Bellbrook-Sugarcreek voters to decide new school tax request

After budget reductions following a significant defeat at the polls in May, Bellbrook-Sugarcreek school leaders are coming back to voters in March with a new tax request.

School board members voted unanimously to place a continuous 5.7-mill levy request on the March 17 ballot.

The tax, if approved by voters, would generate about $3.3 million a year for the district at a cost to property owners of about $200 a year per $100,000 of assessed property value, according to the Greene County Auditor’s Office.

Bellbrook-Sugarcreek schools OKs $1M more in cuts, eyes March levy

Voters soundly rejected a tax proposal with higher millage in May.

Since the defeat, district leaders chose not to return to the ballot this year and implemented two rounds of budget reductions, effective this school year and next, amounting to more than $2.3 million, according to the district’s release on the board’s vote Tuesday night.

Those reductions involved cutting 20 positions, about half being teachers, the district’s release says.

Superintendent Doug Cozad said in a prepared statement the budget is “the most critical issue facing our district. This is not a spending issue, this is a revenue issue.”

“Introducing more reductions as a result of another loss at the ballot will hurt the quality of education we can offer and strike at the core of our schools,” Cozad’s statement reads. “We should not let our schools falter due to continued strains to our budget and an unconstitutional public school funding model, but ultimately it is up to the community to decide what kind of schools it wants. …”

The May levy campaign was marred by bitter debates between those in support of the school’s tax request and those supporting the “vote no” campaign as led by resident John Stafford.

Stafford runs the Facebook page "Vote NO On Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Schools Levy," which has hundreds of followers.

Stafford said Wednesday he expects the new tax request will again fail to get enough support among voters. Stafford acknowledged that Bellbrook teachers are currently under a pay freeze, but he expects raises will be returned if voters approve the new tax.

“They have a $31 million budget yet they can’t make teachers’ payroll unless we overburden the taxpayers,” Stafford said. “The only way can do it is cut and cap until we find a solution in legislation.”

Bellbrook parents Josh and Diana Pressnell are in favor of the school tax proposal and have launched the Facebook page "The Bellbrook Research Angels" on which they post information from their own research and data-mining into the district's finances.

The Pressnells have two children in the district and are serving as a host family for their second foreign exchange student. They said they are concerned that further cutbacks in the district will lead to fewer opportunities for their children to have advantages after they graduate.

“At the end of the day, the state expects that communities support local schools. The laws are in place to ask for voter approval to fund schools and other community services,” Josh Pressnell said. “It’s expected, normal and traditional and consistent with other districts. That’s the way the laws and economics are set up.”

The deadline to file questions and issues with the local elections board is Dec. 18.

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