Bellbrook votes down third school levy, 53-47; all precincts reporting

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

With all precincts reporting and 80% of all registered voters' ballots counted, residents were rejecting the Bellbrook-Sugarcreek school levy, by a 53-47 ratio.

Those results from the Greene County Board of Elections include over 10,000 ballots as of 10:45 p.m. We will continue to update these results as more ballots are counted through Nov. 18

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The levy would have been a permanent 5.7-mill property tax increase. Bellbrook and Sugarcreek Twp. voters overwhelmingly rejected one school levy in 2019, then, after district budget cuts, they rejected another levy by a 52-48 ratio this spring.

This levy would have raised $3.32 million per year and cost the owner of a $100,000 home an extra $199.50 per year.

The district’s most recent five-year forecast showed only 9% of a year’s expenses in the bank at the end of 2019-20. The state required a performance audit last school year because the district’s cash balance was low. The latest state data says the district spends $11,351 per student, about $300 below the median.

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Superintendent Doug Cozad said this fall that the district has made a variety of budget cuts the past few years, most recently teacher layoffs, elimination of some art and STEM classes, busing reductions and a complete pay freeze for 2020-21. He said if this new levy is rejected, it would be “a huge deal.”

“It really shifts all of our decision-making so that financial issues become the clear primary (factor) more so than what’s educationally best for our students,” Cozad said.

For the third time in two years, Sugarcreek Twp. resident John Stafford led vocal opposition to Bellbrook’s levy request. He argued that the only way the state will address unconstitutional school funding is if property owners say enough is enough and vote no on levies. He said the schools could pay teachers significantly less than they do.

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“Bellbrook-Sugarcreek can’t afford to spend money that we don’t have,” Stafford said. “Superintendent Cozad and the school board like to use the surrounding districts and their bad financial decisions to justify our community making a bad decision. It’s like a race to the bottom; let’s see who can spend more.”

Cozad points to the state’s performance audit, which says the the tax burden on Bellbrook-Sugarcreek residents is lower than the state average and lower than peer school districts. He said calls for significant salary cuts are “disrespectful” to dedicated teachers.

“There’s nothing more that I would like than for this community to come back together and get past this, and get on to educational topics,” Cozad said. “We’re going to be fiscally responsible.”

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