Voters in the city of Oakwood traditionally have been willing to increase their tax burden to support the highly rated school district.
The next test will come Nov. 5, when the district will be on the ballot for a 5.75-mill levy that would cost the owner of a $200,000 home an additional $403 per year.
The district’s board and administrators are banking on the fact the district’s historic and recent record of achievement — top 1 percent in Ohio, first in the state on the Ohio Graduation Test, Gold Medal status from U.S. News and World Report, top-25 high schools in the Midwest as featured in Newsweek and A’s on the 2013 Ohio Report Card — will convince citizens to dig deeper again.
The school levy comes six months after city voters approved a 3.75-mill property tax increase for city services by less than 55 percent.
The last time an Oakwood Schools operating levy went down was 35 years ago, although a proposal to establish a 1 percent income tax for schools was defeated in 1990.
It’s been three years since the schools asked for more money.
Levy backers say this one is needed because state funding cuts the past two years have not all been restored and operating expenses have increased with inflation.
“We’ve made some cuts and some tough choices. We have some class sizes we aren’t proud of,” said superintendent Kyle Ramey, who succeeded Mary Jo Scalzo as superintendent four months ago. Previously, he was director of instructional services for Kettering City Schools.
Employees, who have had pay freezes for two years, are eligible for a new performance-based evaluation plan that was approved this year and could provide increases for some.
If the levy passes, Ramey said, “There will be no big project like the one three years ago when the district went from a half-day to full-day kindergarten. We will just strive to keep doing well what we are doing. That’s of value to the entire community.”
At the end of the 2012-13 school year, according to a district report, 98 percent of the kindergarten class was reading above grade level, up from 37 percent at the end of 2009.
Those results are “an example of how Oakwood Schools prioritize funding to go directly into the classroom,” Ramey said. “I can’t wait to see the ACT scores of these students when they are in high school 10 years from now.”
Oakwood High School students have had the state’s highest average ACT score five years in a row.
Not everyone is convinced the city’s schools need more money from the taxpayers.
Longtime resident Alice Roedersheimer said that while school officials insist the schools “have a positive effect on residential property values, sale prices the past few years don’t support that.”
Showing recent transactions, she said, “15 of 32 Oakwood properties sold for less than the Montgomery County-appraised value. Three others were in foreclosure. There comes a point when tax levies will drive property values down and force older residents out.”
Marlene Maimon opposes the school levy because “it falls right on the heels of the city levy in May. I have always supported the schools in the past, but it’s getting to be unsustainable. Due to high taxes, the time is coming when people won’t move in.”
Linda Creager said that while Oakwood “used to be immune from needing to reduce expenses, that is no longer true.”
Roedersheimer said other area school districts including Centerville, Beavercreek and Huber Heights “have reduced expenses and made serious cuts. The state has cut $660,000 in funding for Oakwood Schools, but the levy would bring in $1.73 million. This levy is not about the kids. It’s about administration and teacher pay.”
District treasurer Kevin Philo, who hopes voters “will continue to weigh our performance vs. the dollars spent,” said the district spends 74.5 percent of every dollar in the classroom, best in the area. The state average is 65.6 percent.
Ohio Department of Education figures for fiscal year 2012 show Oakwood Schools spent $7,432 per pupil on instruction, compared to $6,728 in comparable districts and a statewide average of $5,873.
“We could do things more cheaply, but we would not have the school district we do,” Philo said.
Salaries as a percentage of operating expenditures are higher in Oakwood Schools (65.88 percent) than in comparable districts (61.93 percent). The state average is 56 percent.
But the district has fewer administrators than most others and a higher percentage of teachers with advanced degrees and more than 10 years experience.
Philo said the Montgomery County average for total expenditures per student is $11,744, compared to $11,589 in Oakwood.
There are two upcoming informational meetings about the levy: 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Oakwood Community Center, 105 Patterson Road; and 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 29, in the library of Oakwood High School, 1200 Far Hills Ave.