On Tuesday, Batavia School District 101 voters will decide whether to borrow $140 million to replace two elementary schools and fix up others.
The school district says it can do that without increasing the property tax collected for paying off debt.
Opponents are skeptical of that and question why the district wants to replace two 44-year-old buildings rather than two others that are older.
According to the referendum question, the money would be used to replace H.C. Storm and Louise White elementary schools. Funds also would be spent on installing “safety and security enhancements” at other schools and improving roofs, floors, windows, heating and cooling systems, and electrical and plumbing systems.
Chief Financial Officer Anton Inglese said the district will structure the borrowing so that the bond-and-interest property tax levy will remain the same as it is now.
This year, the district received about $9.22 million in property taxes to pay debt. A house with a fair market value of $350,000, assuming it has a homestead exemption, pays about $736 a year for the current debt. That debt is due to be paid off in 2025.
The proposition does not specify when District 101 would borrow the money. If the measure is approved, the district could borrow the money as soon as this December, Inglese said. He said the district does not intend to issue the general-obligation bonds until at least the middle of 2023, and the district likely would not borrow all the money at once.
General-obligation bonds are backed by property taxes. The bond-and-interest levy is not subject to the state’s property tax cap law.
Inglese said the state law governing referendums did not permit the district to include language binding the district to the current tax extension.
“However, it is the pledge of the district to maintain the aggregate tax extension for the referendum bonds,” he said. The district could use operating taxes to make bond payments, but Inglese said it does not plan to do so.
The district has details of its plan on its “Building Our Future Together” page at bps101.net.
Why do this?
A district committee that studied the condition of the schools recommended keeping all six elementary schools, even though enrollment has declined from 6,306 students in 2012 and is expected to be 4,724 students by 2027.
The committee said input from residents, via surveys and at forums, indicated they favored keeping all the grade schools. Initially, the district considered closing two elementary schools.
Opponents, including the Batavians for Responsible Government group, have questioned why not rebuild the oldest schools. A 2021 study by a consultant said Storm and White were in “poor” shape. It rated J.B. Nelson Elementary School (built starting in 1955) as “poor” and Alice Gustafson Elementary (built starting in 1957) as “fair.”
Batavians for Responsible Government has offered “vote no” yard signs to people. But it is not affiliated with two groups that have sent out opposition fliers, spokesman Sylvia Keppel said.
The mailers are from the “District 101 Taxpayers” and “Parents for Better Batavia Schools.” Neither group has a website or Facebook page, and the state board of elections does not have any campaign finance reports from them. Committees don’t have to file such reports until they spend at least $5,000.