With the old Toledo High School falling apart, a supermajority of Toledo voters in 2018 said they were willing to pay a $7 million bond to fund construction of a new high school at a rate of 76 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value over the next 21 years.
But thanks to some unexpected additional funding from the state and cost savings during construction of the now completed new school, Toledo taxpayers won’t have to pay a cent toward that $7 million bond for the next four years, the Toledo School District announced Tuesday.
“In the resolution that the board passed calling for the $7 million bond, we told the community that if there was savings, that we would use that money to pay down the bond and the interest. And we wanted to make sure that the community knew we were serious, so the board put that in the bond resolution, so it's locked: They’re not able to take this savings and do anything else with it but put it toward the principal and interest for the bonds,” said Toledo School District Superintendent Chris Rust at a community meeting on Tuesday.
The Toledo School District ended up with just over $2 million in savings out of its $25 million budget for the new school.
The district withheld $300,000 of that savings for some unexpected but needed additions to the new high school, including a 50-space overflow parking lot and an additional trophy case, leaving $1.75 million to pay toward the bond.
Members of the Toledo School Board presented a $1.75 million check to Lewis County Treasurer Arny Davis on Tuesday for the school district’s bond debt payment fund.
“They can’t be used for anything else but the bond debt payment,” Davis said of the funds in the district’s bond debt payment fund. “Unfortunately, you can't prepay on your bond, but those funds will go toward your June 1 and Dec. 1 bond payments.”
The June 1 bond payment for this year was collected and paid before the school district finalized its savings amount, so the funds will cover the bond payments starting with the scheduled December 2022 payment.
Next Problem: The Toledo Track
Toledo citizens who attended the community meeting in the commons of the newly-completed high school on Tuesday took a moment to celebrate the savings before turning their collective attention toward the next facility in need of an update: the school’s track.
Described by Rust as “a dirt ring” around Ted Hippi Field, Toledo High School’s existing track is difficult for Toledo track athletes to train on — to the point where athletes like Toledo alumnus Daniel Echtle have struggled in their post-secondary track careers.
“As somebody that went to college to run track from Toledo High School, I definitely had shortcomings when I finally got to that level from coming from here,” Echtle said at the community meeting on Tuesday, referencing form issues he had developed that his competitors from “normal” high schools with rubber tracks did not. “Every school has one. Why don’t we have one?” he asked.
Practicing on the dirt track has become so difficult for Toledo track athletes that coaches have transported their teams to other facilities to practice.
“As a coach, it’s embarrassing to show up and use someone else’s facility with your kids,” said Toledo High School Track and Field Coach Angela Schaplow on Tuesday. “And for our kids, I’m embarrassed for them (during) their first couple meets because there are errors they make in their events that they’re not aware of because they haven’t practiced on a real track every day.”
While the bond measure that passed in November 2018 only covered the cost of the new high school, previous attempts at a bond measure did include funding for a track and other facilities. Those measures did not pass with the supermajority required by law for a school bond.
“The track was promised by the school district 40 years ago. When the school was built and the stadium was built, they said, you know, in the next 20 years, we're gonna finish this track off. Well, that was a long time ago. So you know, we're hoping that maybe we want to make good on that promise,” Rust said.
Toledo High School Track and Field Head Coach Don Schaplow described seeking support for a new track as similar to asking for “a really cool new VHS player.”
“This is a 40-year-old argument, not to the fault of anyone in the room, I don't think; but you see part of the struggle is, unfortunately in this arena Toledo is 40 years behind the times and it just doesn't seem to be getting any easier,” he said.
Toledo residents and school board members talked through some possible options for funding a new track, including seeking out grants and going out for a levy.
Most of the roughly 50 attendees at Tuesday’s meeting raised their hands when Don Schaplow asked who would support a theoretical ballot measure specifically to fund the track.
But it’ll take more than that to pass a ballot measure, as evidenced by the district’s struggle to pass the $7 million bond for the new school.
“There's 4,500 people in our school district, and we went to every single home, knocked on every door and asked for their vote for this bond. And even at that, almost 700 people voted against it. So it's important to remember, a campaign takes a lot of work,” Rust said.
The district didn’t do any campaign work for the replacement education levy it placed on the February 2021 special election ballot — which ultimately passed by seven votes.
“We got very lucky,” Rust said of the levy’s success. “So I just want to put that out there that it isn't a slam dunk.”