides and five bus drivers would be let go; middle school and freshman sports would end; there no longer would be a cheerleading program for seventh through 12th grades; the pay-to-play sports fee for high school athletes would be increased by $50; building usage by outside organizations would end; and state-minimum busing would be offered.

“It kills me to get rid of music in elementary school, as art already had been cut,” Chaboudy said.

Last year, the district made $1.6 million in reductions by increasing class sizes; cutting 22 staff members; freezing pay for administrators and teachers; increasing employee insurance costs; and implementing cluster busing, among other cuts.

“We can’t maintain a high level of excellence for our kids if we continue to cut educators and programs,” he said.

Butts explained the district is facing a deficit of $1.6 million in 2017 if revenue is not increased. However, a successful passage of the combined issue would keep the district in the positive for the next five years, he said.

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

If the combined issue fails a third time, Chaboudy said voters most likely would face a 9.5-mill operating levy on the Nov. 5 General Election ballot to avoid the state taking over the district.

The superintendent said that if the state takeover takes place, voters most likely would face even larger ballot issues to keep the district in operation.

Chaboudy said the state has never dissolved a district, so voters would eventually have to approve a significant operating levy.

“We truly are trying to look out for the best interest of the people in this area,” he said.

A large portion of the meeting was spent discussing the district’s duress spending — up to $300,000 a year — to keep the buildings open.

Chaboudy explained the middle school now has one boiler out of three functioning, which means classes could be canceled if the weather gets too cold this month.

The parents discussed how hard it is for their children to learn in one classroom that is 49 degrees F and another that is 89 degrees.

If the combined issue is approved, Chaboudy said 4.89 mills would be used to construct a “modest sized” high school at the site of Erwine Intermediate School and fund major renovations at the other facilities. The 1.1 mills would be used for permanent improvements and to help pay down current debt related to building maintenance.

According to district officials, passage of the issue would result in safer, secure schools; an increase in property values; long-term energy, management and transportation savings; an improved financial outlook for the district; keep a larger levy request off the ballot; bring jobs and workers in to the community; and create community pride.

“Our students and staff deserve it,” Chaboudy said. “Our kids and teachers deserve to work and learn in a 21st-century environment and they are not.”

District officials heard strong support for the combined issue from those in attendance.

Time was spent discussing a postcard mailed to voters from the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), of Broadview Heights.

Chaboudy said a survey on the district website showed the postcards from ABC led many to vote “no” on the issue in past elections.

He explained the group represents nonunion companies, and the postcard was sent by ABC Director of Government Affairs Bryan Williams, who is also the District 5 State Board of Education representative.

The postcard depicted the district negatively for choosing the design bid method, which lets an organization accept any bid, not just the lowest, the superintendent said.

“We wanted to use local laborers from Coventry, Barberton and close by,” Chaboudy said. “The design bid method lets you take the bid you want.”

He explained the district desired to hire a management company to handle the bidding process, interviews were conducted and a company tentatively was chosen based on professionalism and the recommendation of a professional architect.

He said Chevron Corp., of California, “blew them away.” However, the Ruhlin Co., of Sharon Township, also was considered.

“It was fair across the board,” the superintendent said. “We did our due diligence.”

Chaboudy said a complaint against Williams was filed with the Ohio Ethics Commission.

“Someone who is supposed to represent our kids put out literature to hurt our kids,” he said.

According to Chaboudy, negative signs and postcards, with no disclaimers, were circulated throughout the community by a group of six residents who all live on the same township street. A complaint is being filed against them with Ohio elections officials regarding violation of federal law, he said.

“We want to resolve what we can,” he told those at the community meeting.

A lengthy time for questions and answers took place, and those in attendance said they were pleased with the meeting’s outcome.

There was little negativity spoken during the evening.

However, some parents said they recognized the need to generate greater community support by spreading the truth about the issue.

“This has to be community-driven,” Chaboudy said. “Pass along the accurate information. Confront the rumors.”

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