After three levy rejections, Bellbrook schools to ask again in May

Bellbrook-Sugarcreek residents will vote in May on a seven-year, 4.9-mill emergency tax levy to fund the school district's day-to-day operations. Pictured, Bellbrook High School students and staff are handling classes in-person, while masked and practicing social distancing. MARSHALL GORBY / STAFF
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Bellbrook-Sugarcreek residents will vote in May on a seven-year, 4.9-mill emergency tax levy to fund the school district's day-to-day operations. Pictured, Bellbrook High School students and staff are handling classes in-person, while masked and practicing social distancing. MARSHALL GORBY / STAFF

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Bellbrook-Sugarcreek residents will once again vote on a school property tax levy May 4, after rejecting three levies in the past two years.

The school board voted unanimously Saturday to put a seven-year emergency operating levy on the ballot to pay for day-to-day district operations.

ExploreNovember: Voters reject Bellbrook school levy by 53-47 ratio

The levy would raise $3.22 million per year if passed, at 4.9 mills. The annual cost to the owner of a $100,000 home would be $171.50.

Just over a year ago, the state required a performance audit of Bellbrook-Sugarcreek schools because the district’s cash balance was low. The district currently spends $11,355 per student, compared with the state median of $12,037, according to the Ohio Department of Education.

Superintendent Doug Cozad and the school board have approved a series of cuts to staffing, busing and other areas that resulted in the elimination of elementary school art and STEM classes, among other reductions.

ExploreEarly 2020: State audit examines Bellbrook schools' finances

Cuts in those areas, offset by increases in others, have left district spending basically flat — $29.8 million in 2018-19, then $29.7 million in 2019-20, and a projected $29.8 million in 2020-21, according to the district’s five-year financial forecast.

Voters rejected the past two levies — both permanent 5.7-mill requests — by 52-48 and 53-47 ratios. The three recent levies have seen strenuous arguments from both sides. Some levy supporters say the new funds are crucial to the quality of students’ education, while some levy opponents say the schools should pay staff less to reduce the tax burden on residents.