Bellbrook-Sugarcreek schools officials have decided not to try another tax levy on the November ballot after a third-party survey of residents showed weak support for even a smaller levy.
Voters overwhelmingly rejected a 7.5-mill replacement levy in May, and district leaders at first said they expected to try again this fall. But the results from the Fallon Research survey, presented at last week’s school board meeting, changed that approach.
“What folks were saying through that survey is that they believe their taxes are too high,” Superintendent Doug Cozad said Friday. “They think we’re doing a great job of educating the students, their children, but they don’t want to pay additional taxes.”
When residents were surveyed on whether they’d prefer major budget cuts and no future levy, or moderate cuts and a smaller levy in 2020, the preference was for moderate cuts and a levy, at a 58-29 ratio.
But when the survey presented two actual levy options for 2020 — a 5.9-mill tax, or a 3-mill tax — respondents said they would oppose both, although the opposition to the smaller levy was narrow and within the survey’s margin for error.
Cozad said at some point, the school district will ask for another levy, but not this year.
“You have to either increase revenue or decrease expenditures,” he said. “We need to balance between what type of reductions we need, and that will drive what kind of millage we’ll ask for. We’re trying to get feedback on what type of millage is acceptable to the community.”
Bellbrook’s school board has already approved one round of budget reductions estimated at $813,000 for the coming school year. Those cuts include a reduction in busing, paired with layoffs of five full-time and six part-time bus drivers. A few teaching positions will be left vacant, along with reductions to aide and custodian staffing.
The district’s current five-year forecast suggests the schools would run out of money during the 2020-21 school year.
In the district’s survey results, 62 percent of respondents said property taxes are too high, and 91 percent said the quality of education was excellent (58%) or good (33%). Asked whether the district needs more money, or has enough and needs to do a better job in how it spends, residents favored the latter (54 percent) over the former (31 percent).
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The campaign for the May school levy was tense, with pro- and anti-levy groups accusing each other of misinformation and stealing or damaging levy signage.
Cozad said before Bellbrook-Sugarcreek schools ask residents for another levy, they need to communicate better. The full survey results have been posted on the district website, and Cozad said he’s planning multiple “coffee with the superintendent” events to get continuing feedback.
“I think people want to be heard a little bit more than they have been in the past,” he said. “Hindsight being 20/20, we didn’t communicate our need well enough to the community.”
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