Four local school districts are rethinking their plans for the upcoming school year and weighing whether to go back on the ballot in November after voters rejected their requests for more tax money in Tuesday’s election.
While new taxes were approved for Piqua, Oakwood and Beavercreek schools, additional levy requests were denied in Lebanon and Tipp City, and were soundly rejected in Bellbrook and Valley View. Of the rejected districts, Tipp City sought money for school construction, while the other three asked for day-to-day expense increases.
Bellbrook ‘likely’ to go back to voters in fall
Bellbrook Superintendent Doug Cozad already said it is “more than likely” that his district will ask residents to reconsider some type of levy in November, despite 63% of voters saying no to a 7.5-mill replacement levy on Tuesday.
Tipp City Superintendent Gretta Kumpf called Tuesday’s rejection of a bond issue for new construction “just a temporary setback,” adding that the school board was meeting Wednesday evening and would discuss returning to the ballot in November.
“The way school districts are funded, you either have to raise more revenue through taxes or you have to cut expenses,” Cozad said. “Unfortunately we weren’t able to raise the revenue, so more than likely, and I can’t speak for the school board, but more than likely that money is going to go back on the ballot in some type of issue in November.”
The Lebanon and Valley View superintendents said it was too early to say whether they would try the ballot again in November.
The timing matters. If a school passes a levy in 2019, it starts collecting the additional revenue in early 2020, regardless of whether the vote was in May or November. But those districts whose levies passed Tuesday can now plan and hire for this fall knowing that additional funding is guaranteed for the future. In districts where May levies fail, some leaders immediately plan cuts for the coming school year.
Valley View to cut positions
Valley View Superintendent Ben Richards said at least four teaching positions will be eliminated this summer and other cuts and fee increases will be considered now rather than wait to see if a November levy might pass.
“There are going to be some things that I would value in education, and I think our board of education would value, that our community is saying, we don’t value as much,” Richards said. “The voters have spoken and we have a Democratic society.”
Local support for levies behind state average
The 43 percent local passage rate for new-money school levies (3 out of 7) trailed the statewide trend, as 60 percent of Ohio’s new school tax requests were approved, according to the Ohio School Boards Association. That statewide number was up from 39 percent last May.
“Yesterday’s election showed just how important citizens think their public schools are,” OSBA Director of Legislative Services Jennifer Hogue said, adding that losing districts “will face increasing challenges in meeting their students’ academic needs and replacing aging and outdated buildings.”
Many voters in communities that rejected levies argued that the districts should be able to operate with the funds they already have, especially if enrollment is not significantly increasing. According to state data, enrollment in Lebanon is the same as 10 years ago, while Tipp City, Bellbrook and Valley View are down 4% to 5% in that time.
School officials point to a combination of basic cost inflation over time and state and federal mandates such as College Credit Plus and special education staffing as reasons they need more money.
Personnel costs account for close to 80 percent of expenses in most Ohio school districts, meaning staffing cuts or changes to union contracts are possible approaches. Valley View’s teacher contract expires this summer and negotiations are ongoing. The Bellbrook and Lebanon contracts don’t expire until summer 2020.
In the meantime, Cozad said Bellbrook schools would “continue to ask the voters … for their input” in the coming months. Some Bellbrook levy opponents said school officials did the opposite when they declined to attend a town hall meeting about the levy in April. John Stafford, the leader of Bellbrook’s “vote no” group, has said he will lead opposition to any November levy, and will run for school board this fall.
Kumpf said Tipp City schools remain focused on their plan for a bond levy to expand one elementary school and close two older ones.
“We know that there will have to be some recalculations and reviewing, but our need remains real,” she said. “We need these facilities … We will be proceeding – we just have to decide the timing of that and what our next steps will be.”
Lebanon Superintendent Todd Yohey said disappointment was an understatement after 56% of voters rejected a 4.99-mill tax levy that would have been Lebanon’s first new operating money in eight years. Lebanon’s spending per pupil is already among the bottom 7 percent of Ohio districts.
Yohey said the district will “begin the difficult task of deciding what programs, personnel and student activities will be affected,” with the school board scheduled to meet May 20 and any budget cuts for fall to be determined in the coming weeks.
“We wish that voter turnout would have been higher,” Yohey said. “It is difficult to read the community when 80% of registered voters do not show up to vote.”
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