Superintendent Paul Otten discusses Beavercreek’s school levy

Beavercreek schools seek levy to offset rising costs

Beavercreek City Schools voters will decide Nov. 6 whether to approve a new tax levy, as district leaders say special education costs and other mandates have them projecting a negative cash balance by late spring 2021.

The Nov. 6 levy is a five-year, 6.2-mill property tax levy to pay for day-to-day school operating costs. It would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $217 annually and would raise $11.4 million per year for a district with a $91 million annual budget.

MAY 2017: Beavercreek voters reject substitute tax levy

“It’s a big number, but our expenditures are exceeding our revenues pretty dramatically,” Superintendent Paul Otten said. “You constantly hear community members say, ‘Why don’t you live within your means?’ The answer behind that is we have needs that mandate from the state and federal government that we must meet.”

Over the past three years combined, Beavercreek schools have finished narrowly in the black, but starting this year, they project 5 percent annual spending increases, while projecting annual revenues to increase about 1 percent on average.

Beavercreek treasurer Penny Rucker cited special education as the biggest example of “underfunded mandates,” saying the district got $4.3 million in funding for those services last year, but spent $21.7 million. That’s a 20 percent funding rate, compared with 24.5 percent of Beavercreek’s overall general fund revenues coming from the state, according to district financial documents.

NOVEMBER 2017: Beavercreek schools tax passes on second try

Otten said there has been some levy confusion this year because voters approved a “substitute” levy last fall, which keeps existing residents’ taxes the same, but allows the school district to gain revenue in the future when new homes and businesses are built. After that levy passed, Otten said it “positions the community well … and we won’t have to go back to voters often.”

“I’ve been asked that twice at these community forums and they’ll actually read my quote … and I stand by the quote, because it does position us better than any levy has in the past,” Otten said. “It was a smart move for our community. … But by no means did I say it would be the answer (to all funding needs). … It will give us growth on our dollars in the long run, but we won’t see that for many years.”

Academically, Otten said Beavercreek is beefing up teacher training with good results and has added popular Project Lead the Way engineering and Air Force Junior ROTC programs.

RELATED: Beavercreek changes busing for private school students

Beavercreek got a “B” on this fall’s state report card, pairing C’s in achievement and the “prepared for success” measure with A’s in student progress, graduation rate and closing performance gaps between groups of students. Comparable local districts Bellbrook and Springboro scored higher on state tests, while Centerville and Kettering scored lower. Of those four, only Centerville matched Beavercreek’s “A” in student growth.

District officials said rising enrollment, plus increases in gifted students and students with disabilities, have required additional staff, increasing the salary and benefit costs that are the bulk of any school’s budget. But other items like growing College Credit Plus spending, as well as the cost of adding and replacing student technology have hurt the budget.

“About 75 percent of the district’s revenue is local, we’re a capped (funding) district from the state, so the bulk of any increased costs are going to have to come from the local community. … It’s just common sense,” Rucker said. “Now, you may not agree that the expenditures should rise the way they do, but that’s a whole nother conversation … Show me how to stop the that train statewide, and we’ll get on board with whoever’s doing it.”

THIS WEEK: State considers long- and short-term graduation changes

Otten said the district is projecting a negative cash balance in just over two years, but a review of multiple districts shows those five-year forecasts change frequently. The forecast Rucker and the school board approved in May projected Beavercreek to run out of money in June 2020. But the new forecast approved this week shows the district ending June 2020 with $10.8 million in the bank, and hitting the red a year later.

Otten said some residents were upset last year’s substitute levy was made permanent, but suggested that’s a no-win situation. Five-year levies give some residents the control they want to hold the district accountable, but they frustrate others because the district is on the ballot almost every year for one renewal or another.

“You don’t hold a school district accountable via that $11 million because you end up holding our kids accountable for that,” Otten said. “If you want to hold a school district accountable, then you hold the board of education, the superintendent and the treasurer accountable. If you don’t like what we’re doing, get the board off and get a board in that replaces the two of us.”

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Otten said if voters reject the levy, the district will make cuts next school year. Those could include changes to busing and extracurricular pay-to-participate fees, plus elimination of some elective courses and, therefore, staff. Those cuts would stay for at least one year, even if a levy is approved in May, because for any levy passed in 2019, the district would not start collecting until 2020.

“This levy doesn’t bring anything new to the district,” Otten said. “I want our community to know that these dollars are going to be spent to maintain the current level of services we have today and the current electives and offerings, for more years, because we feel we’re doing really good things.”

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