Voters approve tax hike to handle student growth in Kings Schools

Voters in Warren County’s Kings Schools approved a tax hike Tuesday that schools say will help the school system handle projected enrollment growth and uneven state funding.

The 6.2-mill continuing operating levy, which will raise annual property taxes on a $100,000 home by $217, was approved by voters by a 56 percent to 44 percent margin, according to unofficial ballot tallies from the Warren County Board of Elections.

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Kings officials had pushed for the first new operating levy since 2010 telling residents in the 4,272-student district it was needed in part to handle expected enrollment increases to more than 5,000 by 2020.

School officials also cited a projected budget deficit by the end of 2018 — despite recent budget cuts of $1 million in personnel and operating program cuts — behind seeking the tax hike.

“We would like to thank our Kings community who took the time to vote in this critical election. This levy was crucial to our success,” said Kings spokeswoman Dawn Gould.

“We don’t take asking taxpayers for additional funds lightly. We will continue to be fiscally responsible with their money, as cost saving measures are a part of an ongoing effort. With the passage of this operating levy, we are looking to continue to provide our students with an excellent education,” said Gould.

The new tax, which begins collection from property owners in 2017, will generate $4.6 million annually for the district’s annual operating budget, which is currently $45 million.

Kings resident Maggie Oney said she and neighbors voted for the school levy to keep property values and local school quality up.

Oney also said residents remember the financial woes of neighboring Little Miami Schools, which suffered historically deep budget cuts during eight straight tax levy defeats from 2008 to 2011. Little Miami was forced into emergency state control and academic programs were cut to state minimums, and student sports fees rose to the highest in the region at the time.

Little Miami’s plight captured national media attention and made the cover of The Wall Street Journal.

“We watched Little Miami fail and we watch how far down their property values went and the trouble their kids had playing sports,” Oney said. “All the parents here want to keep that from happening here.”

The levy passed despite the opposition of one of the members of the Kings governing board — anti-school tax activist Kim Grant — to the new levy.

In August, Grant was the lone member in a 4-1 vote by the Kings school board to put the levy on the fall ballot.

Kings Treasurer Shaun Bevan said state funding has remained relatively stagnant since the district last passed a levy in 2010, a trend he expects to continue over the next five years. Assuming that the district’s funding model remains the same, this new levy would last for three years.

Gould said Kings officials will now turn their attention to persuading state legislators to provide more funding for the district.

“We will continue to build our relationship with the community and realize that the issue of school funding is very complex. We are also talking to our legislators regarding school funding and how we can secure additional revenues without having to ask our taxpayers,” she said.