Smyrna referendum March 23 for new school, renovations and operating expenses

Ben Mace
Smyrna/Clayton Sun-Times

Smyrna School District residents will have the chance to vote March 23 on the district’s request to raise property taxes to build a new school, renovate two schools and increase the district’s operating expenses budget.

Superintendent Patrik Williams said the district has been planning the school construction projects for three years, but has been awaiting state approval.

“There were too many requests [from districts throughout the state] and not enough money,” said Williams. “Last year, we got a small slice approved for roof repairs at North Smyrna Elementary and we are grateful for that. This year, on our third attempt, the state did approve [the] portions of our request due to growth.”

From 2015 to 2020, enrollment in the district has increased by 650 students, from 5,233 to 5,883.

Construction projects

One part of the referendum will be for a new school and additions and renovations at two schools.

District taxes will provide 23% and state funds will cover 77%, if the referendum is approved by district voters, said finance director Jerry Gallagher.

The building projects include four parts:

1. Purchase of a 15-acre property across from Sunnyside Elementary on Rabbit Chase Lane for a new elementary school. Cost: $900,000. District’s share: $207,000. State’s share: $693,000.

The field across from Sunnyside Elementary on Rabbit Chase Lane is the proposed site for a new elementary school in the Smyrna School District.

2. New 600-student elementary school. Cost: $28,773,300. District’s share: $6,617,800. State’s share $22,155,500.

3. Clayton Intermediate School addition and renovations to increase the capacity from 600 students to 1,000 students so the building could be used as a middle school. Additions include a two-story classroom wing and a locker room. The kitchen and cafeteria will be expanded. Cost: $25,624,500. District’s share: $5,893,600. State’s share $19,730,900.

The Smyrna School District’s referendum proposal includes building an addition at Clayton Intermediate School to expand the capacity from 600 students to 1,000 students and eventually use the building as a middle school for sixth to eighth graders.

4. North Smyrna Elementary 12-classroom addition and renovations to increase the capacity from 600 students to 900 students. Major projects include replacing exterior masonry, soffit and fascia; replacing roofing and replacing kitchen equipment, security improvements, and upgrading the heating and cooling system including replacing the boiler and chiller and refurbishing unit ventilators. Cost: $35,610,500. District’s share: $8,190,400. State’s share: $27,420,100.

Gallagher said North Smyrna Elementary is the most expensive because the school was built in 1964 and will need more extensive renovations to bring the school up to current building codes.

The Smyrna School District’s referendum includes a plan to renovate North Smyrna Elementary and build an addition to expand the school’s capacity from 600 students to 900 students.

Proposal to increase budget for operating expenses

The other question on the referendum ballot will be for an increase in the current expense part of the property tax which pays for operating expenses such as employee salaries, educational materials, utility costs and building maintenance.

The last property tax increase for current operating expenses was in 2014.

Gallagher said, “We’re very conservative, prudent financial managers, and we take that fiduciary duty very seriously.”

He said the district has the fourth lowest total tax rate among 16 regular districts, not including the vo-tech districts.

“The increase in property taxes from growth is not keeping pace with increases in costs,” Gallagher said. “Once we open up new and expanded facilities, the costs go up for everything, for maintenance, trash, utilities and staffing.”

How will referendum affect taxes?

If the current operating expense part of the referendum is approved, property taxes will increase $119.85 per year on a home with a market value of $200,000, Gallagher said.

That part of the referendum would increase the district’s operating budget by $2,499,791 per year.

If the school construction part of the referendum is approved, the debt service part of school property taxes will actually decrease in the first two years. Gallagher said that’s because building projects from previous years are being paid off, and the major parts of the new construction project won’t have gone to the bond sales yet.

The most that the debt service taxes are projected to increase in one year is $38.21 in fiscal year 2025 on a home with a market value of $200,000. In 2026, another $6.02 increase is projected, but then the debt service taxes are projected to decrease or stay the same every year through the end of the bond repayments for these new construction projects in 2045.

That’s assuming bond sales at 3.5% interest, which is conservative, Gallagher said, because current rates are lower than that, between 2% and 2.5%.

Of course, if the referendum doesn’t pass, the overall debt service taxes will be even lower.

Williams said a common question about a referendum is why should residents who don’t have children in school have to support a property tax increase.

He said his reply is, “When we were children, the older generation subsidized and supported our education through property taxes and referenda. Now as new children come into our district, the opportunity is there for us to support them. They’re the ones who be the next generation of leaders. It’s our turn to support the children now, just as those folks supported us when we were in school.”

Smyrna Board of Education members Christine Malec, Kathryn O'Connell, Vetra Evans, Kristi Lloyd and Scot McClymont unanimously approved the referendum plan Dec. 16, and on Feb. 17 they approved the revision of the notice for the special election and the sample ballot.  

The district held a public information meeting about the referendum online on Zoom Feb. 24.

MORE SMYRNA NEWS:New plan almost doubles homes in proposed development

Proposed grade realignment at schools

Assistant Superintendent Deborah Judy said if the referendum is approved, when the construction projects are finished, the district plans to realign grades into two feeder patterns:

1. Clayton Elementary and Sunnyside Elementary will be for kindergarten to third grade. Those students will advance to the new school for fourth and fifth grade, then to Clayton Middle School (the former intermediate school) for sixth to eighth grade, then to Smyrna High for ninth to 12th grade.

2. North Smyrna Elementary will be for pre-kindergarten to third grade, and Smyrna Elementary will be for kindergarten to third grade. Those students will advance to John Bassett Moore School for fourth and fifth grade, then to Smyrna Middle School for sixth to eighth grade, then to Smyrna High for ninth to 12th grade.

Voting information

WHEN: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday, March 23

WHERE: Smyrna Elementary School, 121 S. School Lane, Smyrna;

Kenton Ruritan Club, 249 S. Main St., (Route 300), Kenton;

Smyrna Middle School, 700 Duck Creek Parkway, Smyrna.

WHO: All eligible voters age 18 and up who live in the school district. Proof of identification will be required.