Steady stream of Dayton-area school levies continues on May ballot

A Fairborn Primary teacher works one on one with a student Wednesday, April 21, 2021. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF
A Fairborn Primary teacher works one on one with a student Wednesday, April 21, 2021. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

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Five of the 10 tax requests this time are in Greene County.

Dayton-area residents will vote on 10 school levies in the May 4 election — half of them in Greene County — and that makes the region a bit of an outlier statewide.

The Ohio School Boards Association said the 73 school levies on current Ohio ballots are the lowest number for a spring election in five years. Last year, the statewide number was 99, and the year before that, 104. But the Dayton area has seen a steady nine or 10 school levy votes each of those three springs.

What’s on the ballot

  • Asking for new, additional school levies this time are Springboro, Bellbrook and Preble Shawnee — the latter two after voters have rejected multiple requests in the past few years.
  • Beavercreek, Troy, Lebanon and Tri-County North seek renewals of existing operating levies, which would extend current tax rates for another five years (10 years for Tri-County North).
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The new Fairborn Primary School. The school district has a levy on the ballot May 4. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF
The new Fairborn Primary School. The school district has a levy on the ballot May 4. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

  • Fairborn is the only district asking for a substitute levy, which would keep existing taxpayers’ rates the same, but allow for district tax revenue to grow if there’s new home construction.
  • Xenia voters will decide on two separate levies — a simple renewal, plus a long-term bond issue to pay construction costs for replacing their middle school.

“There may be more levies in your area, but the total number statewide on the ballot this May is really down,” said Jeff Chambers, director of communication for the Ohio School Boards Association.

Funding, levy trends

It’s an uncertain time in the school funding world. Ohio schools saw unexpected small cuts in state funding last year when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Then those cuts were offset by federal relief money that’s still arriving (a few schools’ grants are huge).

Now schools are carefully watching the state legislature’s debate about changing the formula for state funding of K-12 schools. The Ohio House passed a plan this week, but there’s some disagreement in the Senate. The issue likely won’t be decided until June, after voters have their say on local levies.

“That federal money is not something you can count on for years down the road. It’s short-term money (for specific purposes),” Chambers said. “As schools do their five-year forecasts, that may help them this year, but they may still be looking at a deficit a few years down the road.”

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The November 2019 election marked the first time in at least 10 years that every single school levy on Dayton-area ballots was approved, including four that increased taxes (Centerville, West Carrollton, Lebanon and the Upper Valley Career Center).

But in the two elections since, new bond issues have been split (Franklin, Fairborn and Valley View passed, while Xenia, Troy and Preble Shawnee were rejected). And all five requests for additional day-to-day operating money have been rejected (Bellbrook twice, Preble Shawnee twice and Troy once).

Some school officials have suggested financial uncertainty tied to the COVID-19 pandemic might have contributed to levy rejections last year. But there’s no telling whether voters feel any different yet.

Xenia construction

Xenia’s 1.3-mill school facilities property tax is a simple five-year renewal. But the main story is the 37-year, $36.2 million bond request, which would pay for the replacement of the 1960s-era Warner Middle School.

That would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an estimated $80.50 per year. It’s similar to the request Xenia voters narrowly rejected in November, 51% to 49%.

ExploreMore details on the Xenia school bond issue

Superintendent Gabe Lofton said “nearly every critical system” in the existing building needs repair or replacement — electrical, air conditioning, safety and others. The Ohio Facilities Construction Commission recommended replacement, because estimated renovation costs were more than two-thirds the amount of new construction.

The bond would pay for the project, and if the district is eventually approved for its $15 million to $20 million state share, that could be used to pay off the bond debt or pay for renovations of Xenia High School.

Bellbrook’s fourth levy try

Voters have rejected levies to increase funding for Bellbrook-Sugarcreek schools three times in the past two years. Now the district is asking for a seven-year, 4.9-mill levy, which would raise $3.22 million a year and cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $171.50 annually.

ExploreMore details on Bellbrook school levy

The district has made some staffing, busing and program cuts, causing its expenses to stay flat from 2019 to 2020 to 2021. Prominent levy opponent John Stafford has argued that employee wages and benefits should be reduced. Superintendent Doug Cozad points to state performance audit findings that the district’s salaries are lower than their peers.

If the levy passes, two librarians and one STEM teacher would be rehired, and 31 small supplemental contracts (often a few thousand dollars each) would be reinstated so that many canceled school clubs and activities can resume. If the levy is rejected, two to three teaching positions will go unfilled this summer, and another levy is possible in November.

Springboro facilities costs

Springboro schools voters will decide on a new 2-mill permanent improvement levy for facility repairs, bus purchases and other long-term non-personnel costs. A different 2-mill school levy is about to expire, so if this levy passes, residents won’t see a tax increase, according to the county auditor’s office.

ExploreMore details on the Springboro school levy

Superintendent Larry Hook said the district has identified “more than $30 million in facility needs,” including HVAC and other mechanical equipment, security enhancements and major paving needs.

Some residents are opposed to the levy because it would be permanent, rather than a five-year levy that would come back up for renewal.

Fairborn substitute levy

Fairborn schools are asking residents to make an existing property tax permanent, and convert it to a substitute levy. The 7-mill levy would continue to cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $214 per year, and bring in $5 million annually for day-to-day operating costs — about 10% of the district’s general fund budget.

ExploreMore details on Fairborn's substitute school levy

Like renewals, substitute levies don’t increase current residents’ taxes when they are approved. Over time, they can produce more revenue for the school district, by applying the existing tax rate to any new construction.

This levy is separate from last year’s bond issue to build a new high school.

Beavercreek cuts pending

Beavercreek voters will decide whether to renew an 8.7-mill levy that generates almost one-fifth of the school district’s operating budget.

Last year, Beavercreek put this same expiring levy on the ballot twice, but those times they were trying to convert it to a substitute levy and make it permanent. Voters said no both times, by margins of 52-48 and 53-47. This year, it will be a pure renewal levy (no change in style or tax rate), and will only be for five years.

ExploreMore details on the Beavercreek school levy

If the levy is rejected, the district will make $8.5 million cuts this summer, eliminating honors courses, high school busing and 134 school employee jobs, plus raising participation fees for sports and extracurriculars and taking kindergarten back down to a half-day program.

Other school levies

  • Troy: Troy seeks a five-year renewal of its 5.8-mill property tax levy. This levy pays for day-to-day school operations and is unrelated to recently rejected bond issues to build new schools.
ExploreMore details on the Troy renewal school levy
  • Lebanon: Voters in the Lebanon City School District will decide whether to renew a 2.83-mill operating levy for another five years. It was first approved in 2011 and renewed in 2016.
ExploreMore details on the Lebanon school levy
  • Tri-County North: The Preble County school district is asking voters to renew an existing 4.9-mill levy for another 10 years.
  • Preble Shawnee: The district, which has seen both construction and operating levies rejected repeatedly in recent years, is asking voters to approve a five-year, 0.75% income tax increase to pay for day-to-day school operations.

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