School board resumes facilities, levy talks
- Published: September 26, 2023
As the Nov. 7 election day approaches, the Board of Education last week resumed discussing an upcoming levy to address district school facilities at both a Tuesday, Sept. 12, work session and a Thursday, Sept. 14, regular meeting.
The work session was held to display and discuss updated conceptual master plan drawings for renovations and new construction at both the Mills Lawn Elementary School campus on Walnut Street and the McKinney Middle School and Yellow Springs High School campus on East Enon Road.
If approved by voters this fall, the upgrades are estimated to cost about $55 million — before an anticipated Ohio Facilities Construction Commission rebate of about $8.95 million — to be funded by a combination of property and income tax.
Architect Mike Ruetschle, who worked with the school board and its Facilities Committee as they conceived of and selected a plan to address school upgrades over the 18 months of the plan’s creation, presented the conceptual drawings to the board and community members in attendance.
According to the master plan documents, Mills Lawn will be restructured as a pre-K through fourth-grade school. Upgrades at the facility would include repairing the exterior of the building and full systems replacements; deep renovations for some classrooms and restroom facilities; and renovation to create new offices and a secure vestibule at the school’s entrance. The modular band room will be demolished; it will no longer be needed at the elementary school when fifth and sixth grades move to the East Enon Road campus, as the local band program begins in fifth grade.
As Ruetschle said during the work session, if Mills Lawn is renovated according to the plan, the exterior of the facility would remain essentially as it is today, though with improvements.
“The biggest difference you’ll see are new windows,” Ruetschle said. “But other than that, what’s there today will remain — the brick will be cleaned, so it might look a little nicer, but … Mills Lawn is going to look pretty much exactly like Mills Lawn is today.”
The McKinney and YSHS campus, however, will undergo more dramatic changes — both inside and outside — if the facilities project is funded at the polls.
A combination of demolition, renovation and new construction would create a facility for grades 5–12 at East Enon Road. The schools’ current band room, the modular middle school wing and the facility’s current three-story “tower” portion would all be demolished.
A new secure vestibule entrance and offices would be constructed, as well as a new band room; two new building sections to serve as middle school (grades 5–8) and high school (grades 9–12) wings, connected by the current media center and cafeteria; and a new, larger gym for use by students in grades 7–12. The campus’ original 1963 gym and surrounding classrooms would be renovated, with the gym to serve fifth and sixth grade students in physical education classes and as an auditorium for performances.
“So we take the gymnasium floor that’s there today, and we rotate it 90 degrees,” Ruetschle said. “We make [the gym] a bit smaller since now it’s an elementary gym … and with the use of retractable chair back seats that can nest against the back wall that can then deploy out into the room, you basically have a theater.”
The demolition and construction at the campus would also necessitate a change in parking and pickup and drop-off locations for students, with a pick-up and drop-off semi-circle entrance to align with West South College Street and an exit to align with Paxson Drive. Currently, an entrance to the grounds for bicyclists and walkers does not align with the crossing at West South College Street, forcing students traveling from that street to cross East Enon Road and then the campus’ drop-off exit to get to the school’s entrance.
Ruetschle reiterated that the plans presented for the middle and high schools, which would undergo more substantial changes than the elementary school if funded, are conceptual, and likely to change if the November facilities levy is passed.
“What we’re trying to do is to kind of thread the needle between providing sufficient information and facts … that will help people visualize and conceptualize this document, but … not go so far as to put your district or your future architect in handcuffs during the design process,” he said.
At the Sept. 14 regular meeting of the school board, district Treasurer Jacob McGrath spoke about the tax liability for school district taxpayers if the levy passes this fall.
If approved by voters, the facilities upgrade project will be funded through a 37-year bond issue of $26,630,000, levying a property tax of 7.9 mills for the period of the bond, and an ongoing annual 1% income tax.
McGrath said that, if the levy passes at the polls, the district will aim for a “phased-in” collection of the 7.9 property tax millage to coincide with the expiration of a facilities bond issue passed in 2000.
“We are setting our debt schedule to collect 7.9 mils for the bond in total,” McGrath said.
District taxpayers are currently paying 1.8 mills annually for the 2000 bond; if this November’s levy passes, rather than adding the 7.9 millage onto the current 1.8 mills for the 2000 bond issue, property taxes for local residents will instead increase to 7.9 mills, “phasing in” the new tax at 6.1 mills in combination with the current 1.8 mills. When the 2000 bond expires in 2027, the millage for the new facilities tax will increase to its full 7.9 mills rate, effectively keeping the tax rate for school district taxpayers at the same rate across the life of the bond.
McGrath added that, if the project is funded, the district will most likely receive the OFCC rebate about 10 years into the 37-year life of the bond issue, reducing the bond’s millage.
“So what’s the effect on millage and that dollar amount? Really hard to say, but I can say it will go down,” he said.
McGrath also spoke about how best to calculate what the annual tax liability would be for residents should the levy pass. For the bond issue property tax, he said, this means school district taxpayers must find the appraised value of their residential property as determined by Greene County.
A mill represents one-tenth of a cent, and nets a municipality $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s assessed value; the assessed value of a property is 35% of its appraised value. For a property with an appraised value of $100,000 (an assessed value of $35,000) the phased-in rate of 6.1 mills for the November bond issue will increase school district property taxes from their current rate by $213.50 annually.
McGrath noted that ballot language for the upcoming levy will reflect the full 7.9 mills of the bond issue, and not the phased-in rate of 6.1 mills.
“If you have a $100,000 home, you’re going to feel $213.50 of an increase in your property taxes — on the ballot, what it will say is what is the effect of the full 7.9 [mills]. … On the ballot it is going to say that for a $100,000 home, it will cost you $277 a year,” he said.
To find both appraised and assessed values of a property on the Greene County Auditor’s website, go to bit.ly/41CWUVR. After inputting the property’s address or the name of the owner, click on the search results to see full details on the property’s valuation.
McGrath stressed that this estimate is based on 2022 valuations of Yellow Springs property, not the recently released 2023 valuation; ballot language for the levy was finalized before 2023 reappraisal figures were released.
The Yellow Springs school district’s current income tax rate is 1%, and if passed, the November levy would raise the rate by an additional 1%.
“[For the income tax], the best way to estimate what that’s going to be for you would be to look at last year’s Ohio income tax return — it will tell you how much you pay for school district taxes,” McGrath said.
To watch both the work session and the regular board meeting, search “Yellow Springs Schools Board Meetings” on YouTube. To view the conceptual drawings presented by Ruetschle and supporting documents from McGrath’s tax presentation, including a spreadsheet-based millage calculator, go to the district’s BoardDocs site at bit.ly/3Lu4xsf, click on “Meetings,” and view agendas for each meeting.
In other school board business:
• The board and district administrators continue to discuss the potential use of Yondr pouches in the middle and high schools, which aim to keep students off smartphone devices during the school day.
Next week, the district plans to focus on the subject and open discussion to the wider community: a community conversation about the use of Yondr pouches in the middle and high schools will be held Wednesday, Sept. 27, 6–7 p.m., in the YS High School Media Center.
• Superintendent Terri Holden announced that the district received its annual state report card, netting an overall rating of five stars — the highest rating possible. Holden noted that she will speak about the report card’s results in depth at an upcoming “State of the Schools” address on Thursday, Oct. 5, beginning at 6 p.m. in the YS High School gym; the News will also cover the results and Holden’s address following the event.
Until then, Holden took a moment to laud those she believes are responsible for the district accomplishment.
“Five stars is pretty daggone amazing. … I feel like this has been five years in the making,” she said, noting the length of her tenure with the district. “This is all due to teachers, the administrative team and, quite honestly, students and the rest of the community.”