TIFFIN — The Tiffin City Board of Education held its regular meeting Tuesday evening in which they discussed placing a bond issue for a new school building back on the November general election ballot.
Tiffin City Schools previously placed a 38-year, $44.2 million bond issue on the 2020 primary election ballot, which failed by a 23.56% margin.
According to the board, the failed bond issue would have provided for a new Pre-K through 6th grade building, the 82 acres of farmland to be used for the construction of the new Pre-K through 6th grade building, renovation of the middle school building (currently 6th-8th grade) into a junior and senior high school building (7th-12th grade), and renovation of the current high school building to keep the auditorium, gymnasium, HVAC, and other areas of the building.
Board President Victor Perez said during Tuesday evening’s meeting that the pressing issue for the district is an operating levy as opposed to a new school building, considering the district’s budget is currently in a deficit that “we need to fix.”
If the bond issue on the primary election ballot would have passed, the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) would have granted the district access to additional state funding within the next five years through the Expedited Local Partnership Program. It would have also provided funding to support the next 15 to 20 years of building maintenance.
Perez said he is worried that if the bond issue is not passed this year, the OFCC program may not be around to provide the district with additional funding in the future.
“My bigger concern was that I think our pressing need is an operating levy, either that or an income tax. We have a deficit that we need to fix. And my concern was that we could have one levy leading into another one, one that wasn’t extremely popular, and that could take down the other one with it. Whether or not that’s worth risking an operating levy to build something,” Perez said.
“I mean, what if we pass the building levy, and then can’t get an operating levy or an income tax? How are we going to staff it? I know there was discussion of trying to do both at the same time, but to be honest, I think Dr. Gase is clear on something, which is, November, I believe, is the last chance we have to do it under the previous OFCC approval. If we go next year, the program may not be there,” Perez added.
The board says the bond would have provided for a consolidated educational experience, decreasing the amount of buildings in the district from six to just two. This, the board says, would have provided for a safer, more cost efficient, leaner, and smarter school district.
Board member Dr. Meagan McBride said she has concerns about the ability of the district’s families to pay for a bond issue given the current economic climate, especially considering a recent survey conducted by the district showed that a majority of families would have an issue paying for rental fees for technology to be used in a remote learning environment, given the need amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“I think we’ve seen some data that was just shared where our families have barriers even in paying for rental fees for technology,” board member Dr. Meagan McBride said during the meeting. “We know we’re going to have to have an operating levy. I think we’re going to have to be very intentional in prioritizing what financial burdens we ask our families to take on.”
Board member Dr. Andrew Gase asked the other board members what the downside would be for placing the bond issue along with an operating levy on the November general election ballot, allowing the voters to decide.
“Well statistically we know through research and surveys and polling, that there’s a fatigue in it, or a frustration. So do we risk the loss of the operating levy by putting this on there, and voters saying no to both?” Dr. Meagan McBride stated.
Board President Victor Perez said he believes that if the board decides to place the bond issue back on the ballot in November, voters could be concerned that the board did not understand their position on the bond issue from the 2020 primary election in which it failed.
“The only thing I’ve heard is, and this could be just anger over the last issue and what’s been going on, is ‘we voted no the first time, what part of it didn’t you hear?'” Perez said. “They’re saying they did vote, and it was pretty clear.”
Board member Dr. Andrew Gase said he believes the lack of public support from Tiffin Mayor Aaron Montz was part of the reason the bond issue failed in the 2020 primary election.
“One other thing that’s clear is that we didn’t have the support of the mayor. And the mayor assured me that the day after the election, he would come to me with support. He didn’t want to waste his political capital, is what he told me,” Dr. Gase said. “So I’m not sure what political capital you need in Tiffin City, but I’m kind of concerned we didn’t get the support of the mayor. And if we don’t get the support of the mayor — he has a lot of people that follow him — so, if we get the support of the mayor this time, I don’t know, maybe that’s enough. I think it’s pretty critical if we don’t get the support of the mayor.”
In response to Dr. Gase’s remarks, Tiffin Mayor Aaron Montz told TiffinOhio.net that his comments to Gase were “taken out of context from a nearly ten minute, one-on-one personal conversation between he and I.”
“From the start of the conversation, I made it clear with him that I was going to be very honest since I felt he and I had a good enough relationship that I could be blunt and not have him turn it into a media circus,” Montz told TiffinOhio.net. “During the conversation, I gave him numerous reasons why I would not be making a public endorsement of the spring school levy.”
Montz said he knew at the time that the levy was going to fail, and likely by a 2-to-1 margin, if not more.
“My public endorsement will not change the outcome of the election and the levy will still fail,” Montz says he told Dr. Gase at the time. Montz said he thought what was best for the district is that once the levy failed, they regroup and do things “the right way” by engaging the public and being “more open about what is truly going on in the schools.”
Montz said he told Gase that he was not going to “waste political capital” on a levy that “we all know is going to fail.”
“I would rather keep my powder dry and hold back until a better plan is presented and a levy that may actually pass is put forth. Then, I would be happy to endorse and put my full support behind the levy. If I endorse now it will still fail and will only take away the impact of my future endorsements,” Montz says he told Gase at the time.
“As for the statement that I would come to him the day after the election with my support, that too, was completely out of context,” Montz told TiffinOhio.net. Montz said he informed Gase that he had “zero faith” that the levy would pass in the spring.
“Clearly his comments have been made completely out of context in an effort to blame someone for the spring levy failing by a significant margin,” Montz said. “I have supported every single levy the Tiffin City Schools have brought forward from all the way back to my high school days. I helped lead more than one levy effort while still in school. Some school board members may misunderstand my support, but my past record shows that I fully support the Tiffin City Schools and especially the youth of this community. Great schools are vital to the future success of Tiffin and I view improvements to education as a key component in the future prosperity of our community.”
“To have a private conversation with a community leader shared completely out of context is unprofessional and makes me question whether this board member listened to the feedback I offered during our conversation,” Montz said of Dr. Gase’s remarks.
Dr. Gase said during the meeting that he doesn’t believe the community will be happy with the board when they have to invest money maintaining nearly 100-year-old school buildings due to the failure of a bond issue for a new consolidated building.
The board held a vote to adopt a resolution signifying the necessity of placing a bond issue in the amount of $44.2 million on the November general election ballot. The resolution states that the board indicates its intent to participate in the Expedited Local Partnership Program of the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, and that approximately $33,500,000 of the proceeds of the bonds will be spent on the district’s master plan. Approximately $10,200,000 of the proceeds of the bond are to be spent on locally funded initiatives, as permitted under the Expedited Local Partnership Program, the resolution states.
The adoption of the resolution passed by a vote of 3 to 2, with board members Dr. Andrew Gase, Mr. Chris Widman, and Dr. Jeff Hoyda voting in favor, and Dr. Meagan McBride and Mr. Victor Perez voting against.
That passage of the resolution does not necessarily mean the board will be placing the issue on the November ballot, but lays the groundwork to begin the process of doing so.