Clark-Shawnee superintendent spars with Springfield again over school tax issue

Mayor says, ‘It would be foolish of us to deny 1,200 new houses coming to our community’ in Melody Parks plan.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Clark-Shawnee Superintendent Brian Kuhn appeared before Springfield City Commission to present some numbers and ask some pointed questions related to the ongoing spat about the Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) tool the city is using to spur development.

In his remarks last week, he first focused on comments made by Assistant Mayor David Estrop over the course of previous meetings. He then offered an accounting lesson to clarify the consequences the school district faces.

City officials pushed back on Kuhn’s comments, too.

Kuhn took issue with Estrop’s statement during the previous commission meeting the school district “left $21 million on the table and would have collected $83 million” based on a negotiation with the developer of the Melody Parks housing development. The anticipated 1,249-unit housing project received a TIF agreement from the city that permits new home owners to avoid paying school taxes to the Clark-Shawnee School District.

“It is noteworthy that during a November commission meeting in 2023, Dr. Estrop … quoted the figure at $7 to 8 million left on the table, and we stood to collect $63 million. I’m not sure how the numbers have increased dramatically since then.”

After highlighting the conflicting numbers cited by Estrop, Kuhn offered his own math to provide “the rest of the story.”

Based on the number of houses projected in Melody Parks, Kuhn said, “We have been advised to plan on 0.6 students per housing unit for a total of 749 students from Melody Parks. Per the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce, the cost to educate a student in Clark-Shawnee Local is $10,259 per year. That means the annual cost to educate 749 students from Melody Parks is $7,683,730. Our cost to educate those 749 students over the same 30-year time period referenced by Dr. Estrop during the last meeting would be $230,519,730. That total is based on today’s costs and does not consider any inflation or cost increases.”

Kuhn noted the state contributes $2,892 to the $10,259 total cost to educate each student every year. The rest is made up through local taxes.

“If we would have accepted the ‘deal’ referenced by Dr. Estrop, we may have received $83 million over 30 years, but we would have been short $82.5 million over those same 30 years,” Kuhn said. “ … The deal you said was good for us would only have funded half the cost to educate these students. How is that a good deal?”

He added those numbers do not include any facility or infrastructure needs the district incurs to accommodate increased enrollment.

As a former teacher, Kuhn introduced a visual aid — in the form of a pizza.

“If this pizza represents all the tax dollars we’re entitled to,” he said, “you offer us a slice and call it an incentive, well, that slice doesn’t feed the family.”

Estrop said he stood by his numbers and asked why Kuhn walked away from millions of dollars that could have gone to the school district.

“We refused to accept that deal because we were due so much more in our voted upon tax rate. More was due to us than that would have been … I do not believe that the Clark-Shawnee School District receiving a fraction of the voted-upon property taxes we are otherwise due should ever be referred to as an incentive.”

He asked why his district was not deserving of the same consideration as the city secured for Springfield City Schools when authorizing a TIF plan for development in the downtown, a move that Estrop praised for assuring no loss of school funding for the city district.

Estrop cited the failure of the state legislature to address school funding and the conflict presented by the state’s creation of the TIF tool for economic development.

“We hear we need more, the school funding mechanism needs to be changed. But we can’t do that. We don’t have the authority to do that … and if we need more housing in this community, then we have to play the game that allows for developers to come in to our community and build more,” Estrop said.

Kuhn offered a pointed response.

“Yes, that is the game. By you guys playing the game, we lose,” he said.

Mayor Rob Rue countered the community cannot afford to turn away growth when there’s an opportunity and he has tried his best to represent the interests of Clark-Shawnee schools.

“I want you to know we have tried more make sure you would get the best opportunity … other school systems have to deal with the same thing,” Rue said.

Kuhn asked why nearby school districts have been able to retain their school taxes when new developments are added, citing Beavercreek and Huber Heights as examples.

Assistant City Manager Tom Franzen responded the markets are different.

“You need to look back to when they first started offering incentives,” he said. “We’re late to the game at adding housing compared to some of our neighboring communities … over time we’ll be able to draw back some of those incentives. We won’t need as much incentives to get industry here or to get people living here …we try very diligently not to give away any more than we have to.”

Rue added, “We care about your school district and want it to thrive. But it would be foolish of us to deny 1,200 new houses coming to our community … we’re doing the best we can.”

Kuhn also addressed those arguments in his initial remarks.

“The commission can blame the state of Ohio and its lack of an adequate and fully-funded school funding model, and as Mayor Rue has said, it’s not a problem of the commission. It’s outside the control of the commission. We would ask the same logic to be applied to the … reasons that infrastructure costs cannot be rolled into the cost of the homes. The response we get is that the homes would be unaffordable in this market. So I would offer that is not a problem of my school district. Why should we bear the burden of the housing market that is outside our control?”

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The story has been updated to reflect the correct amount of per-pupil cost to educate a student at Clark-Shawnee to $10,259 per year.)

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