UPDATED: CH-UH Board Votes Unanimously To Reject Facilities Master Plan Bond Issue
Board members voted no on second reading on a resolution that would have put a $130.6 million bond issue on the November ballot.
Published at 9:50 p.m. June 17, updated at 9:09 a.m. June 18
The Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School Board voted unanimously tonight to reject a resolution that would have put a $130.6 million bond issue on the November ballot.
The bond issue, if approved by voters, would have paid for a portion of the controversial facilities master plan, otherwise known as Plan C, a $206.2 million project that calls for renovating, updating and reconfiguring school buildings and closing three elementary schools. The 36-year bond would have meant an estimated 5.9 mill levy, and cost homeowners about $15 more in property taxes per month for every $100,000 of property valuation.
The move came after the board had initially approved the measure on a narrow 3-2 vote on first reading at its meeting July 3.
On Monday night, about 60 people attended a special meeting at Cleveland Heights High School that was called by the CH-UH School Board to hear comments from parents and residents before they made their final decision. All board members were present. About 18 people spoke, and the majority voiced their opposition to the plan.
Eric Coble, board vice president, originally voted yes to the bond issue at the July 3 meeting and spoke first at Tuesday’s special meeting at the Delisle Options Center.
“I know there is a large contingent of the community who feels that this plan is not done yet … and a lot of people are asking for specifically one more year to continue developing it,” Coble said. “There have been a number of people who have stepped up, who have promised, and I think I can use that word, to continue if this is delayed for one more year, to continue to work and give up their time and their efforts to continue to develop this.
“I’m willing to give them that year. So I will be voting no with this with the assumption that we will continue to proceed. This is not us punting, this is not us saying, well this is too hard, we can’t do this. We put in a lot of effort. We put in a lot of time, a lot of money … and we can’t just let that disappear into the mist.”
Board member Nancy Peppler, who also supported the bond issue on first reading at the last meeting, voted no this time, too. She seemed surprised that Coble had made the same decision.
“It’s simply a recognition that the traditional school supporters, and I’m talking about the core people, the 15 or 20 or 50 people who have worked many, many hours over the years to pass operating levies and have been long-term supporters of the schools aren’t fully in support of us going forward this November,” Peppler said.
She said she’d like the board, administrators and others who have worked on the plan to use the extra time to clear up misinformation and confusion surrounding Plan C, as people have expressed a “general support” of the idea.
“I don’t believe that the time between now and Nov. 1 will allow us to first get those people to understand it to the level that they will need to to sell it to their neighbors and friends,” she said.
"I remain committed to (Plan C) going forward, but I believe that we need to take more time to engage those core supporters."
Karen Jones, board president, also voted differently this time and acknowledged that though she believes in Plan C, the board should be unanimous in its decision.
“Whatever decision we make, it needs to be a unanimous decision at best to show that we are united as a board and doing what we believe is best for the district,” Jones said.
Board members Ron Register and Kal Zucker again voted no, just as they had July 3.
"What this presents is an opportunity ... the interesting thing about opportunity is an opportunity is only as good as what you do with it. The fact is often times after a very difficult, arduous process, the first inclination, after a decision is made, is to sit back. And unfortunately we don't have that time to sit back," he said.
"We have our work cut out for us."
Superintendent Doug Heuer, who had recommended the board approve Plan C and the bond issue at the July 3 meeting, said the board will consider the next steps at its Aug. 7 meeting.
"The Board of Education made a decision to not place a bond referendum on the ballot in November. The Board of Education will discuss the next steps of implementing a master facilities plan at the next regular business meeting in August," he said.
Eric Silverman, a former CH-UH board member who shared his opposition to the plan at the last meeting, said he was "shocked" after hearing the vote at the July 17 meeting.
"I'm shocked. That's all there is to it. I totally didn't see that coming," he said.
Jodi Sourini is part of a group of parents and residents who said they would campaign against the bond issue should the board approve it. "Save Our Heights Schools" started a petition and had 127 signatures at the time this article was published from people who opposed the plan. She also attended the July 17 meeting.
"I'm totally shocked but happily so because I think it's the right thing to do for the community," Sourini said, who will be PTA president at Gearity Professional Developement School for the 2012-2013 school year and has a son entering second grade at the school.
She said she had never voted against a school levy or issue before, let alone campaigned against one.
"We will stop the petition because this is what we wanted. This is what we were working for, to have open, honest dialogue," Sourini said, adding that the group may now focus on getting the community engaged in further conversations about Plan C. "I'm proud of the board for making the right decision for our community."