A group that opposes the Athens City School District’s capital-improvements levy attempt on the Nov. ballot this year, which claims it was formed by Ohio University students, recently has sparked anger among levy proponents with a website and fliers warning that the levy will cause rent prices in Athens to “skyrocket.”
Additionally, at least one pro-levy group locally is speculating that the group, sometimes calling itself “Students for A+hens Education” and other times (on the same webpage) “Citizens for A+thens Education,” is the work of local landlords and not students. The fliers and webpage list the same corporation (Heartland America, Inc.) as their funding source. The groups use a logo with a capital N and a 3 with a red crossed circle laid over it, i.e. “No on 3.”
The one-page website claims, “There are better plans for Athens education. Better for you, too,” and argues that the levy could cost “you” (likely referring to OU students) “42 slices (of pizza)” a month; three cases of beer a month; one pair of shoes a month; or eight Lyft rides a month. The initial version of the website spelled “Athens” wrong (“Athen’s) in the large headline at the top of the page.
If approved on Nov. 6, the proposed 30-year levy will cover the local share of the estimated $86.1 million facilities master plan – which is $52 million – plus an additional $8.5 million to cover locally funded initiatives, or projects that the School Board deems necessary for the district that are outside the scope of what the state would fund. The state of Ohio will pick up the rest of the cost.
The total bond amount to be funded by the tax levy is $60.5 million, and the average homeowner with a property valued at $100,000 would pay roughly $200 more per year.
The pro-levy group, Athens Parents for Equitable Education, charged in a statement Friday that the “No on 3” group is using “false and misleading” information to scare students into not voting for the levy.
“If landlords who own student rentals choose to pass on the entirety of the cost to their renters, the monthly cost per renter will be quite modest,” the Athens Parents for Equitable Education group said. “We note that their materials focus on two ideas: that there could be a better plan, and that they think it costs too much. They don’t provide much detail, and it’s been our experience that pressing levy opponents for details is fruitless.”
The website for the “No on 3” effort says it was paid for by Heartland America, Inc., and was not authorized by any ballot issue committee. The only Ohio corporation registered under that name with the Ohio Secretary of State is a scented-candle company based in Canton, Ohio that is no longer in business (the state canceled its registration in 2009, according to records). Ohio Secretary of State spokespeople did not respond to a request for comment sent Friday.
Debbie Quivey, director of the Athens County Board of Elections, said Friday that it’s her understanding from the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office that the group responsible for the “No on 3” efforts is a “corporation” and not a political action committee. As such, it needs to register with the Athens County Board of Elections by Oct. 25 if it spends more than $1,000 on anti-school levy efforts before Oct. 17; if that group doesn’t spend more than $1,000 before Oct. 17, the forms are simply due by Dec. 14.
Quivey said that the group had not filed anything with the county Board of Elections as of Friday, although it doesn’t need to do so until the deadlines listed above.
Sean Parsons, an Athens City School Board member, said that the people working for this particular anti-levy group are intent on doing so “in darkness.
“We don’t know who they are, and apparently we won’t know until after November,” Parsons said. “We also don’t know why they are trying to influence our local education levy. The anonymity of the people behind this highlights the flaws in our campaign and election-finance laws. Our community deserves accountability and transparency. People deserve to know why special interest groups are entering in a political process that will affect the lives of children in our school district for decades to come.”
Parsons added, “We’re working on the lives of young kids and the future of our community, and that’s more important than pizza and beer; they’re not the same.”
The “No on 3” flier – which was distributed during a recent League of Women Voters forum on the school levy issue in Athens – argues that “demolishing and rebuilding our public schools” will take a lot of money and cause “a great deal of disruption.”
“Repairing and refurbishing them is a more intelligent option,” the flyer reads. “When you go to vote, it’s important to consider this: If the LEVY passes, it won’t just effect (sic) our children. It will effect (sic) us all.”
The Athens Parents for Equitable Education group said the anti-levy group doesn’t offer any explanation for why they don’t feel the money will be well-spent.
“For example, if you review the building assessments, available on the School District website, it becomes apparent that refurbishing our current buildings would actually cost more than the $60.5 million in local money to be raised by the levy,” the pro-levy group said. “That’s the case, in part, because the levy comes with about $27 million from the state – money we won’t get if we don’t implement the facilities plan. Regarding their statement that they don’t think the district is presenting a good plan: again, they’ve had years to offer an alternative proposal, and all we’ve seen so far is a repeated mantra of ‘remodeling’ instead of rebuilding.”
THE ATHENS NEWS PREVIOUSLY reported that the long-running debate over a plan to update Athens City School District facilities has ramped up in recent months as voters in the district consider whether to approve or reject the proposed 30-year tax levy that would partially fund the master plan for new and renovated facilities.
The master plan depends on the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission supplying 32 percent of the funding for the project, which would include:
• Construction of two new pre-kindergarten to third-grade school buildings on the current sites of East and Morrison-Gordon elementary schools.
• A new high school for grades 9-12 on the site of the current Athens High School building.
• A complete renovation of The Plains Elementary School, which would house grades 4-6, that would include the current building and a significant addition.
• Renovation of the Athens Middle School, which would house 7-8 grades.