The cost to repair and maintain our aging facilities is impacting the fiscal health of our district. We have $44.5 million dollars in deferred maintenance and our existing facilities are not readily accessible to individuals with disabilities. The average age of our school buildings is 90-years-old, and despite our best efforts to maintain our schools, we have reached a point where patching and repairing is not enough and our buildings are becoming more costly to maintain.
Without a comprehensive long term plan to address our aging school buildings, the $540,000 in annual permanent improvement funds to maintain our school buildings is not enough to address our comprehensive facility needs. Additionally, these permanent improvement funds are only partially available for facility needs as they also cover the technology equipment and infrastructure needs of our students and staff.
We have reached a point where continually repairing our facilities is an inefficient use of tax dollars. We need a long term plan that can ensure adequate and efficient schools for our students and staff at a reasonable cost to taxpayers.
Deferred maintenance is the practice of postponing major facilities repairs in order to save costs and stay within budgeted funding levels. Our maintenance staff has done an excellent job of maintaining our schools within the funds budgeted to date, but we have now reached a point where repairing is simply not enough and will end up costing more money long-term. The fact is deferred maintenance grows in scope — and cost — the longer it is prolonged. When a repair is delayed, it is still subject to daily use. We can continue to “fix it as it breaks” but we would be pouring millions of dollars into buildings and systems beyond their useful life. For example, a wall might have to be removed and replaced to fix plumbing and, only a year later, removed and replaced again to fix electrical. It’s not an efficient use of taxpayer dollars.
That’s why we are working with the community to come up with a long-term plan for our school buildings - including replacing some out of dated infrastructures and buildings.
No. The age of our current buildings and building systems (e.g. heating, cooling, windows, plumbing, etc...) are reaching end of life. We will have to spend a significant amount of money over the next 15 years to keep our buildings safe, dry, and secure. Factoring the industry standard for inflation, the deferred maintenance for Grandview Heights Schools will be $52.9 million by 2020 if there is not a plan in place to address our facilities.
A comprehensive plan is the most efficient and will cost the least long-term. Due to the current historically low interest rate environment, a new bond levy will be at an interest rate that may not be available in a few years when additional facility issues need addressed. And, there are fixed costs in issuing bonds that would be paid with each separate bond levy. In addition, a comprehensive ask is the best for construction costs due to the opportunity for economies of scale on a larger project. Costs of administering and managing individual projects have a large fixed component that drives these economies of scale.
A proposed project size of $10 million or less, for example, would handle only a small part of the district’s comprehensive facility needs and address only the most critical of the deferred maintenance items. There are far more items that will need replaced/fixed which could cost the district more long-term, especially any emergency repairs.
In addition, completing the facility work in pieces and parts could potentially be more expensive. For example, the majority of the needed work is contained within the current ceilings - electrical, fire suppression, lighting, and HVAC. It is very costly to remove the ceiling multiple times. Furthermore, contractors would have to work around students and additional safety measures would be needed, further adding to the cost and creating general safety concerns. This is work that cannot be accomplished over a summer break or on weekends.
In Spring 2016, the district contracted with an independent school facilities and maintenance expert to analyze what it would cost to address our current deferred maintenance. Harrison Planning Group (HPG) conducted the comprehensive facility assessment. HPG scoured, measured, and analyzed every square inch of our existing buildings. The work was threefold: 1) Analyze the operational efficiencies of our current school buildings (23 physical systems including heating, windows, foundation, roofing, among others); 2) Identify any current Ohio building code deficiencies or requirements; and 3) Determine whether our current classrooms provide the appropriate learning spaces needed for our students to be successful in the modern world.
When this comprehensive assessment of all district structures, grounds, and equipment was completed, it was determined that the yearly costs to maintain and upgrade our current infrastructure and classrooms are significantly higher than the current funds available in our annual Permanent Improvement (PI) budget of $540,000. In fact, the assessment revealed that it would take $44.5 million to simply address our building maintenance needs. This assessment has been evaluated and validated by independent construction industry experts from OHM Advisors and Concord Addis Construction Consultants, LLC.
In 2015, the district contracted with K-12 Business Solutions, Inc. to help prioritize facility needs with respect to the district annual Permanent Improvement budget of $540,000. The report was not commissioned to comprehensively assess all of the district’s infrastructure needs, or be used as a document to evaluate deferred maintenance.
K-12 Business Consulting Inc. is made up of school business officials and administrators who have extensive experience as school superintendents, treasurers, and business managers. They are not architects, engineers, or construction industry experts and accordingly, do not perform comprehensive facility assessments. The work they performed for Grandview Heights Schools was for the sole purpose of guiding the district in prioritizing its $540,000 annual Permanent Improvement budget in a systematic manner so resources could be used as efficiently as possible.
With buildings that average 90 years old, it is inevitable that building systems will continue to fail and will be increasingly costly to repair.
With only $540,000 of annual permanent improvement revenue, a portion of which must also cover the technology equipment and infrastructure costs of the district, it is likely that the costs to make repairs to our school buildings would increasingly come from operating funds - funding that is currently used for classroom instruction, programs and activities, and opportunities for students.
In May 2016, the district faced three unplanned, unbudgeted expenditures. The first was a major leak in the Grandview Heights High School roof, costing the district $156,000 to repair. The second was the breakdown of an elevator leaving Grandview Heights High School students, families, and visitors with disabilities facing serious challenges. Repairing the elevator cost the district $40,000. The fix became even more costly when parts needed to repair the elevator had to be specially manufactured due to the age of the elevator. The third unplanned expenditure was the rupturing of a hot water tank at Grandview Heights High School costing the district $7,000 to replace.
On May 1, 2017, we learned that we had an operating boiler that needed replaced at a cost of nearly $35,000.
As a result of these and other emergency expenditures, we have had to delay addressing other high-priority maintenance issues such as remodeling additional classrooms or purchasing more technology infrastructure.
We need a comprehensive, long-term plan instead of the current reactionary approach to address our current facility needs while our deferred maintenance continues to escalate.
On May 1, 2017, the district presented seven facility options to the community with corresponding estimated costs for each. The goal was to provide residents with a range of concepts to consider for the future of our schools. The cost options presented ranged from minimal patching and repairing ($7 to $9 million), to renovating all of our school buildings, to building an entire new K-12 campus ($70 million). The district also provided options that included a combination of some new builds and some renovations of current buildings. More than 560 respondents provided feedback via an online survey as well as through “exit tickets,” at the community meeting.
In June 2017, based on the community feedback, the district narrowed the options to three and presented them to the community on June 8, 2017. Following this meeting, over 480 respondents provided feedback via an online survey or “exit tickets.” Based on the results of the online survey, community coffees, a research based focus group, and exit tickets, the three remaining options were narrowed to one core option.
The community feedback by our parents, community members, students, and staff, and corresponding data about which option our community favored was clear: renovate Stevenson Elementary and Grandview Heights High School and build a new school building to serve students in grades 4–8. The community also would like to explore upgrading our K-12 athletic facilities.
We are currently working with the Financial Advisory Committee (FAC) - a group of community members with extensive business and financial backgrounds. Their purpose is to analyze and recommend to the superintendent what is the best financial decision for the school district. No final decisions have been made and the FAC will be sharing their initial findings at a community meeting on March 12 at 6:30 pm in the GHHS auditorium to gather additional community feedback to help formulate a plan to present to the superintendent.
Currently, Grandview Heights Schools’ residents pay approximately $1,144 of school tax per $100,000 of property valuation. This is the second lowest school tax rate out of the 16 school districts in Franklin County.
Another measure of affordability comes from the Ohio Department of Education (ODE). According to the ODE, school taxes in Grandview Heights Schools are more affordable compared to other communities across Franklin County and Ohio. ODE evaluates each community’s ability to “afford” new or existing taxes using a four part assessment called, Local Tax Effort Index, a calculation that measures tax effort in each district by comparing the amount of taxes paid by school district residents with their ability to pay taxes as measured by Federal Adjusted Gross Income. Currently Grandview Heights/Marble Cliff is the fourth lowest of the sixteen districts in Franklin County, and the 55th lowest out of the state's 607 districts.
Our residents are getting an excellent return on their investment in our schools and in their home valuation. Our students are achieving at high levels and residents are paying a lower school tax rate compared to peer districts in central Ohio.
The recent property reappraisal resulted in an average increase in residential property values of 27.7%. The percentage increase in property valuation does not mean taxes will increase by that same percentage, however. A state law, commonly known as House Bill 920, limits inflationary growth on voted tax levies. In fact, the average total tax increase as a result of the reappraisal was only 5.6%, with the school district receiving an increase of about 2.2%.
Taxes in 2018 also increased as a result of two new tax levies, including the Grandview Heights Public Library and the Franklin County Senior Citizens Levy.
Our per pupil expenditures reflect the fact that our schools offer more student programs, opportunities, and services than many other districts. This allows Grandview Heights Schools to fully actualize our stated mission, “To maximize and personalize every student’s learning.” Our expenditures per student are a direct result of the school experience and corresponding opportunities that our students have every day, including: K-6 Spanish FLES (Foreign Language in the Elementary School); robust mental health, counseling and gifted services; small class sizes with an average student-teacher ratio of 17:1; 16 Advanced Placement courses offered at Grandview Heights High School (also robust for a district our size), independent study learning opportunities; 21 varsity sports and over 30 club activities; and many other opportunities that are beyond a typical education. These opportunities are provided to our students with no pay to participate fees and no academic fees. We are grateful to our supportive community for making these opportunities possible for our students.
Taxpayers will also be pleased to know that, according to the Ohio Department of Education, our school district is ranked third out of 275 similar sized districts when it comes to the percentage of funds being spent where it matters most - on classroom instruction.
Although being a small district does allow for a more personalized education for students, it is not without challenges. Due to our size, we are unable to take advantage of some “economies of scale” that other districts with larger enrollments can.
We could reduce per-pupil expenditures, but that would mean less opportunities for students. A reduction in our cost per student would translate in reduced programming, course offerings, and a higher student/teacher ratio.