Xenia voters approved two school levies Tuesday. One was a small renewal, but the second, a bond issue, means the district will construct a new middle school, a decade after they used a local-state funding partnership to build new elementary schools.
Residents had voted 51-49 against a similar bond request in November, but this time they voted 52-48 to replace the 1960s-era Warner Middle School.
Superintendent Gabe Lofton said a design team of administrators, teachers and community members will meet with architects in the coming months to determine the look of the facility, which will sit immediately adjacent to the current Warner that will be demolished. He estimated the new school could be open in three years.
“We all are breathing a sigh of relief in Greene County,” Lofton said. “I’m ecstatic, and happy most importantly for my kids, that they’ll get an opportunity to be in a safe, warm, dry and modern learning environment here shortly.”
Xenia residents will pay property tax averaging 2.3 mills over 37 years to pay off the $36 million principal of the bonds, plus interest — an estimated $80.50 per year for the owner of a $100,000 home.
Bellbrook-Sugarcreek has had the most antagonistic school levy campaigns in the region the past two years. After rejecting three previous levies, residents approved a seven-year, 4.9-mill property tax increase Tuesday. Superintendent Doug Cozad acknowledged there were times he wondered if a levy would ever pass again.
Cozad said instead of continuing a string of staff cuts, the levy passage means the district will bring back two librarians and an elementary school STEM teacher. They’ll also reinstate 31 small supplemental contracts (often a few thousand dollars each) to bring back advisors so certain canceled clubs and activities (like a spring play or sports team) can resume.
But mostly, the levy just stabilizes the district’s longer-term financial picture, with Cozad saying that will allow the district to put more focus back on education.
“If we can tweak things over the long-term here, hopefully it’ll be quite a long time before we come back to the voters for new money,” he said. “We can get education back as a main focus but not lose track of the financial piece.”
Cozad said after bitter fights over recent levies, it will be important for the school district to build relationships and trust in the community, now that there’s finally a stretch without a levy looming over the conversation.
Beavercreek new approach
Twice last year, Beavercreek voters rejected substitute school levies that would have allowed for eventual revenue growth, and would have been permanent. This time, the district asked for just a straight renewal, and only for five years, and voters approved it by a 74-26 ratio.
Superintendent Paul Otten confirmed that the levy passage means the district will not go through with 134 proposed staffing cuts. But the levy can no longer lead to revenue growth, and the schools won’t be reinstating any previous cuts, either.
“We need to evaluate, is the permanent (levy approach) something that our community doesn’t want to engage in?” Otten said. “Does it make sense for us to do longer levies, maybe 7 or 10 years, but not permanent. That way at least we’re not on the ballot as often as we currently are (for renewals).”
Preble Shawnee voters approved a five-year 0.75% income tax increase to pay for daily school operations. That replaces a similar income tax that expired in 2015. After the district closed a school and made other cuts last year, Superintendent Matt Bishop said the approval will allow the district to maintain current service levels.
Bishop said this levy, plus federal stimulus money, plus conservative spending will put the district in good shape, as long as the state legislature’s pending budget provides stability.
Elsewhere, Springboro school voters approved a new, permanent 2-mill levy, but with no cost increase, because an older 2-mill measure is expiring. Fairborn voters converted an existing levy to a permanent substitute levy. And basic renewal levies were approved in the Troy, Lebanon and Tri-County North school districts.
The nearest district where a school levy was rejected was Franklin-Monroe, in Darke County, which overwhelmingly shot down a request for an income tax increase.