JEFFERSONVILLE — Part of Mayor Mike Moore’s justification for spending at least $66,095 in Redevelopment Commission money on promoting the downtown schools project is that it will help attract businesses to the area.
He has a point.
Businesses aren’t necessarily looking at how great the schools are in an area, but they are primarily driven by workforce quality, and that workforce is interested in schools, according to Wendy Dant Chesser, the CEO and president of One Southern Indiana. (1si has not taken a stance on the downtown schools issue and probably won’t, according to Dant Chesser).
Businesses considering a relocation or expansion are looking at an area’s existing workforce, of course, but they’re also interested in workers who might be willing to move.
To mobile workers, particularly those with families, the quality of schools near a potential home is a top concern, Dant Chesser said. Even workers without families might be interested in living in a desirable school district because of good resale values.
A 2013 realtor.com survey of 1,000 homebuyers found that 91 percent placed an importance on schools during their job search.
And what makes a district appealing? Often, good test results and facilities, according to Dant Chesser.
The downtown schools project is an attempt to consolidate aging Maple and Spring Hill elementary schools into one renovated and added-onto facility at Court and Meigs avenues. The move is expected to cost no more than $15 million and result in higher property tax bills for residents. That increase, as well as the location of the school across the street from the jail, have ignited opposition to the project. Currently, groups of residents for and against the new school are collecting signatures on petitions that will formally decide the fate of the project.
Despite proposed economic benefits of the downtown school, business owners in the area harbor differing opinions about the project.
Bill Price, Jr. and Bill Price III, the owners of Bill Price Tire and Auto Services at 2640 Middle Road in Jeffersonville, are staunchly against the downtown school for several reasons.
They don’t like that the school system has proposed another project with a tax increase after failed referendums in the past, they don’t approve of the proposed location’s proximity to the jail, they would rather see the city remodel the current schools and they don’t want to pay new taxes.
The Prices also don't believe the new school will improve the local economy.
Price III doesn’t believe that enough people live in the downtown area to require a school. If the district wanted to build a new school near River Ridge where more housing developments are, he would be for it, he said.
Plus, Price worries that the more his customers are burdened by taxes, the less they’ll spend at his businesses. The project would increase property taxes by 5 cents per $100 of assessed value for 20 years.
That will also negatively affect the Prices, who say they already pay around $9,000 for the two properties they own on Middle Road.
“That’d be a problem for me,” said Price Jr. “I can’t hardly make it now.”
The Prices are carrying blue “no” petitions in their office for residents to sign in opposition of the school, as is Cooper’s Corner Mart at 7302 Decker Lane in Charlestown. So far, the Prices have collected around six signatures.
Dant Chesser has heard from 1si business members who believe the economic development organization should be opposed to any tax increases in the area, but she’s also heard from those who want the nonprofit to lend support to the school proposal.
Ron Sendelweck is a business owner who supports the project. For the three years he’s owned R&R Hair Studio across from the vacant Jeffersonville gymnasium, he’s wanted it to take on a new life. Now, he’s finally seeing that wish come true.
“I think that the positives outweigh the couple of negative things,” he said. “‘Cuz this block will be beautiful when it’s finished.”
The new school might help out his business, too, as more parents and children in the area mean more potential patrons for his salon.
Jeanie Dittmeier, a business owner down the street from Sendelweck at Cafe on Meigs, believes that the new school will keep the downtown strong. She fears that if the current schools leave the area with no replacement, services will depart, too, and the neighborhoods will become deplete of resources.
Yellow “yes” petitions are being distributed by Jeff United, a group of residents in favor of the downtown school project. Clark County residents have until noon June 9 to sign and turn in their signatures to the Clark County Clerk’s Office.