Valley View voters say they're searching for the truth
GERMANTOWN, Ohio (WKEF/WRGT) - Some residents in the Valley View School District say the district is misleading voters about a tax levy being placed on the May ballot.
The levy would go toward a plan to demolish all four schools across the district and build three new ones over the next five years, combining the junior high and high schools. This is the exact same plan voters turned down in November. Even after a 2015 survey revealed a majority of voters wanted to renovate, not rebuild, the district says this is the best plan to address concerns.
"There are many people saying that they didn't even realize they were demolishing all four buildings," said Germantown resident Amy Vogel.
She, along with a group of residents, gathered around a dining room table to review documents they say prove the district is not providing accurate information on the levy plan. In one stack is Amy's conversation with state officials, another has notes from a telephone call with the Ohio Board of Elections.
"Now that this is an off election, there's concern that it's just trying to get slipped through," Vogel said.
Superintendent Rick Earley says the buildings across the district are too old, and pose health and safety risks to students. This group argues the school has no concrete evidence.
For example, in one school, the district says a ventilator caught on fire multiple times, and several classrooms pose fire hazards because there are no windows and only one door. Inspection records the group obtained reveal a different story. This group says the fire department never cited safety concerns with either issue, and had only one call for service in 2015 for a blown transformer.
Another one of their documents shows a section now gone from the website spartanpride2017.com, which was set up to provide information to voters. The section stated several students and staff got sick due to air quality issues. According to documents from an environmental test done in January, the buildings are noted as well below optimal and safe levels.
Earley says there are staff in the buildings that have documented symptoms of illnesses they don't experience outside the building, but he confirms testing came back negative on anything that would give insight into what the issues could be.
"I would be happy to fund improvements for our school district, it's just not this plan," Vogel said.
There's also questions on whether this is the final chance to get state funding. Right now, the state is offering to pay 53 percent of the project. The district says if the bond fails, Valley View will move to the bottom of the list. According to the state, residents can pass a bond in the future because they're eligible for funding as soon as they raise the local share.
The District held a community meeting on April 3 to discuss the proposed bond issue. Below is the presentation with detailed information about its key points.
Superintendent Rick Earley responded to several criticisms of the project, in noted points below.
1. All information distributed to the public is factual and in good faith. In the event of a rare, unintentional misstatement or error the levy committee has made corrections in a timely manner. Voters deserve to have accurate information available to them to make an informed decision and the levy committee wants to ensure that all questions have been answered.
2. The price of the total cost of the project has not been inflated. All costs reported have been provided by the OFCC by independent architects and engineers who conducted their own assessments of the buildings. If additional assessments were ordered the significant costs of those assessments belong exclusively to the district.
3. The levy committee has worked diligently to ensure that the voters of Valley View Local School District are adequately informed about the bond levy on the May ballot which negates the claim that the levy committee is attempting to push it through in the spring election. We have 13 months to try and get the local share to build the buildings and we will make every attempt to exhaust our options in an effort to meet the needs of our students.
4. The replacement versus renovation costs for all of our buildings ranges from 91% to 114%. The requirements state that any renovation percentages over 67% requires that the district would have to ask the State for a special waiver to proceed with renovations. The State has not granted waivers for buildings with this high of replacement cost percentages. Also, districts are unable to take State dollars to renovate if asbestos exists in the buildings because renovation would require disturbing the asbestos.
5. We have provided the most accurate calculations available to us at this time as to the amount of interest to be paid. It is not possible for any school district to commit to the exact calculations for a bond levy until the bonds are sold. Bonds are not able to be sold until a levy has passed.
6. We do have staff members in one of our buildings that have documented symptoms of illness while in the building yet these symptoms are not present when they are not in the buildings. We have had the buildings tested and nothing has come back to give us any insight as to the cause of the issue. In such cases, the legal term at the State level for this phenomenon is that the building is labeled as a 'sick building' and this has been reported by the levy committee.
7. The PI money is used to make improvements to existing buildings but the amount available annually in these funds is so small in comparison to the cost of even our most significant needs it only allows the district to remain reactive to the high volume of issues within the buildings. The PI money has been taken into account by the district in this levy process which is why we are leveraging some of those annual funds to help drive down the total millage we are asking for resulting in the requested 5.39 mills.
- Superintendent Rick Earley, Valley View Local Schools