Leaders in Lebanon City Schools have scheduled 11 public sessions around the district in hopes of winning enough supporters to pass an emergency tax levy on Nov. 5 election ballots.
The “question-and-answer engagements” are part of a campaign strategy aimed at overcoming opposition resulting in defeat of the proposed levy in the May election.
Larry Stone, a retired educator who lives in the district, welcomed the idea of public discussions about the future of the Lebanon City Schools.
“We all need to come together and talk,” Stone said. “The school is owned by us. We determine if it succeeds or fails.”
The upcoming sessions, “for community members to learn more about Issue 7 and provide opportunities for people to get answers to any questions they might have,” are scheduled through mid-October.
Issue 7 is a 4-year, 4.99-mill emergency operating levy that would raise $5 million a year for district operations.
In the May 7 election, the identical proposed property levy was rejected by 56.1 percent of voters, or 2,930-2,296.
The board announced proposed cuts, made one round of reductions without cutting any employees, and put the property-tax levy back on the fall election ballot.
Twelve people attended the first Q&A session Thursday.
“It was a great discussion,” Superintendent Todd Yohey said on Friday. “It was a pretty good mixture of supporters and non-supporters.”
The next session is scheduled on Tuesday, Sept. 17, at the Warren County Career Center, on Ohio 48, north of Lebanon.
“Our hope is that community members attend a session and ask questions that they have about the school district or Issue 7. We want our voters to be educated on the issues so that they can make an accurately informed decision on November 5,” Yohey said in a release about the sessions.
On Aug. 14, during a special meeting, the school board and administration considered the upcoming campaign and the consequences of another loss, in November.
“What can we do differently this time?” Board Member Ryan Patterson asked.
Passage in November would enable the district to begin tax collections in January and minimize deficits. Failure would likely result in the district going back on the ballot in March 2020, delaying collection of additional tax until January 2021, Yohey told the board.
“There will be real cuts to balance the budget,” Yohey added.
School officials said the district has managed levy funds as costs have risen, pointing to lower-pupil costs.
Without new funds, Yohey said he planned to cut $16 million over next four years. He encouraged the board to weigh in on what to cut.
Yohey indicated some wanted to know the names of staff members who would be cut.
Patterson suggested the cuts protect “core” education programs.
Yohey said cuts would likely result in larger classes.
State law on high-school busing would require the district to delay transportation cuts until the beginning of a school year. That cut is projected to save $2.3 million.
Yohey said this was his ninth levy in 15 years.
“I understand levy fatigue. I have levy fatigue,” he said, while noting state funding left local districts to fully fund education.
“We’re at the mercy of taxpayers,” he said.
Last week, farmer Cole Proeschel, a Lebanon High grad, said he would be more likely to vote for a smaller income-tax levy that cut sports funding. Before the May vote, Proeschel was among levy opponents with property who charged school official should consider seeking an income-tax levy.
“If they would just ask for something more income-based, I’d be right on board,” he said in April.
Stone agreed with Proeschel that alternatives to property tax levies should be considered and sympathized with those unable to afford another levy. Stone said sports and other extracurriculars were largely funded by parents of participants.
The issue would tack on about $175 for every $100,000 of property value assessed on annual tax bills.
“The difference is I can afford to pass this levy,” Stone said. “And I believe schools are important enough.”