It has been less than three weeks since the Toledo School District’s $14 million bond failed in a special election, but district officials say it’s time to put that behind them.
The money would have helped fix serious structural issues at the high school, including seismic upgrades and upgrade plumbing and electrical systems. But the measure’s 56 percent “yes” vote fell short of the required 60 percent supermajority, sending the district back to the drawing board.
Superintendent Chris Rust said the district’s facilities committee will reconvene at 6 p.m. March 29 in the Toledo High School library to come up with some new ideas. He’s also invited some of the bonds’ most vocal opponents to join the meeting to share why they think the bond failed.
“We got pretty close,” Rust said Friday. The bond was just 60 votes shy of passing. “I see that as we got the message mostly right. So now we have to go back and say ‘Where did we miss?’”
Rust said that he is working on contacting those that were most vocal in Facebook comments and in the local papers. An all-out war about the bond raged in letters to the editor published in “The Chronicle,” Centralia’s newspaper.
Some were angry and felt like the district was asking for too much money, especially after voters passed a four-year, $1.1 million maintenance and operations levy early in 2015.
Rust said he’s also working on a flyer that will go out to all district patrons explaining what levy money is used for.
“It’s an unfortunate name: ‘Maintenance and Operations Levy,’” Rust said. “People get the idea that all of the money is going to take care of our facilities. The fact is that at least 20 percent is paying for interscholastic athletics. More goes to utilities, staff salaries − supplementing what the state pays for education.”
It’s a common problem districts around the state have faced: using levy money to fill in the gaps where state funds don’t fully cover operating costs. That’s the problem at the heart of this legislative session as lawmakers have been struggling with how to “fully fund” education.
Rust said the district’s previous maintenance and operations levies have been $995,000. The most recent levy was bumped to $1.1 million because there were a couple extra projects attached, including fixing a leaking pipeline at the high school and getting a new roof at Toledo Elementary School.
But the roofing project was never completed. Rust, who became superintendent in fall 2015, said he wasn’t aware that was a promise made to the community.
“I investigated and found out that we had promised that,” Rust said. “I’m waiting on a quote from a roofing company and then I’ve got to sharpen my pencil and figure out how to do that.”
Rust also said that a quarter of a million dollars have been taken from the levy money and transferred into the district’s capital projects fund − it’s earmarked for the high school water project.
The March 29 meeting, Rust said, is not only a meeting to regroup, but a sort brainstorming session. He’s trying to come up with alternative ways to fund certain projects on the facilities master plan without relying on the bond.
He’s also hoping for a variety of voices.
“I want people who voted no or who were critical to show up and tell us why,” Rust said.
“For things like the boilers and the softball field at the elementary school, I’m in the process of writing grants for those,” Rust said. He’s also looking into grants that would fund the repairs of the high school track.
“It gives me no pleasure to go out and ask people on fixed incomes to increase their taxes,” Rust said. “I want to find some other opportunities for making some of these upgrades.”