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Toledo weighs costs of bond measure at Big Community Meeting

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Toledo School District Superintendent Sharon Bower (background, right) speaks with community members about the district’s proposed $23.5 million bond measure during Vision: Toledo’s Big Community Meeting March 18. Residents acknowledged both the significant inadequacy of facilities at Toledo High School, as well as the burden a bond would place on taxpayers.

Area residents have expressed significant concerns for the cost of a proposed Toledo School District bond measure, though district officials say a bond is their only option to repair and upgrade their schools.


Held March 18 as part of Vision: Toledo’s Big Community Meeting, a forum allowing district members to speak directly with Superintendent Sharon Bower laid bare the significant impact a bond could have on local taxpayers, as well as the potential consequences of not passing the measure.


The district is seeking a $23.5 million bond to be paid over a 25-year period at a rate of $3.18 per $1,000 of assessed property value, based on current evaluations of properties within the district.


“It would have been nice if we could have timed it when the other bonds were going off the books so it wasn’t such a shock,” said Bower to the group during her break-out session, “but 2011 was not a good time to be asking.”


Bower said the funding from the bond is needed primarily to remodel the 39-year-old high school building, which she said is suffering from inadequate plumbing and electrical systems, as well as a need for modern security measures and a lack of up-to-date facilities for science and technology courses.


She also said repairs are needed at the middle and elementary schools for upgrades within the kitchens, play areas and restrooms, as well as to the electrical systems, among other needs.


While residents did not object to having adequate facilities for students, they did express concerns over the tax burden voters are being asked to place on themselves, with former school board member Ken Norberg stating, like many property owners, he is already struggling to attract buyers under current economic conditions.


“I’ve never voted against anything for the schools,” said Norberg. “I mean, it’s our primary thing in our district. But I’ve got two other places for sale. I want to be able to sell them and, boy, you know, this is a large amount. It’s going to affect a lot of people in a lot of different ways.”


Bower said it would be her position that, along the lines of attempting to sell real estate, it would also not be easy to sell property in a district that did not have adequate school facilities.


One resident also stated the increase of $3.18 per $1,000 of assessed property value was something unseen in other, more urban areas of the state, to which Bower replied the rate is a consequence of the over-all lower assessed value of the properties within the district.


“Our assessed value is very low compared to the rest of the state,” said Bower. “The advantages of living in rural America go on and on. This is one of the disadvantages.”


Speaking in favor of the bond was parent Joe Martin, who said his two high school students are having to put up with water fountains that “barely” function and unreliable bathrooms.


“I mean, it’s just not working,” he said. “The options are pretty limited…it costs money to grow and it costs money to die.”


If the bond were to pass, Bower said the district is prepared to begin remodeling the high school in phases, primarily during the summer, so instruction would not be interrupted. She added this method of upgrading the facility would not tie the district down by a requirement to select the lowest bidder for the project but would allow them to make decisions based on the quality and potential longevity of materials and services.


“You are putting in something that’s almost obsolete the minute you put it in,” she said of working with low-bid contractors. “That’s why it was low bid. And sometimes, your costs to run, that costs more than if you had been able to go with a better system.”


And speaking to concerns that remodeling would be more than is necessary for the building, Bower said, “We don’t have a solution besides remodeling. We’ve done all those things…we are out of options”


Acknowledging it would not be legal for Bower, of any of her fellow district officials, to endorse the bond, Bower volunteered herself as an information resource for those who would like to know more about why the district is seeking the bond and what they plan to do with the funding. She also said those wishing to campaign in support of the bond may contact her to be put in touch with the appropriate parties.


“It’s going to be a hard sell,” she said, “and we have until November.”


To contact Bower or other officials with questions regarding the bond measure, call the District Office at (360) 864-6325. Also, those with comments and questions are welcome to attend any of the regularly scheduled Toledo School Board meetings held the third Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. in the Middle School Library.


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