OXFORD — Should the Clear Creek Amana School District (CCA) continue to spend money from a one-cent sales tax? Voters will decide in a Feb. 3 special election.
Voters approved a Revenue Purpose Statement in 2007 authorizing the district to use funds raised from a one-cent sales tax for infrastructure improvements throughout the district.
The original School Infrastructure Local Option (SILO) tax, which was funded 100 percent from sales tax, expired in July 2008 and was replaced by the Secure an Advanced Vision for Education fund (SAVE). The new SAVE tax, while still one-cent, draws not only from sales tax but also on select use and services taxes.
According to CCA district superintendent Dr. Paula Vincent, the action by the state (abolishing the SILO in favor of the SAVE) necessitates a special election to again seek voter approval for use of the funds.
“We’re asking voters to affirm they are willing to use the funds as stated in the Revenue Purpose Statement,” Vincent said. The Revenue Purpose Statement only allows use for infrastructure improvement, which includes repairs to existing facilities, additions to existing buildings, and new construction when warranted. In the past, the tax has funded the replacement of roof sections and the construction of a new parking lot. Vincent pointed out “they were nothing glamorous, but all necessary.”
The superintendent admitted having “mixed feelings” given the current economic situation. She pointed out the first Revenue Purpose Statement was approved by a wide margin, and she is hopeful for a repeat, but added “…just because it’s there (the additional revenue) doesn’t mean you have to spend it.”
Having the extra money allows the school board to take action in the future if the need arises.
In addition to infrastructure improvements, property tax relief is also a component of the tax. However, residents of the Clear Creek Amana school district would not see an immediate reduction in their property taxes. Instead of the district being able to use revenue from the local option tax, it would instead be directed against outstanding debts after the existing SILO tax expires in 2015.
“If the resolution is not passed, the district will not be able to use this funding stream for infrastructure improvement,” Vincent said, noting defeat of the measure would not immediately impact the district, but would have the potential to accelerate the need for a future bond referendum.
“If voters approve the Revenue Purpose Statement, the district will be able to continue to replace roof sections, make parking lot improvements, and add classroom/facility improvements as needed,” Vincent added. The new auditorium would be a building addition considered by the board, allowable under the Revenue Purpose Statement. “Or, it could be a need for additional classroom space,” Vincent said. “It would also allow for additions to the high school if necessary, or even for a new elementary school (if future growth dictated).”
During discussion at the Jan. 21 regular meeting of the CCA school board, Vincent reiterated no changes were being made from the Revenue Purpose Statement voters approved in 2007, and that voters are not passing a tax –“just authorizing continuation.” She noted the vote, thumbs up or down, would have zero effect until 2015, and no short-term effects would be seen.
But not everybody in the district is thrilled with the tax as it stands.
Thomas Jefferson is quoted as saying, “The same prudence which in private life would forbid our paying our own money for unexplained projects, forbids it in the dispensation of the public moneys.” Some in the CCA district, like Robert Sentman of Tiffin, share Jefferson’s sentiment to the letter, especially in the case of the SILO/SAVE tax.
“It was voted-in good, bad, or indifferent,” Sentman said, referring to the original SILO tax, “but the public wants to know where it’s going.” Sentman feels the residents of the district have been kept in the dark about what the money from the local option tax will fund. “We’re not writing a blank check,” he said, adding people want to know specifically what the money is going for and why, versus what it “could” go for.
“Other districts in the area have spelled-out specific uses for the revenue, and what they will cost.” He cited the College Community school district in particular, for naming specific projects and their expenses to be paid for via the SILO tax. He added College Community was able to give approximately two million back in property tax relief. Sentman pointed out the biggest difference between CCA’s 2007 Revenue Purpose Statement and the one voters will soon decide upon is one sentence standing alone: to provide funds for property tax relief.
Sentman would also like to see a larger emphasis on education in the district. Acknowledging that the SILO/SAVE tax only allows for infrastructure repair and improvement, Sentman asks why then couldn’t more money from the general fund be used to hire more and better teachers at a higher wage.
“Things need to be oriented to providing the best possible education for the students. It seems it’s all about brick and mortar,” he said. Sentman quoted statistics showing CCA spending more per pupil than other districts in the area, but not placing as high academically. He wondered why more general fund money wasn’t available to assist special needs students. The CCA school district is not a Title I school, so it does not receive assistance for special needs students even though a lack of rate of growth (educational development) contributes to the district qualifying as a “school in need.”
Sentman described the language used in the new Revenue Purpose Statement and in a flyer recently mailed by the district as being “vague.” Dissatisfied, Sentman would like more communication from the district, with specifics on how the money will be used, and how it will improve education.
“The bottom line: people want to know exactly where their money is going,” he concluded.