Common questions about the Milford Schools bond issue

During this levy season, I have been asked a number of questions about the 4.7 mill bond issue the school district has placed on the ballot. I wanted to address the most common questions here; in addition, please visit the district website bond info (there are videos and lots of other sub-menu items), plus be sure to read the FAQs.

If you still have questions, please feel free to contact me, Superintendent Nancy House, Treasurer Brian Rabe, or any other board member. As district personnel, we provide information about the issue and why we believe it is necessary for our district. If you would like to learn more about what community members think re: the bond, you can visit the Unite TheM website and Facebook page for the “pro bond” side of the story; and Vote No to Milford School Bond Issue Facebook page for the “against bond” side of the story.

Please educate yourself from all possible sources before making a decision, and then be sure to vote by or on May 7!

These are the questions addressed in this post:

  1. Why are we building a middle school instead of a junior high?
  2. Why did the district not receive state funding for this bond issue?
  3. Why did the cost for the project change so much from 2016 to now?
  4. Why did the district not procure multiple estimates for the bond projects before putting the issue on the ballot?
  5. I’ve heard the bond will cost us $186 million, not $98 million – which is accurate?
  6. Why couldn’t we do something different to raise funds, such as West Clermont or Goshen have done?
  7. Why do we need a new auditorium?
  8. Why are we paying for athletic facilities out of this bond
  9. Why is the junior high in such bad shape?
  10. If the junior high is in such bad shape, why has the district waited so long to replace it?
  11. Why is the district taking out the maximum amount available in this bond?
  12. Will the cost of the bond change as property values change?
  13. Why is the district being sued re: FC Cincinnati?
  14. Aren’t our taxes high compared to other districts?
  15. Shouldn’t we be comparing Milford to other Clermont County districts instead of those in Hamilton County?
  16. Will the district need to run another operating levy soon?
  17. Why did the school district spend money on a special election?
  18. Why didn’t the school district run the issue last November to save money on a special election?
  19. Do levies pass more often in May than November?
  20. Is there a conflict of interest for me to be serving as interim executive director of the Milford Miami Township Chamber of Commerce (MMTCC) while also serving as a school board member?
  21. Why did the MMTCC board not take a position on the bond issue?
  22. Why did the MMTCC board not allow either side to present to them in person during the decision-making process?

 

1. Why are we building a middle school instead of a junior high? There are three reasons we chose to build a middle school for grades 6-8 instead of a junior high for grades 7-8: 1) increased academic benefit; 2) space needs; and 3) financial benefit.

Increased Academic Benefit: Sixth grade curriculum is aligned with seventh and eighth grade curriculum, vs. curriculum for grades K-5. Moving the sixth graders to the same building/schedule as seventh/eighth graders:

    • Increases collaboration among teachers;
    • Allows students to receive instruction from teachers who specialize in core subjects;
    • Allows for a schedule that addresses curriculum needs more easily;
    • Provides advanced instruction for all capable students; and
    • Increases equity among all students (i.e., all sixth graders may take band/choir during the day, versus just those whose parents can get them there before school).

Space Needs: Space-wise, we believe all-day kindergarten for all students will be required in the next few years. Opening up space at the elementary schools will allow us to accommodate this without a combination of redistricting; adding trailers to some or all elementary schools; or adding on. In addition, this will provide enough space for our state-mandated preschool program to be moved to two of the elementary schools.

Financial Benefit: Financially, adding more space and moving the sixth graders to a middle school will be less expensive than adding on to the elementary schools in several years. In addition, it saves having to build a separate preschool (the current preschool building is the oldest-operating school in Clermont County; it needs to be replaced or the students must be moved to another building).

2. Why did the district not receive state funding for this bond issue? In August 2018, the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) notified the district that no state funds would be available until 2020 at the earliest, and it was questionable if funds would be available then. In a letter dated April 5, Joseph Macneill from the OFCC states, “Milford EVSD CFAP (Segment 2) is waiting for a funding offer from the OFCC. I understand this is very frustrating but I cannot provide any solid information on when exactly this might occur.”Currently, eight districts in the state have passed bonds run in the OFCC program, but there has not been funding to begin the building process. Because of this, their projects are sitting until funds become available. The state has discussed approving an additional $100 million, but this will not cover those districts.Even after these districts are funded, there are over 30 other districts ahead of Milford with the OFCC. By the time Milford would be eligible for OFCC funding, construction and other costs would increase more than the amount of potential funding we could receive.

3. Why did the cost for the project change so much from 2016 to now? I addressed this question extensively in this article.

4. Why did the district not procure multiple estimates for the bond projects before putting the issue on the ballot? Actual estimates cannot be procured before a final design is approved; an actual design cannot be developed without significant investment and testing (things like soil tests and many other factors).The “estimated square foot amount” the district used – in conjunction with experts in the school building field – to estimate the cost of the project is a standard approach when school districts place construction projects on the ballot.

Once the bond is approved, the district will then competitively bid for construction firms. This is standard procedure for school construction projects.It’s worth noting that if the district were working with OFCC, they would have used this exact same approach to determine the amount of the bond; no bidding would have been done before the bond was passed, and no other work could be completed until funding was secured.

5. I’ve heard the bond will cost us $186 million, not $98 million – which is accurate? A bond is debt, just like a home mortgage. And just like your home mortgage, we will pay interest on the debt. For instance, a $100,000 home mortgage at 4% over 30 years ends up being a total cost of over $171,000 – you will pay over $71,000 in interest.What will the total interest on the bond be? We will not know for sure until the bonds are sold and the interest rate locked in, but the district has been able to increase its credit rating to Aa2 because of the fiscal responsibility we have exhibited – so our interest rate will be lower than if we had a lesser credit rating.

6. Why couldn’t we do something different to raise funds, such as West Clermont or Goshen have done? First, to address West Clermont … they had a unique situation where they had a large piece of land that they were able to leverage with the Port Authority to provide the funds to finance their new high school. Milford does not have a large piece of land like this.

Second, Goshen: something to remember about Goshen is they have a 1% earned income tax that goes to the schools. The Milford school district does not have an income tax (note: if you live in the City of Milford, you pay a 1% earned income tax, but this goes to the City, not the school district). If you earn $50,000/year in Goshen, you would be paying an additional $500/year in earned income taxes; $100,000, you’d pay $1,000. While an earned income tax makes it much easier on retirees and others who do not have earned income (i.e., income that is actively earned, such as from a job), it increases the tax burden significantly on those who are earning.

The only other thing I’ve heard about Goshen is that they are getting their turf replaced by community partners vs. the district paying for it. Good for them! However, remember, Milford already did this, years ago – the Milford Athletic Boosters paid for installation of our football field turf, which was in the $700k range (vs. about $400k for Goshen’s replacement). That was a huge investment for our Athletic Boosters, who have donated over $2 million to the district in the past 20 years.

There is only so much we can ask from our parent support groups and local businesses. While the Milford Athletic Boosters are continuing to support the district, we cannot expect them to continue to fund huge projects such as athletic replacements and upgrades.

7. Why do we need a new auditorium? This is a common question; some people feel a new auditorium is an extra, a want vs. a need. I disagree. Our current auditorium holds fewer than 400 people – it’s not even large enough to hold one grade level! This greatly limits the type of events and programming the HS can hold with classes. Here are a few other facts:

  • An auditorium is used for performing arts, of course, but also many other events and programs (lectures, presentations, meetings, etc). The current auditorium is not large enough to do this efficiently and effectively
  • The stage is not large enough to hold the band, or the audience at a concert, so performances must be held in the gym
  • The facility is not large enough for a large-scale drama production which also includes music, so our music students do not have the chance to participate in drama productions.
  • Local groups, such as dance studios, must leave Milford for performances; if we had a sufficient auditorium, they could stay local and rent our facility instead of paying other communities.

8. Why do we need to replace athletic facilities? Several of our athletic facilities are at the end of their lives: the Robbins building, the current visitor football stands, football stadium lights, and restrooms all must be replaced. There are safety and ADA issues that must be addressed. These are large projects that cannot be funded by support groups such as the Athletic Boosters (who have given over $2 million to the district in the past 20 years, including over $700k to turf the football field and hundreds of thousands to the athletic facilities that were revamped in 2008/09).

9. Why is the junior high in such bad shape? As you know with your own home, car, and so many other items, maintenance and repairs only go so far; things get to a point where they simply must be replaced. The junior high has been maintained and fixed until it is at the end of its life.The junior high was built at a time when government buildings were built in an almost pre-fab manner in order to save cost. The walls are thin; the windows are single-pane; the roof is flat. Because of its nature, a flat roof leaks no matter how many times it is repaired (or even replaced). The fixtures in the building are old and parts are no longer available; they are also inefficient, which is compounded by the lack in insulation and proper construction of the building.

10. If the junior high is in such bad shape, why has the district waited so long to replace it? In the late 1990s/early 2000s, all the buildings in the district had needs. The most pressing was the need for more/newer space at the elementary level; that is why the four new elementaries were opened in 2004 (McCormick, Meadowview, Mulberry, Pattison).

The next greatest need was at the high school, which was so far over capacity that about 360 students from the freshman class plus elective classes were in modular units all day long, and another team (125 students) were split between 4 classrooms. And despite having multiple lunches that went most of the day, students still did not have seats in the lunchroom.

After the high school addition was complete, the state came back to us with the offer of $25 million that could be used to complete a project. This was enough (with a bit of money added from the operating fund) to build the new Charles L. Seipelt and Boyd E. Smith, which opened two school years ago.

Now it is finally time for the junior high to be replaced.

11. Why is the district taking out the maximum amount available in this bond? The state sets debt limits which districts cannot exceed, unless they are partners with OFCC. If the district were part of the state program, even including the 27% of qualified projects OFCC would co-fund, it is possible the bond would have been for MORE than $97.8 million.The $97.8 million will not cover all the work the district needs to do in the high school. Hopefully competitive bids will come in at less, giving us more funds to invest in the high school. Additional renovations that are not able to be done by the bond issue will be undertaken piecemeal over the years.

12. Will the cost of the bond to property owners change as property values change? No, it will stay the same or very close to the same. Once the district sells the bonds and locks in the interest rate, the bond is similar to a mortgage where the same amount will be collected each year. Your specific payment could vary due to new home construction, for instance, but the change would likely be negligible.

13. Why is the district being sued re: FC Cincinnati? The lawsuit claims the district engaged in private meetings to decide on the relationship with FC Cincinnati. The only comment I can make right now is to remind you that anyone can sue anyone, for anything; a lawsuit does not make the allegations true.

14. Aren’t our taxes high compared to other districts? Our tax value is actually very strong compared to other districts. There is a difference between the “tax rate,” which is a percentage, and the actual amount a resident pays in taxes.Take Indian Hill, for example: they have a very low tax rate, but their property values are so high that they pay significantly more in the absolute than other districts.Some districts (such as Goshen) have a 1% income tax in addition to property taxes. This applies to any income you earn, such as income from a job. It adds significantly to the tax burden for working families.

Another consideration is when other districts will need an operating levy or a bond issue. Loveland is considering a very large combined bond/permanent improvement/operating levy in the near future; other local districts are looking at facility needs as well. A number of Clermont County districts will need operating levies soon. It is hard to compare a district to other districts in the absolute, as all districts require new money at some point, and relative tax burdens thus change.

Also remember, you get what you pay for. The quality of education Milford students receive is comparable to high-performing districts such as Forest Hills, Loveland, and Sycamore. Our tax burden compared to these districts is lower, given effective rates and home values.

15. Shouldn’t we be comparing Milford to other Clermont County districts instead of those in Hamilton County? A county line is an arbitrary mark on a map; just because we are in the same county as other school districts does not mean we compare more closely to them than to other neighboring communities.

16. Will the district need to run another operating levy soon? The last operating levy, passed in 2013, was promised to last 3 years and we would stretch it to 4-5 years. As of now, we do not project needing another operating levy until 2023 at the very earliest – and it could be later than that (always depending on what happens at the state level with funding and mandates).The way school funding in Ohio works is that operating funds are not permitted to grow with inflation – so the levy that was passed in 2013 is collected at the same amount today as it was then. However, since district expenses continue to grow just like expenses for any other business, revenue cannot keep up without adding additional funding. Thus, new operating levies cover inflationary growth.

17. Why did the district spend money on a special election? There is a cost to putting an issue on the ballot no matter what month the issue runs. If there are multiple issues on the ballot, the organizations who placed those issues split the cost. If there is only one issue, then the one organization pays the entire cost.That is the situation with the May election. The Milford Schools bond is the only issue on the ballot, so the district will pay the entire $58k cost for the election. In November, there would have been additional issues, so we would have been able to split the cost.However, if we wait for the November election, it will cost us an estimated $7 million or more in construction inflation, time, and other mandates. We felt an additional ~$30,000 or so was a more than fiscally responsible investment vs. spending millions to wait and run the bond in November.

Some people ask if we ran the levy in May because it would be more likely to pass – the answer is no, and there is no data that shows levies are more likely to pass in May than November (see question 19 below).

18. Why didn’t the school district run the issue last November to save money on a special election? To place an issue on the November 2018 ballot, the board would have had to start the process six months in advance and pass the final resolution in July 2018. We did not learn from the state that funds would not be available until August 2018 – so by the time we decided to revise plans and leave the state program, the deadline for the November election was already passed.

19. Do levies pass more often in May than November? There is no indication of this. If you look at Milford’s recent history, passage month is mixed and depends on factors that do not appear to be the month in which the issue was run (which makes much more sense than when issues are on the ballot).

In 2006/2007, the district ran operating levies in May, November, and February; all failed.

In 2008, the district ran an operating levy in March, which failed; it then passed in November.

In 2012, the district ran an operating levy in November, which failed; it then passed in May 2013.

It’s interesting to note that ballot issue professionals who consult with school districts prefer to place issues on the ballot in November, just because there are more people coming to the polls.

Here is a summary of Milford’s more issues and the results:

Levy Type Mills Month/Year For Against Total Votes Pass/Fail
Bond (Megaschools) 5.3 3/2000 5,282 5,451 10,733 Fail
Bond (Megaschools) 5.3 8/2000 3,413 4,507 7,920 Fail
Bond (Neighborhood Schools) 4.1 5/2001 4,223 3,719 7,942 Pass
Operating 5.9 2/2003 2,847 4,264 7,111 Fail
Operating 5.9 5/2003 5,037 4,708 9,745 Pass
Operating 5.6 5/2006 5,932 7,257 13,189 Fail
Operating 5.6 11/2006 8,219 9,154 17,373 Fail
Operating 5.6 2/2007 5,283 5,730 11,013 Fail
Bond (Refinance; partial HS additions/renovations) 2.05 11/2007 5,705 5,332 11,037 Pass
Operating (Dr. Farrell/ new board just started) 5.9 3/2008 7,395 8,049 15,444 Fail
Operating (after re-working; Fiscal Caution) 5.5 11/2008 11,290 11,244 22,534 Pass
Operating 4.5 11/2012 10,955 11,208 22,163 Fail
Operating 4.5 5/2013 6,485 4,339 10,824 Pass

 

20. Is there a conflict of interest for me to be serving as the interim executive director of the Milford Miami Township Chamber of Commerce (MMTCC) while also serving as a school board member? No, there is not. The Chamber is a private non-profit organization and working there does not interfere with school district business. It is no different than working for a company that might at some point have dealings with the school district. In the rare case that there is a decision that must be made at either organization that would affect the other, I notify each organization of the possible conflict and recuse myself from providing input and voting, which eliminates any conflict.

21. Why did the MMTCC board not take a position on the bond issue? The MMTCC board of directors intended to discuss the issue and vote in one of three ways: 1) to support it; 2) to not support it; or 3) to take no position. However, due to three last-minute absences, the board did not have a quorum on this issue and could not vote.

22. Why did the MMTCC board not allow either side to present to them in person during the decision-making process? The board planned to review information submitted by the school district and the Vote No group at their meeting. No information was requested from or provided by the pro-bond group, Unite TheM. The board president specifically asked for the Vote No group to provide no more than 10 pages of information by a certain date/time. The Vote No group was 24 hours late and sent 20 pages. However, the board president decided to extend the courtesy of still accepting the information if the group could reduce their submission to 10 pages within an hour. They did so, and the board would have considered this information along with the 10 pages provided by the school district if a quorum had been met.

 

 

 

 

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