Yes or No, you decide
By Chuck Gibson
The decision, “YES” or “NO”, on the Loveland City School District 16.78 Mill levy is less than one month away. Loveland is clearly divided on the issue.
Signs against the school levy printed and distributed by Loveland against School Levy – registered political action committee – sprouted in yards around Loveland first. Signs FOR the school levy, printed and distributed by Citizens for Loveland City Schools, followed.
Why should you vote for the levy? Why should you vote against the levy? What are both sides saying?
By now Loveland City School District voters know what the levy is. Short of living out of country and completely off the grid, LCSD voters have seen the yard signs, both FOR (Vote Yes FOR LOVELAND SCHOOLS) and AGAINST (Vote NO Loveland Schools Permanent Levy). You’ve heard the talk around town, on podcasts, and the radio. It’s all over social media. Both sides agree there is plenty of information available. They just don’t agree on what it says.
“Yes, yes there is enough information out there to know this has not been thought out thoroughly,” said Juliet Tissot, speaking for the Loveland against School Levy; “that the board is continually changing their position and that we need to say no, and hold off until we get more information.”
Tissot says questions have not been answered. She says they want to know specifics; the exact cost of maintaining and upgrading the primary school buildings versus budgeting $35 million for new buildings. Why can’t upgrades be made on existing property instead of purchasing over 100 acres of Grailville property? If the levy fails, will LCSD go forward with the land acquisition, or forfeit the $100,000 good faith money? Why is there $10 million for Athletics instead of the Athletic Boosters funding those needs? Why is there a $12-$16 million dollar Fine Arts Center in this Master Plan?
“Yes the information is available,” said Dr. Amy Crouse, Superintendent of Loveland City Schools. “No, no one is trying to hide anything. It’s frustrating to hear that.”
Questions have been answered by Superintendent Crouse, Treasurer, Kevin Hawley, School Board President Art Jarvis and other representatives at community meetings, public meetings, at in-home information sessions, through email, and online. She and Treasurer Kevin Hawley have set a schedule of “open office hours” for the public to ask questions about this levy.
“Don’t say we’re not answering questions,” Crouse said. “I can answer them all.”
How did we get here? Dr. Crouse was here when the process to create a “Master Plan” started four years ago as “Destination Loveland.” Chad Hilliker was Superintendent then, she was Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning. The process stalled when Hilliker left for another position. She was named Interim Superintendent while the school board listened to the community, searched for, and interviewed candidates before hiring her as the new Loveland City Schools Superintendent in March 2018.
The community and board were clear about what they wanted for LCSD. Dr. Crouse was tasked with the job of gaining recognition for Loveland Schools students and to make LCSD #1 in the nation. A clear need for a Master Plan, not just a maintenance plan, for the best academic programs and facilities was identified. The architect firm Emersion Design was selected for facilities assessment of all buildings, sites, and environment for Loveland Schools. They took a blank slate and reported the current state of Loveland schools.
Invitations were sent out for the first community meeting in September 2018. Loveland City Schools reached out with six different mailer invitations to LCSD voters, they posted yard signs inviting people to attend. It was a “concerted, systematic effort to invite people.” They held two community events to share the information in a presentation by the CEO of Emersion Design.
Juliet Tissot said she didn’t know and did not attend any events until much later. In fact a total of 300 people did attend – 150 each at the two initial community events. Loveland against School Levy says those 300 people, or the 800 total community members who took part in the process are not enough to call this a “community driven” Master Plan. The new plan became known as Building Tiger Nation. You can find a complete timeline of events at BuildingTigerNation.org
“It is their fault,” Tissot said. “I’ll tell you why. They might not have known three years ago, they might have thought they were communicating properly with people three years ago, but you know what, in March they knew that they didn’t.”
“This community is engaged,” said Art Jarvis, Loveland City School District Board President. “They want to be heard. It is the reason we make the effort.”
A survey asked how much people knew back in March. Tissot made reference to the survey conducted by Fallon Research for LCSD which showed slightly over 50% of those surveyed (about 300 respondents) answered they did not know or knew little. With that information, she wants to know how LCSD can say the community is driving this plan. The school administration cites the process, the people involved, and the work that went into presenting multiple plans for consideration before the five-member board of education gave this plan unanimous approval.
“There were lots of wishes, we said no, too expensive,” said Crouse. “This truly is the plan.”
There was a split between members of the community focus groups before the board voted on the final plan. Some wanted a new high school instead of replacing three primary school buildings. It is a point of contention for the Loveland against School Levy group. Records show the split was about even. The school board said no to a new high school because the existing high school is the newest Loveland school building and a $200 million price tag was cost prohibitive.
“We go forward because 100% of the people were invited,” Jarvis said. “I sat in the meetings. I felt the passion of those intimately involved in the process. What else can you do?”
What does Tissot propose? That depends on the margin of defeat, if the levy fails.
“I don’t have to come up with a proposal right now,” she said. “If we win 51-49, I don’t have a very heavy hand to propose very much. If we win 70-30, I can go in guns-a-blazing, cut this, cut that, cut this, cut that. I can demand a lot more if I win it by a lot more.”
Why Vote NO? The signs from the Loveland against School Levy lay it out in simplest form. The first sign says VOTE NO PERMANENT SCHOOL LEVY. Permanent is disputed given the fact the bond portion – $118 million and 71% of the total – is for 37 years, but the balance is “continuing” or permanent. The big sign says it all: TOO BIG – $165 million, TOO LONG- 37 years, and TOO MUCH – 42% increase. Tissot says even if the schools answer all their questions, she’ll “never” vote for this levy.
“We are not against schools, teachers, children or the levy, or education,” Tissot explained. “We are against this levy and this levy only. If we vote no now, they’ll come back with a more fiscally responsible ask.” Tissot added, “I don’t think we need to do it all at once. I will support a levy that supports education, reduces class size, reduces case load, produces more aides for students with special needs, anything that helps the teachers do their job.”
Why Vote YES? This Master Plan developed from assessment on how to meet the needs of Loveland City Schools District to be the best in the nation for academic programs and facilities. Professionals assessed all aspects of needs and educational requirements. Members of the community engaged in a four-month process of meeting and data gathering. Thousands of data points were used to approve the plan. It will never cost less. All options for funding were considered.
If voters pass the levy, the three-step implementation of the levy and bond will begin January 2020 with full implementation taking effect in January 2022. The design phase will begin for construction and facilities upgrades. The option to purchase Grailville property will be exercised.
“The fight continues,” said Tissot. “We’ll take the fight to Columbus.”
When told Tissot would take the fight to Columbus, School Board President Art Jarvis found common ground. “We’ll join them,” he said. Both sides agree asking taxpayers to fund public education is wrong.
If voters fail the levy, the school administrators will have to take immediate action to determine how to meet operating costs as well as goals for the Master Plan. The next ballot opportunity is March 2020. A levy placed on that ballot will not be effective until January 2021.
“There is no nothing,’ said School Board President Art Jarvis. “By law we cannot operate at a deficit. We must meet operating costs at minimum.”
YES or NO, YOU DECIDE! There is too many pieces to answer all the questions in any forum. If you are still looking for answers, check out the sites from both sides. Go to: BuildingTigerNation for more about the Master Plan and Levy. Or visit: Loveland against School Levy
“You do have a voice,” said Superintendent Dr. Amy Crouse. “Go vote at the polls. Don’t say you didn’t have the opportunity to be involved.”
Cast your vote election day Tuesday, November 5, 2019.