The number of local school districts asking voters for increased operating funds Tuesday is higher than in any election cycle in the past five years.
Beavercreek, Bellbrook, Oakwood, Lebanon, Valley View and Piqua schools all are asking for levies that would raise taxes to pay for day-to-day expenses that include salaries and benefits, utilities, bus fuel and other costs.
The reasons for going on the ballot vary – Beavercreek cites a dramatically underfunded special education budget, Lebanon points to eight years of inflation since its last levy increase, and Valley View has the least financial cushion of the group, according to financial documents submitted to the state.
“(Asking for levies) is certainly not something you want to do or enjoy doing, but if we’re going to educate the students of our community and provide them the best education possible, then we need resources to do that,” Lebanon Superintendent Todd Yohey said. “And the current funding for schools in Ohio has an overwhelming reliance on local property tax.”
In all of 2017 and 2018, the four-county Dayton area’s 40-plus school districts put a total of two operating levies on the ballot that sought a tax increase – both last November when Kettering’s levy was approved and Beavercreek’s was rejected.
More common than day-to-day expense levies have been bond levies that ask voters to fund new school buildings, and this ballot has two of those as well. Tipp City schools are asking for a 5.4-mill bond levy to fund $35.75 million in new classroom space. And Oakwood schools’ single-vote issue pairs their operating levy with a 2.71-mill bond issue for $18 million in improvements to its 90-year old schools.
The last time so many local districts asked for operating levy increases was that November 2013 election, coming out of the Great Recession. Voters approved five of those levies — including Beavercreek and Oakwood — and rejected three.
This time, the Bellbrook levy has seen a spirited back-and-forth from residents arguing over higher taxes vs. school investment, while Beavercreek officials have tried to explain their levy need to residents, cognizant of their history of very tight election results, even needing a recount in 2013.
** Beavercreek: This is the busiest ballot in the region. School district voters will decide on two separate levies – a new five-year, 6.15-mill levy that would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an extra $215 per year, as well as a no-increase renewal of their existing 1-mill facilities levy.
But the city of Beavercreek also has two levies on the ballot. The 2-mill streets levy is a no-increase renewal that would make the levy permanent if it passes. The parks levy seeks an increase from 0.9 mills to 1.2 mills, increasing the cost for a $100,000 home from $29.62 to $40.12.
** Trotwood: Voters in this city also will see multiple levies on their ballots, but all three are no-increase renewals. The city is asking voters to renew existing EMS, streets and fire levies at the same rate, but also to make them permanent.
** New Lebanon: This western Montgomery County village will decide on two levies, and both are significant – new, permanent 5-mill levies for police services and fire service. The village had originally set the police levy at 10 mills but reduced it to 5 mills before early voting began. Each levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an extra $175 per year ($350 if both pass).
** Oakwood: Residents will cast a single vote on a combination levy/bond that would raise money for $18 million in renovations of the 90-year-old schools, as well as pay for day-to-day operating costs. Oakwood voters have approved new operating levies every three years.
The district had considered a more expansive facilities project, but public feedback pushed them toward the renovation path for now, with money targeted for “foundational infrastructure,” such as plumbing, electrical work, roofing and more.
** Bellbrook: The school board placed a 7.5-mill replacement levy on that ballot that would raise an extra $3 million per year on a permanent basis.
Superintendent Doug Cozad pointed out that Bellbrook-Sugarcreek schools was one of only 28 Ohio districts to earn an overall “A” on the state report card, while spending less per student than the state average. He wants funds for “attracting and keeping quality teachers.”
A vocal opposition group has argued that teacher salaries are already too high, and previous property tax increases have created a “tipping point” where many residents can’t afford one more.
** Tipp City: The 27-year bond levy would help pay for additions to L.T. Ball school while closing Broadway Elementary and Nevin Coppock Elementary. Confusion arose in recent days when the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission told Tipp City schools that discrepancies in their plan could put some state funding in jeopardy.
After discussion of pulling the levy from the ballot, the school board on Tuesday decided to let the voters decide.
** Valley View: The 6.49-mill levy is the first new operating levy request since 2013, after the community rejected separate levies to build new schools. Superintendent Ben Richards has pledged $1.5 million in cuts over three years, including staff cuts by attrition, busing cuts and some larger class sizes.
Richards said it’s not ideal to be on the ballot just as the state is considering state funding, but like many school leaders, he said he doesn’t expect a big change from Columbus. And a May levy allows the district to make changes – one way or the other – over the summer rather than in the middle of a school year.
“For people who say we can’t afford it, this is why we live in a Democratic society, and to each person their own,” he said.
** Piqua: The school district is asking voters to adjust an existing levy for facility improvements, renewing the current 1.8 mills and adding another 1.2 mills. That addition would cost an extra $42 annually for a $100,000 home. District leaders say they are paying off the Piqua Junior High bond issue early, which would eliminate that millage and offset the new cost.
** Lebanon: Yohey said the school district stretched its last operating levy for eight years, but costs have risen in that time, creating the need for this four-year, 4.99-mill emergency levy. Lebanon schools are in the bottom 5 percent of the state in spending per pupil, and Yohey said the new levy would simply pay to keep the status quo.
** Washington Twp.: Centerville and Washington Twp. voters will decide whether to approve a new, permanent 2.85-mill fire and EMS levy for the fire department that serves both communities. Township leaders cited a need to hire more full-time firefighters, given a 30 percent increase in fire and EMS runs the past six years. The levy would also allow for construction of a new $3.7 million fire station to replace the aging Maple Avenue station.
** City of Union: The small city north of Englewood is asking residents to approve an income tax increase, going from the existing 1 percent, to 2 percent, on a permanent basis. City officials say the income tax would fund needed street repairs after residents rejected a 2015 property tax increase aimed at the same purpose.
** Miami Twp.: Residents of the unincorporated part of the township will vote on a replacement and increase levy for police services, with millage rising from 5 to 5.5 mills. Township officials said the additional funds would go toward hiring more police officers.
** Jamestown: Village residents will vote on a new five-year, 1.8-mill police levy that would raise $50,000 and cost $63 per year on a $100,000 home.
** Riverside: City of Riverside voters will decide on a no-increase, 4.95-mill renewal levy for police services. The levy was originally listed as a permanent renewal, but board of elections documents confirm the renewal is only for five years.