3 local school districts seeking more money from voters

Huber Heights is largest district seeking an increase, majority of November levies are renewals including Kettering, Northmont.

Dayton-area voters will see more than 15 school levies on the November ballot including three in districts asking voters to increase taxes, but the vast majority of school issues are renewals of existing levies.

So far in 2014, renewal levy requests have outnumbered “new-money” levies in Ohio — the first time that has happened since 2006, according to data from the Ohio School Boards Association. In the past six years, Ohio voters have approved more than 90 percent of renewal levies, and 35 percent of requests for additional funds.

Huber Heights City Schools and the Warren County Career Center are the two local districts asking voters for new or replacement property tax funding — Huber Heights through a new, 6.95-mill levy, and the Career Center via a 3.5-mill replacement levy. Bethel schools’ 3.69-mill emergency renewal levy will also cost property owners slightly more if it passes.

Huber Heights voters have not approved a funding increase for the school district since 2005, rejecting five straight requests. The schools responded with budget cuts last year, lowering expenditures from $66 million in 2012-13 to $56 million in 2013-14.

Those cuts included more than 100 teachers and staff, reduced busing and higher pay-to-play fees for sports and extracurricular activities — leading to larger class sizes and a 16 percent drop in sports participation, according to the district.

Treasurer Ann Bernardo said those cuts will keep the school district in the black for the next four years, even if the levy fails. And Superintendent Susan Gunnell said no more cuts are expected if November’s levy is rejected.

The levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an extra $243 per year.

“We need additional revenue to bring additional instructional teachers, staff and instructional materials back,” Bernardo said. “Our enrollment has dropped some, but our classrooms ratios, especially at the junior high and high school levels, are high.”

Huber Heights resident Carl Smith said he’s against the levy, saying he doesn’t believe the relationship often cited between funding and good schools.

“The solution always seems to be more taxes, and the school levies keep going and going,” Smith said. “I’m not in favor of it at all.”

The Warren County Career Center’s ballot issue would replace a 35-year-old 3.5-mill levy, applying it to today’s property values. If the levy passes, the owner of a $100,000 home would pay $122 per year, a $70 increase over the current cost.

Superintendent Maggie Hess said the Career Center has significant infrastructure needs to address in addition to regular operating expenses.

“We do not have a sprinkler system in our building right now; we were grandfathered in on that,” Hess said. “But it’s beginning to be a major issue for us in terms of insurance, and it’s a safety issue. We can’t do any major modifications to the building without addressing that.”

Hess said if the levy passes, the new funding would also go toward improving electrical capacity, laboratory space and safety features for the center.

A new method

Miamisburg City Schools’ renewal levy on the November ballot is a substitute levy, a fairly unusual measure that takes advantage of a 2008 change to Ohio law.

While most property tax levies generate the same set dollar amount for a school district every year, substitute levies allow schools’ levy income to increase in future years if there is new construction. Owners of existing properties would continue to pay the same amount, with taxes levied on new construction added on top.

“This levy has been on the books for about 20 years as a traditional emergency levy,” Miamisburg schools treasurer Tammy Emrick said. “Back in 2010, the district decided to put it on as a substitute emergency levy to capture some of that (new construction growth).”

Emrick said Miamisburg schools would not collect new-construction money from growth at Austin Landing, because tax revenue from that development comes through a separate tax increment financing (TIF) stream. But she said the substitute levy, an increase in state funding, and eventually the TIF money will all help district finances.

Emrick said fewer than 20 school districts in Ohio have passed substitute levies since they were introduced six years ago. OSBA attorney Candice Christon said the substitute levy language appears targeted at limiting the multitude of levies on the ballot, by allowing these levies to gradually produce more revenue.

Renewal levies

According to OSBA’s statewide data, just over 90 percent of all renewal levies have been approved in the past six years, compared with 35 percent of new levies. Renewal levies keep the level of funding for a school district the same in most cases, usually without changing residents’ taxes.

Those high passage rates are reassuring to districts like Northmont, Beavercreek and Brookville, which have renewals on the Nov. 4 ballot.

But even renewal levies are not a sure thing. Jefferson Twp. schools saw a 5.5-mill renewal levy rejected by voters last year. Jefferson is back on the ballot this November, asking voters to renew a 9.5-mill levy and make it permanent.

Kettering schools are also on the ballot with a 6.9-mill renewal levy, their first under new superintendent Scott Inskeep. Inskeep said last month that the school district was behind in planning its levy campaign after a tumultuous spring and summer that saw the previous superintendent and treasurer ousted.

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