Kettering schools seek levy a year early, citing costs, expansion plan

Kettering schools are asking voters for a tax levy earlier than planned, citing increased costs in several areas, plus a desire to expand career-tech education, increase security, and add all-day kindergarten for the first time.

The Nov. 6 levy is a permanent 5.99-mill property tax levy to pay for day-to-day operating costs. It would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $209 annually and would raise $7.5 million per year for a district with a $94 million annual budget.

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In a 2016 mailer touting Kettering schools’ “fiscally conservative approach,” district officials said if voters approved that year’s permanent, 3.4-mill facilities levy, it would “keep the Kettering City Schools off the ballot for new money until at least 2019.”

Treasurer Dan Schall said the district is back on the ballot a year earlier because of increasing costs in special education, health and mental health, as well as the proposed program expansions.

“Those costs, along with the normal cost of doing business, are driving our numbers up faster than what we would have hoped,” Schall said. “So this (levy) request now helps us address those needs quicker, better and more cost effectively than if we waited.”

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Kettering City Schools finished a combined $9.8 million in the black over the four years ending June 2017, according to their five-year forecast documents, giving them a $22 million cash balance. While revenue has increased slightly, Schall said health insurance adjustments have been a big help, with the school board paying the same in 2018 as it did in 2014.

A month before the end of the 2017-18 school year, Schall projected Kettering would be $900,000 in the red for that year, then incur multimillion-dollar deficits each of the next four years, suggesting that revenue would flat-line while the district would increase spending by $3 million each year. Schall said an updated Kettering financial forecast is due next week. The two-year state budget that will determine part of each district’s funding into 2021 will be approved in the coming June.

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The current levy is larger than the 4.9-mill operating levies Kettering voters approved in 2007, 2010 and 2013. While the 2016 levy was for non-personnel issues such as computers, textbooks, roofs and a multimillion-dollar high school auditorium, this ballot issue would fund personnel, which is the largest expense of almost all school districts.

Superintendent Scott Inskeep said Kettering has been able to hire better teachers than some districts, in part because of solid pay. He said he’s pleased with Kettering students’ academic growth, but added that staff are working hard to improve.

Kettering has remained stable on state test performance, ranking 12th of 44 local districts each of the past three years, and earning a “B” in student growth each year. This fall, the district’s Indian Riffle Elementary was one of only 16 schools in Ohio named a national Blue Ribbon School.

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Inskeep said he’s optimistic that residents are on the same page as district leadership on the need for new initiatives tied to Kettering’s strategic plan. In career tech, Inskeep said a levy passage would allow the district to launch new programs that could include cosmetology, advanced robotics and HVAC, while expanding existing construction trades and allied health programs.

The levy would pay to hire staff for the switch from half-day to all-day kindergarten, would fund increased student mental health supports and pay for at least two more full-time school resource officers. Inskeep said the city of Kettering and the school district have been “two beacons of positiveness” through a decade of economic turmoil.

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“We have been put in a position by our state to garner the funds to allow us to operate,” Inskeep said. “I believe our community will give us the district they want us to have, and they’ll do the very best they can. It’s tough. I wish we weren’t out having to do this, but because we’re reliant on property tax, that’s the nature of the business.”

Inskeep said if voters reject the levy, the district would make some type of cuts in personnel and programming next summer. The district would seek some type of levy in 2019, but that would not produce revenue until 2020.

“It’s not a threat, it’s just inevitable that (cuts) are what will happen,” he said.

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Schall said the district doesn’t want to cut spending yet.

“We don’t want to remove student programming before we ask (voters for a levy),” Schall said. “That doesn’t make sense.”

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