On your ballot: Schools seek new, renewed taxes

A Beavercreek teacher works with a preschool student Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. The school district is asking voters to approve a substitute school levy in the ongoing election.
A Beavercreek teacher works with a preschool student Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. The school district is asking voters to approve a substitute school levy in the ongoing election.

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Bellbrook, Troy and Preble Shawnee schools are asking voters for tax increases this election cycle, while the Beavercreek district is pushing for a no-increase substitute levy that makes up a large chunk of its budget.

All four levies are for daily school operating costs, and all four districts had some form of levy rejected earlier this year. Bellbrook and Beavercreek voters said no this spring to the same property tax terms the districts have put on the ballot again. Troy and Preble Shawnee voters said no to bonds for new buildings, and now the districts are seeking income tax increases to cover daily costs, rather than construction.

ExploreFollow Dayton Daily News election coverage all month here

Meanwhile, six other local school districts have basic renewal levies on the November ballot, seeking to extend their current tax rates.

Districts go to the ballot at a time when some voters have lost jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic and at the same time that schools have lost money due to state cuts and increased spending on technology, health and safety.

Bellbrook-Sugarcreek

Bellbrook-Sugarcreek schools have the same 5.7-mill property tax increase on the ballot that was rejected this spring by 52% of voters. It’s a permanent levy that would raise $3.32 million per year and cost the owner of a $100,000 home an extra $199.50 per year.

The district’s most recent five-year forecast shows 9% of a year’s expenses in the bank at the end of 2019-20. The state required a performance audit last school year because the district’s cash balance was low. The latest state data says the district spends $11,351 per student, about $300 below the median.

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Superintendent Doug Cozad said the district has made a variety of budget cuts the past few years, most recently teacher layoffs, elimination of some art and STEM classes, busing reductions and a complete pay freeze for 2020-21. He said if this new levy is rejected, it would be “a huge deal.”

“It really shifts all of our decision-making so that financial issues become the clear primary (factor) more so than what’s educationally best for our students,” Cozad said.

For the third time in two years, Sugarcreek Twp. resident John Stafford is leading vocal opposition to Bellbrook’s levy request. He argues that the only way the state will address unconstitutional school funding is if property owners say enough is enough and reject levies. He said schools could pay teachers significantly less.

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“Bellbrook-Sugarcreek can’t afford to spend money that we don’t have,” Stafford said. “Superintendent Cozad and the school board like to use the surrounding districts and their bad financial decisions to justify our community making a bad decision. It’s like a race to the bottom; let’s see who can spend more.”

Cozad points to the state’s performance audit, which says the the tax burden on Bellbrook-Sugarcreek residents is lower than the state average and lower than peer school districts. Calls for significant salary cuts are “disrespectful” to dedicated teachers, he said.

“There’s nothing more that I would like than for this community to come back together and get past this, and get on to educational topics,” Cozad said. “We’re going to be fiscally responsible.”

Troy

Troy schools are seeking a permanent 0.25% earned income tax increase for regular school expenses, months after 60% of voters rejected a bond issue to build new schools.

Earned income taxes apply generally to wages, not pensions, Social Security, Workers' Compensation or other revenue streams. A 0.25% increase would cost an extra $125 annually on a $50,000 income.

ExploreJuly story: Troy to ask for earned income tax increase

The district’s most recent five-year forecast shows 20% of a year’s expenses in the bank at the end of 2019-20. The latest state data says the district spends $11,470 per student, about $200 below the median.

Superintendent Chris Piper pointed out that Troy schools have not had an increase in income tax or property tax rates since 2006. That’s a much longer than most medium to large local school districts.

Like all Ohio districts, Troy’s state funding was reduced 3.7% for both 2019-20 and 2020-21, and the district had increased technology and cleaning costs due to COVID-19. About $677,000 in federal CARES Act money offset a piece of those costs.

The levy, if passed, would maintain existing staffing and programs, Piper said, not add new features. The district has eliminated 15 positions via attrition, including 10 teachers, and all staff took a base pay freeze for 2020-21, with step raises still paid where applicable.

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Piper said some cuts would be inevitable if the property tax increase is rejected, but he didn’t have specifics. Cuts could include school staff, less busing, and creating a pay-to-pay fee for sports and clubs.

“Bottom line, inflation raises the costs of all things over time. … That 14-year absence of new taxes and now facing state cuts, is why we have this ask,” Piper said. “We’ve created positions and programs to really support kids because that’s a need, but all of those things cost money.”

Troy’s social media outreach about the property tax has drawn mixed community response, with some saying the schools need voters' financial support, and others saying the schools should cut back like many residents have had to do this year.

Beavercreek

Beavercreek’s 9.8-mill substitute levy would not raise residents' annual tax rate, but it would make the levy permanent. Voters rejected that request by a 52-48 ratio earlier this year.

The levy, which accounts for 18% of the district’s general fund budget, would continue to cost the owner of a $100,000 home $300 per year. The current levy does not expire until the end of 2021, so if this request is rejected, the district does not plan immediate cuts.

Beavercreek schools' most recent five-year forecast shows 18% of a year’s expenses in the bank at the end of 2019-20. The latest state data says the district spends $11,995 per student, about $300 above the median.

Explore2019 story: Beavercreek levy passes on second try

Superintendent Paul Otten said Beavercreek has taken a variety of steps to boost its budget —refinancing bonds a few months ago saved $3.5 million, and changing health care plans will save $9 million over three years.

The district has converted existing levies to substitutes, Otten said, because that allows revenue to grow when new homes are built, reducing how often the district asks for new taxes.

“We feel that our programming is very enriching for our students and provides a great educational background for our kids,” Otten said. “This money will allow us to continue providing those same services that our community has come to expect.”

Preble Shawnee

The district is repeating its spring request for a five-year, 0.75% income tax increase, but not its bond request to build new schools. Voters rejected both by 57-43 ratios earlier this year.

A 0.75% income tax increase would cost a person making $50,000 a year an extra $375 annually. This income tax does affect pensions, capital gains and some other income beyond wages, but not Social Security. The district projects it would raise $1.2 million per year.

Preble Shawnee’s most recent five-year forecast shows 42% of a year’s expenses in the bank at the end of 2019-20. The latest state data says the district spends $11,770 per student, or $100 above the median.

District officials said they made some staffing cuts and closed a school building but expenses are still outpacing revenues.

Renewal levies

  • Northmont: The district is asking to make an existing 5.9-mill levy permanent. The levy raises $3.58 million of the district’s $57.6 annual general fund budget for regular operating costs.
  • West Carrollton: Voters will decide whether to make a 5.5-mill operating levy permanent. It raises $1.98 million of the district’s $42 million annual general fund budget.
  • Miami Valley CTC: The career tech center seeks a 10-year renewal of its 2.18-mill levy, which can pay for both regular operating expenses and facilities costs.
  • Milton-Union: The district is asking voters to renew a five-year, 3.9-mill permanent improvement levy that raises $411,000 a year used largely for technology, safety, transportation, and security expenses.
  • New Lebanon: Voters will decide whether to renew a 0.5% income tax for another five years to pay regular operating expenses. The levy generates about $550,000 of the district’s $14 million budget.
  • Greeneview: The district is asking voters to make permanent an existing 0.5% income tax for regular operating expenses. It raises about $1 million of the district’s annual $15 million general fund budget.

Coming tomorrow

The Dayton Daily News examines school district bond issues for construction projects on the ballot.

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