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Coventry school issue passes on third try

5/9/2013 - South Side Leader
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By Emily Chesnic

Voter approval means new high school, building improvements ahead for district students

COVENTRY — Parents of students in Coventry Local Schools are being credited for giving Issue No. 5 the boost it needed to pass in the May 7 Primary/Special Election, and now, Superintendent Russell Chaboudy said the entire community is about to “soar” as the construction of a new high school and other district improvements soon are in store.

“It is a great day in Coventry,” Chaboudy said shortly after learning voters passed the 5.99-mill levy and bond issue by 413 votes.

According to unofficial results from the Summit County Board of Elections (BOE), the issue passed by 55 percent, with 2,184 votes in favor and 1,771 against.

The same issue failed by 58 percent Feb. 5 and 53 percent this past August, according to the BOE.

Even though this was the third time the combined issue came before voters, Chaboudy said the turnout was much stronger May 7 than in the past two attempts. He said parents clearly came out to support the education of their children. According to the BOE, voter turnout in the district was about 37 percent.

“It made the difference,” he said.

According to the superintendent, district parents wanted to ensure the continuation of current programs.

If the issue would have failed a third time, a list of cuts — totaling about $600,000 — would have been put into effect at the start of the 2013-14 school year. These cuts would have negatively impacted the district’s music and sport programs and busing services. Also, the Portage Lakes Fitness Center would have closed, and one administrative and five teaching positions would have been eliminated as part of the cost-reduction plan.

Chaboudy said voters also wanted to provide children and educators with a better environment in which to learn and teach.

“They understood the need,” he said.

Officials held several community meetings this spring to draw awareness to what they say are the district’s urgent maintenance needs at the aging school facilities, including outdated and failing boilers, leaky roofs and falling ceiling tiles, among other building issues.

District Treasurer Aaron Butts has reported the district spends nearly $300,000 a year to maintain and fix problems in the district’s buildings.

The 1.1-mill permanent improvement levy component of the ballot issue will provide the district with the funds needed to repair and maintain buildings and grounds, he has 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 a $39.3 million construction and renovation project.

To obtain the $11 million being offered by the state, Coventry had until June to approve the combined ballot issue.

The construction and renovation project will begin soon, the superintendent said.

“We are so thrilled for our kids, parents and teachers,” he said.

According to Chaboudy, the top priority now is to correct the boilers and address the roof issues. He added the board soon would meet and develop a timeline for the construction and renovation project.

The project calls for the construction of a ninth- through 12th-grade high school and gymnasium at the site of the current Erwine Intermediate School. The present high school will be turned into a new elementary school for the district’s kindergarten through fifth-grade students, complete with numerous upgrades, specifically in the area of security, according to district officials.

As part of the project, Coventry Middle School will receive a new heating and cooling system, windows and roof; additional classrooms; and technology, security and paving upgrades, according to district officials.

The 34-year bond issue and levy will 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 is $11.47 per month, he has said.

The district faced a great deal of opposition leading up to May 7. A number of voters said they could not support higher taxes. Others wanted to see the district eliminate open enrollment, which allows tax money to follow a student to a district other than his or her own, and consolidate the students into less buildings.

“We had an organized opponent, but that kept the combined issue in the forefront,” Chaboudy said. “Our parents stepped up and did a great job, though.”

District officials said passage of Issue No. 5 now keeps a large operating levy, which could have been as high as 10 mills, off the November General Election Ballot, which was a previously discussed possibility should the issue fail a third time.

In turn, the district soon will be able to emerge from fiscal watch, as the combined issue is going to allow debt associated with maintenance issues to be paid down, Butts has explained.

“There is just a lot for Coventry to celebrate right now,” Chaboudy said.

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