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Springboro weighs reduced renewal levy

The last time voters in the Springboro school district approved a levy Barack Obama was in his first run for president in the Democratic primary against Hillary Clinton and John Edwards.

On March 4, 2008, in addition to the presidential primary, more than 54 percent of Springboro voters approved renewal of a 10.05 property tax levy for school operations. Since then, voters have rejected five consecutive levies for new money.

On Nov. 5, district voters will consider a five-year 8.78 mill levy expected to raise $7.9 million a year for operations, according to the Warren County Auditor’s Office.

The board, which has avoided levies for more than two years, put the renewal on the ballot after reducing the amount by more than 1 mill. The reduced levy would cost property owners $307.30 for every $100,000 of property value - $46 less than the full renewal, according to the auditor’s office.

“We do need that money,” Board President Kelly Kohls said at an Oct. 10 meeting.

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Kohls’ support was crucial, not only signaling a united board after years in opposition to levies, but resulting in anti-tax forces that opposed prior levies backing the reduced renewal, Issue 14 on ballots.

Jack Chrisman, who has opposed recent tax issues in Springboro and Lebanon school districts, said he supports Issue 14, in part due to Kohls’ position. Chrisman also complimented the board on the levy reduction.

“The school board has done such a good job with the money,” Chrisman added. “It’s a good thing for the people.”

The board recently reached contracts with teachers including raises, after freezing wages as part of budget cutting that has turned projected multi-million dollar deficits into comfortable surpluses through 2017 – assuming the renewal passes.

Teacher and administrative costs are below state averages, while Springboro students continue to excel compared to students in other districts. Per-pupil spending is among the lowest in the area.

The district’s five-year budget forecast includes busing for all grades and $2.1 million for new buses; $2 million for textbooks, $1.1 million on technology to support curriculum, including online courses; as well as $3.7 million for capital needs and deferred maintenance.

If voters reject the renewal, which would account for about 18 percent of the district budget, the district projects a $6.5 million deficit in the school year beginning in July 2014.

School officials have declined to specify where cuts would come.

“We do not want to target specific services or programs at this time—all discretionary aspects of district spending would come under review,” according to levy information on the district’s website.

The levy has opposition from voters, including Jim Webber of Clearcreek Twp. Rather than tax property owners without children in the schools, Webber suggested parents use income tax deductions for children to boost school funding.

“I’m a senior citizen on Social Security,”Webber said. “I can’t afford to pay more.”

Before the board vote, the reduced levy had opposition, including Superintendent Todd Petrey, urging the board to seek the full $9.2 million renewal.

“I don’t think we’re going to pass another levy here for a long while,” Petrey said during early discussions of the levy.

Since the board vote, Petrey has promoted the reduced renewal. He and Kohls are pictured together on a flier distributed recently emphasizing the low per-pupil spending, compared to other area districts.

All five candidates running for three board seats back the proposed reduced levy.

While emphasizing they favored seeking the full renewal, Ron Malone, former principal at Springboro High School, Dave Stuckey, a former teacher and coach, and former board member Charles Anderson, support Issue 14.

“That’s how the schools generate revenue. Without that revenue, I believe we’d find ourselves in harm’s way, probably in the next six to 12 months,” Anderson said.

David Bitner and Kolton Vaughn, candidates with no prior ties to the district running on an opposing ticket, support the reduced levy, but not the full renewal.

“The question to ask is why would those who support the full amount wish to take more than is needed from a supportive community?” Bitner said.

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