Centerville High School

Centerville school levy narrowly passes; leader calls it “a big win”

With all 41 precincts reporting, there were 7,887 votes in favor of the levy, and 7,593 votes against, for a ratio of 50.9 percent to 49.1 percent. That margin is close, but not close enough to trigger a recount.

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Superintendent Tom Henderson said Centerville has worked hard to address funding challenges that continue to pop up, from increasing school safety and College Credit Plus access, to maintaining Advanced Placement courses and trying to expand career tech opportunities.

“It’s going to allow us to continue the excellence that our community has come to expect,” Henderson said. “It’s huge for us. It was a big win and it was great that our community supported the effort.”

Centerville’s 6.9-mill levy request was mostly for day-to-day school operating costs (5.9 mills), while the last 1 mill is “permanent improvement” funding for building renovations and long-term assets such as buses and technology.

The 6.9-mill levy will cost a homeowner $241.50 annually per $100,000 of appraised property value. It is a permanent levy, rather than a five-year tax that comes up for renewal. According to the Montgomery County Auditor, it will raise another $12.3 million per year for the schools, which have an annual general fund budget of about $100 million.

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Henderson spotlighted the 1 mill of the levy that is set aside for facility maintenance and other long-term asset spending. All but two of Centerville’s school buildings are between 45 and 65 years old.

“Our buildings are aging,” he said. “We feel they’re in good shape right now, but we want to be able to keep them that way.”

Most of Centerville schools’ funding comes from local tax levies. The district’s state revenue per pupil, according to the Ohio Department of Education’s District Profile Reports, is $2,895, placing it in the bottom 5 percent of the state.

“We are considered a high-wealth district,” Henderson said last month of the low state funding. “We believe the way we operate, and the decisions we make to provide a top-notch excellent educational program for our students, is what our community expects. Our survey and our focus groups speak to that.”

Some levy opponents in the community have argued that taxes are already too high, pointing to lower rates in Warren County school districts. They wanted the district to seek savings from big-ticket items like employee salaries and benefits down to small things like textbooks and paper.

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This is the first time Centerville schools asked residents for a tax increase in six years. Henderson said that’s the longest the district has gone between operating levies in at least four decades. The last time the district sought additional funding, in 2012-13, voters narrowly rejected the levies twice, before approving one on the third try.

Centerville schools have been consistent on the state report card in recent years, earning overall “B” grades, with C’s in test score achievement and A’s in student growth. According to the most recent state report card, Centerville scored slightly lower than its “similar districts” on state tests in younger grades, and slightly higher in older grades.

ODE data for 2018 shows Centerville schools spend more per student than the school districts the state considers similar — $13,143 per pupil, compared to $11,894.

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