School districts plan cuts, eye return to ballot as operating levies rejected

Bellbrook High School started its second first day of classes Tuesday, Aug. 18. All students and staff were wearing masks and practicing social distancing. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF
Bellbrook High School started its second first day of classes Tuesday, Aug. 18. All students and staff were wearing masks and practicing social distancing. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

The three local school districts that asked voters for extra operating money — Troy, Bellbrook and Preble Shawnee — were rejected in Tuesday’s election, and now they’re making plans for budget cuts and possible returns to the ballot.

Elsewhere the six no-tax-increase renewal school levies passed, but Beavercreek’s no-increase substitute levy was rejected for a second straight time. Statewide, 36% of school levies that asked for a funding increase passed.

Bellbrook

Voters in Bellbrook and Sugarcreek Twp. rejected a third school levy request in two years, by a 53-47 ratio, according to the Greene County Board of Elections.

Bellbrook Superintendent Doug Cozad said that means the $4.8 million in cuts the district has made over time will stay in effect. He said the district has moved toward state minimums in busing, along with bigger class sizes and fewer elective courses. The are no plans for additional cuts immediately.

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Bellbrook’s levy request was the same permanent 5.7-mill property tax increase that was rejected 52-48 this spring. Cozad said no decision has been made about putting any type of levy on the ballot in May.

Bellbrook’s spending per student is slightly below the state median, and the district had only 9% of a year’s spending in the bank this summer. Its low cash balance triggered a state performance audit last year.

A group of vocal levy opponents have called for the district to cut salaries. The state performance audit showed Bellbrook’s salaries are not out of line with comparable districts, but Cozad wouldn’t rule out that issue.

“Anytime you go into negotiations, everything’s on the table,” he said.

Troy

Voters rejected Troy’s permanent 0.25% earned income tax increase by a 54-46 ratio. District officials had cited state funding cuts and increased expenses tied to COVID-19 as reasons for the request.

Superintendent Chris Piper said the school board will approve a new five-year financial forecast at Monday’s meeting. Sometime shortly after that, they’ll start planning budget cuts — both a dollar figure and the actual reductions needed to get there. Areas that had previously been mentioned as possibilities included school staff, busing, and creation of a pay-to-pay fee for sports and clubs, among other things.

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“Typically when you talk about significant cuts in a school budget, you’re talking about staffing because about 80% of any school budget is staff,” Piper said Wednesday.

Piper said the district needs to address its revenue shortfall for the long-term. Residents have not approved an income tax or property tax increase since 2006, a much longer wait than most local districts.

Piper said if Troy puts a levy on the May ballot and it passes, that could limit cuts for fall 2021.

Beavercreek

Beavercreek residents have a history of rejecting a school levy on the first try, then passing it the second time around. That was not the case Tuesday, as voters rejected a permanent 9.8-mill substitute levy for the second time this year, by a 53-47 ratio.

Superintendent Paul Otten said converting the levy to a substitute and making it permanent would both help alleviate “levy fatigue” by limiting how often the district had to ask voters for money. He called the voting results disheartening.

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“We worked really hard to pull off a great (in-person) start to the school year, and we had hoped that would provide some support in this election,” Otten said. “Our work now changes and we have to begin to explore what the future of our schools looks like without this funding.”

Otten said he would recommend to the school board that they try the levy again in May. It’s a huge levy that produces $18.5 million per year, or 18% of Beavercreek schools' general fund budget, and it expires in December 2021. He said the district will send a list of possible cuts to residents around February to explain to them what would be cut if the massive levy failed again.

“When I say it’s devastating to the district … if we’re able to cut even $8 million out of the budget, our district won’t look like a district you want to live in,” Otten said.

Other levies

Preble Shawnee’s request for a five-year, 0.75% income tax increase was rejected for a second time this year, by a huge ratio of 64-36.

The six districts that sought simple renewal levies of existing taxes — Northmont, West Carrollton, Milton-Union, New Lebanon, Greeneview and the Miami Valley Career Tech Center — all passed. Most passed with more than 55% of the vote, although New Lebanon and Greeneview were closer.

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