Lakota board votes to move school tax hike closer to reality

By a 3-2 vote the Lakota Board of Education Monday moved closer to putting a tax hike for school construction on the ballot for next year. The vote to approved a resolution to join into a partnership with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) funding program means the commission will now begin to help Lakota develop a master facilities program to determine what type of new school construction, expansion and renovations are needed in the 16,500-student district. (Photo By Michael D. Clark/Journal-News)

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By a 3-2 vote the Lakota Board of Education Monday moved closer to putting a tax hike for school construction on the ballot for next year. The vote to approved a resolution to join into a partnership with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) funding program means the commission will now begin to help Lakota develop a master facilities program to determine what type of new school construction, expansion and renovations are needed in the 16,500-student district. (Photo By Michael D. Clark/Journal-News)

In a close vote Monday evening, Lakota’s school board took a step toward to putting a tax hike before voters next year that may or may not eventually end up on the ballot.

It’s too early to tell if that will happen, said some Lakota Board of Education members, who split 3-2 in approving a resolution that enrolls them in a state school construction program for new and renovated schools.

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The resolution to participate in the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission program is non-binding, said the three supporting members, Julie Shaffer, Kelly Casper and Brad Lovell. Tha board may later be voted on to dissolve the action.

But opposing members Lynda O’Conner and Todd Parnell decried the state program’s requirements that any state funding, which could amount to millions of dollars, can only come after the resolution’s passage with a stipulation of intent to put a local tax increase on the ballot within one year.

The two members argued the state commission’s requirement to commit to a local school tax increase before any determination of school construction needs and costs ignores local board autonomy in deciding such issues.

“I’m not going to support a levy or bond issue with absolutely no plan and no idea what we are going to spend,” said Parnell. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

O’Connor echoed his point and added her own, saying “it’s the cart before the horse for me.”

“There are no determinations on costs (and) we are committing to an intent to place a ballot issue on in less than 12 months with no community involvement at this point,” said O’Connor.

At stake are millions of dollars in state funding toward building a yet-to-be-determined number of new schools to replace aging buildings and renovation work at existing schools.

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To not join the OFCC’s Expedited Local Partnership Program would be short-sighted and costly, said the board majority pushing the resolution’s passage.

“It’s fiscally irresponsible to not enter into this agreement,” said Lovell.

Board President Shaffer said the non-binding nature of the resolution is key.

“It’s a different situation if it (resolution) handcuffs us to a decision,” Shaffer said.

The board resolution calls for Lakota to place a proposed tax increase on the November 2020 ballot, which must be filed with Butler County election officials in early August 2020.

Before then, as a result of the board’s action, officials from the state commission will begin to work with and provide resources to Lakota in developing a master facilities plan. Lakota is now in line to receive the future reimbursement of state funding for any building projects.

Lakota’s facilities plan, which officials said will be completed by late spring, would examine the exact needs for new schools, building modernization and expansion of existing schools to accommodate shifting enrollment projections in the district, which covers both West Chester and Liberty townships.

The completion of that plan would determine how much Lakota will have to spend on any construction projects.

The Ohio ELPP option is also being considered by Monroe Schools and has been previously used to build new schools in Ross, Hamilton, Talawanda and Middletown.

Lakota officials said signing into the ELPP application process will now start extensive community outreach meetings, surveys and other means to explain the funding process and gauge public interest before any later, binding votes the board might take to possibly put a proposed tax increase on the November 2020 ballot.

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