The Savannah R-III School District will have a 69-cent tax levy — dubbed Proposition Gold — on the Aug. 6 ballot to assist with maintenance as well as produce a new performing arts center for the school and community.
The levy will have no sunset clause and will increase the current operating levy from $3.6499 to $4.3399, amounting to $131 per $100,000 assessed valuation per household annually. Overall, $18 million in tax revenue would be generated in the course of 20 years for the district.
Stancy Bond, president of the district’s school board, said the new levy (a separate levy was passed in 2007 that added 98 cents to the standard school tax in the area) serves various purposes, from renovating Savannah High School, including a new 835-seat performing arts center, as well as doing district-wide maintenance. This consists of building envelopes and drainage issues across each school building which have been affected by the heavy snow and rain over the past few years.
Furthermore, HVAC and roofing concerns also are planned to be addressed, with many of the former systems being around 20 years old.
“The largest thing that will happen if the tax levy doesn’t pass is that we will not be able to renovate Savannah High School and add those facilities that we think are necessary to educate our students,” Bond said. “District-wide, we will not be able to do preventative maintenance and maintenance to get us up to where we are being more proactive instead of reactive.”
Joseph Barbosa, an alumnus of the district and current member of the school board, said officials already have had to go into some deficit spending, which is why they’re reaching out to voters now.
He also explained the board is mindful of other levies in the area in order to keep the Savannah R-III School District competitive while also addressing the needs of students and faculty. The district plans to bond the revenue in order to get many of projects done quicker, while other revenue will go into a long-term financial investment for the schools.
“Education does not end,” Barbosa said regarding the lack of a sunset clause for the proposed levy. “The voters get to decide the board of education every April, and thus they get a big input on how this money is being spent. We feel the fiscally responsible way to protect all of our students and our taxpayers’ investment is to leave it without a sunset so that we can have a long-term investment in our school district.”
Regarding the performing arts center, the original intent was to complete projects at the middle school, though current revenue cannot support both the lease payments and new construction. And while the district could wait to pay off the middle school in 2028 before building at the high school, the voter information ballot supporting Proposition Gold states construction costs could rise in the future and that fixing the various issues across the schools sooner will result in a better learning environment for students.
“We are not trying to be alarmist,” Superintendent Eric Kurre said. “At the end of the day, it’s about the education of the students and what’s happening in the classroom. This will greatly help with what we can do for our students, and we still need to educate our students at the high level that Savannah is used to having.”
Building plans can be found online on the school district’s website.The public can vote on the issue from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 6. The levy needs a simple majority to pass.