May 9, 2022 - News

Columbus City Schools eyes tax increase for new buildings

Illustration of an apple wearing a hardhat with construction plans

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Columbus City Schools officials may ask voters to increase their property taxes this fall to fund a slate of new school buildings.

  • The election plans being considered come at a time when the number of Ohio school ballot issues are at a record low, a likely ripple effect of the pandemic.

Why it matters: This would be Columbus' first tax increase toward new buildings in 14 years.

  • Approving it would get the district back on track with its long-term facilities planning.

Driving the news: The school board sent proposals to the Franklin County auditor last week to determine potential costs, the first step required to get an issue on the ballot.

Zoom in: The district is considering three proposals:

  • A $305 million bond issue for five new buildings, completed by 2027.
  • A $680 million bond for 10 buildings by 2029.
  • A 4.7-mill tax levy for long-term capital needs such as building maintenance, buses and laptops. This could be voted on by itself or combined with another bond for a single vote.

By the numbers: Here's the additional annual cost for a $100,000 home, per the auditor's office:

  • Smaller bond issue: $46, 35 years
  • Larger one: $103, 35 years
  • Levy: $164.50, continuing

Context: The owner of a $100,000 home currently pays $1,172 in yearly school taxes.

What they're saying: "There's never a 'right time' to go on the ballot … but it's essential for the future of our district," board President Jennifer Adair tells Axios.

Annual ballot issues for Ohio schools, by type
Data: Hannah News Service Inc.; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Yes, but: Economic uncertainty has many districts seemingly holding off on big ballot proposals.

  • November 2021 saw the lowest number of school levy proposals since Ohio's current method of funding schools was established in 1976, per reports from school funding expert Howard Fleeter.

Flashback: Columbus, for example, originally considered placing bond items on the November 2020 ballot.

What's next: This is just the first step. A new facilities plan calls for 19 new buildings overall and closure of existing ones amid years of declining enrollment.

  • The "which buildings will close" conversation hasn't happened yet — and it's never popular. In 2018, board members dismissed a proposal to consolidate.

The bottom line: The current board must first decide what to ask voters for this year, if anything. The deadline to place issues on the Nov. 8 ballot is Aug. 10.


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