The Amherst Schools provide a strong return on investment for our taxpayers. The district is in its best financial position in 15 years and we continuously expand academic offerings for students without increasing costs. To ensure this progress continues, we must continue to find ways to operate more efficiently as a district.
This is certainly true with regard to our facilities. Our elementary schools are old, they drain taxpayer dollars, and they hinder education. Our teachers are making the best of the situation, but the facilities are not conducive to today’s education. The heating, cooling, ventilation, and plumbing systems are outdated and expensive to repair. Our electrical systems and the size of our classrooms are inadequate for 21st century learning and technology. The buildings are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Ohio School Facilities Commission reports that it costs almost as much to repair our elementary buildings as it would to replace them. In fact, going from five buildings to four could save us up to $500,000 annually in operation costs.
After a long community engagement process, we know the elementary schools cost us educational opportunities as well. To compete in a global economy, our students must be effective collaborators and small classrooms limit our students’ ability to work on such projects. Elementary libraries with only a handful of outlets limit the technology students can use. We also know that students cannot do their best if they are too hot or too cold. The examples go on and on. It is time to invest in our buildings and improve the learning environment for our kids.
The Amherst Schools have a unique opportunity to address these issues without increasing taxes. If we replace Shupe, Harris, and Powers with one new elementary school (preschool through third grade) and upgrade the HVAC systems at Nord and Steele, the state will pay for about 50 percent of the total project cost. For our part, the district will refinance our existing debt from Amherst Junior High, taking advantage of the current low interest rates. This gives us an opportunity to place a no new tax bond issue on the November ballot that keeps our millage where it is. This move would pay for the new construction by effectively extending that rate for an additional 27 years, coming at no monthly increase to taxpayers.
Here is a video of the presentation our independent financial advisors gave to the Amherst board of education to explain the financing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQu-4fs-y4w.
Our savings and permanent improvement funds can only take us so far. Paired with community grants, permanent improvement funds allow us to make small improvements in public infrastructure, like we will this summer in the high school media center and south lobby, but addressing these larger issues once and for all is out of reach without this opportunity for a state partnership.
Our district will continue to communicate the need for this project over the next several months. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact my office at 440-988-4406 ext. 4 or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am happy to discuss this opportunity further. I will also cover our facilities needs in detail at the State of the Schools, a public presentation on May 2 that begins at 6:30 p.m. in the Steele High School auditorium. If you cannot make it, make sure to follow the live Twitter feed by searching the hashtag #SayersSOTS. We hope to see you there.