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Voters cite concerns over consolidation plan, tax increase after Parma City Schools bond issue fails — again

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Posted at 4:41 PM, May 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-05 19:17:03-04

PARMA, Ohio — The superintendent of Parma City Schools said Wednesday that administrators will reflect, re-think and re-tool after the district's proposed consolidation plan was defeated for the second time and more resoundingly than the first effort. Those who voted against the $300 million proposal, which included the construction of two new secondary campuses and re-purposing of Parma Senior High, said they voted no on Issue 10 over concerns about the plan itself, the plan's cost, as well as a sense of distrust between voters and the school board.

The strategic consolidation plan would have addressed the district's aging high schools, which have grown increasingly more expensive to maintain and were designed for larger student populations. Normandy High School on the city's east side and Valley Forge High School on the west side would have been demolished as part of the plan, and new campuses for grades 6-12 would have been constructed. The new campuses would have also featured career technical opportunities.

The plan also called for the closure of Parma Senior High School on West 54th Street, which would later be re-purposed to house district administration and the renovation of the school's gym and pool to be used as a city recreation center. The 6.4 mill levy would have cost the owner of a $100,000 home more than $220 in additional property taxes per year. Voters resoundingly disapproved of the plan with 63% of the vote.

"My thoughts are we already told [the district[ once that we don't want this," said Mike Johns, a former school board member and parent of a Parma City Schools student. "It was a resounding 'we don't want this.' All I can say is that you can see from the voting tally that it's even more resounding that we don't want this particular program."

parma senior high school

Johns and others that were adamantly opposed to the proposal had particular issue with the closure of Parma Senior High, the most centrally-located secondary campus in Parma city limits. Mike Ruda, a Parma native and parent of a PCS student, said that while he understands that the city's current population cannot support three different high schools, the plan didn't make sense.

"It's just a terrible plan. You're talking about closing the largest, most centrally-located high school in the district and in the most populated area," Ruda said. "Then, you have to bus all those kids to Parma Heights and to the southeast corner of the city."

In a statement, Superintendent Dr. Charle Smialek admitted that the loss was resounding and that the district needs to reflect on the message of Tuesday night's results.

"Then (we) must soon work to rethink and retool," Dr. Smialek said in a statement. "The beauty of a school levy campaign, though, is that even when we lose, it doesn’t take very long to remember why we worked so hard in the first place. In the coming weeks, we will all be able to enjoy at least some of the rites of passage that make May such a rewarding month for those lucky enough to work with kids. Enjoy the field days, awards ceremonies, Proms, and Commencements; enjoy our kids, and celebrate all of the work you have done to make them better people over the last nine months. Thank you for all that you are to our communities!"

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Following the proposal's defeat in the November general elections, Dr. Smialek told News 5 that part of the reason behind the defeat is a lingering sense of distrust between the district, the school board and the community because of controversies involving past administrations. If Tuesday night's results are any indication, that sense of distrust remains firmly entrenched.

"When I was on the board, we actually paid to have a massive survey and a company came in to do a phone survey," Johns said. "The survey asked, 'what would you like [the school board] to do? What would you like us to do?' It was ignored. When you ignore the evidence, you are going to get what you get. They got a resounding 'no' again. You have to convince me that I can trust you with half a billion dollars to do a job right. They just didn't."

Those that supported the tax increase cited the need to invest in the community even at the expense of higher taxes. Supporters and the district unsuccessfully tried to persuade voters that investing in education would have numerous ancillary benefits, including increased property values. Additionally, some proponents of Issue 10 told News 5 that opponents need to move past the distrust in the community that past administrations have caused.

In early 2020, the Ohio Department of Education removed Parma City Schools from its fiscal caution list, more than four years after earning the dubious status. At the time, ODE noted that Parma City Schools had reduced its expenditures and increased revenues, ultimately resulting in the elimination of potential deficits.

Johns said the district currently has more than a dozen permanent and emergency levies on property owners, which inevitably forces the district to come back for levy renewals on a regular basis. According to past election results, the district has gone to the voters a total of 11 times since 2012. Four of those ballot measures -- all of which were levy renewals -- were passed by voters.

However, voters have routinely turned down new money levies and bond issues, including defeats in 2015, 2017, two in 2018, 2020 and 2021. The most recent new money levy to pass was in March 2012.

"They keep saying we need more money. No, you need to manage your money better," Ruda said. "I can't keep going to my boss and saying... you have to give me more money. The property taxes are so high that their monthly payment is so outrageous they can go to North Olmsted, they can go to Brunswick, they can go somewhere else and buy a better house with the same monthly payment."

RELATED: May 4 Primary: Here's how Northeast Ohio voters decided on school levies