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Schools wait to see issue results

Local educators say they received little information about a ballot issue last week that asked voters to support the sale of state school construction bonds.

Tuesday, November 09, 1999

Local educators say they received little information about a ballot issue last week that asked voters to support the sale of state school construction bonds.

"Part of the problem is nobody really knows how it will affect our schools," Ironton superintendent Steve Kingery said. "Nobody is sending anything to us with any clear-cut information."

The measure, approved by 60 percent of the popular vote, allows Ohio to sell general obligation bonds, which typically have lower interest rates than those backed only by money set aside by lawmakers. Issuing the bonds has no effect on taxes unless the state takes on so much debt that future lawmakers decide to raise taxes to pay it off.

But some districts, especially in southern Ohio, already feel slighted by state rhetoric, and look at the bond issue plan with a wary eye, county superintendent Harold Shafer said.

"(Gov. Bob) Taft said we need to put $16 billion in the school system over the next 12 years and he said we’ve got the money to do it," Shafer said.

"If the state’s got the money, then let’s put it in the schools," he said. "Why do we need to sell bonds for something we have the money to pay for."

Taft, a major proponent of the measure, said because general obligation bonds allow a lower interest rate, then that benefit can be passed along to local districts.

The lower rates would save the state $979,000 annually for every $1 billion of debt issued, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Budget Office.

Opponents could understand a need to protect the state’s cash reserves with bonds but those bonds must be sold, which is not always easy, Shafer said.

"I may be completely wrong, but I can see it being used as an excuse to not give the money to the schools," he said. "In other words, they might say, ‘We can’t sell the bonds.’"

Like many school systems, Ironton will take a wait-and-see attitude, especially with its new school plans looming near, Kingery said.

The Ohio School Facilities Commission says the issue to sell bonds is one thing, but then there is the actual selling and establishing guidelines on how to distribute the funds, about which schools have received no information, he said.

The bond issue lost during last year’s election. State leaders said that was because voters linked it with a proposal to increase the state sales tax by a penny a dollar, which also lost.

Taft and other officials backed the issue this year, and it had no significant organized opposition.