Ohio

Eye on Education

Ohio Schools Aim to Pass New, Different Kinds of Levies

Ida Lieszkovszky / StateImpact Ohio

Freshman at Worthington High School worry that if their levies fail, they may lose some of their favorite programs at school, like drama classes or ski club.

You likely have seen yard signs in your neighborhood asking voters to support their local schools.

This year, nearly a third of all the school districts in the state have tax issues on next week’s ballots.

And 78 out of those 194 issues are for new funds.

Students at Worthington High School just north of Columbus are vaguely aware their district has a levy on the ballot.

Hanging out with some friends after school let out last week, freshman Sam Crowe wondered what will happen to his drama program.

“Well, how am I supposed to learn to be good at that stuff?” he asked his friends. “You guys won’t be able to see me in shows.”

School officials are even more worried than Crowe.

They’ve been giving presentations to anyone that will listen.

“We have engaged every segment of our community,” says Thomas Tucker, Worthington’s superintendent. “We’ve engaged our parents. We’ve engaged our senior citizens. We’ve engaged our business community, and we’ve engaged our religious community as well.”

Ida Lieszkovszky / StateImpact Ohio

Worthington superintendent Thomas Tucker, levy co-chair Sam Shim, and treasurer Jeff McCuen spent a recent lunch hour pitching their district's levy to the Worthington-Dublin Rotary Club.

“And we met with our Tea Party,” adds Jeff McCuen, the district’s treasurer. “They invited us so we met with them on different things.”

This year the district is one of just a few going for a new type of levy, called an incremental levy. Traditional renewal, replacement and additional levies are locked into property values at the time voters pass them. But incremental levies are allowed to grow over time – with a cap. So this one will start at 4.9 mills and finish off in three years at 6.9 mills.

The district also has a separate renewal bond issue on the ballot.

McCuen says the district based its decision to go for an incremental levy on community meetings.

“They felt because the economy … was still not in a full recovery, that an incremental levy starting out with a lesser payment annually and then rising as hopefully incomes again then rise was the most economical choice to offer our taxpayers,” he says.

The law does not allow districts to combine incremental levies with bond issues, though that’s something the district had lobbied hard to change this past year – unsuccessfully.

McCuen says he hopes voters will be willing to approve both issues separately.

“I’m always concerned on any ballot issue,” he says. “Watching Dublin fail last time around was something odd, Westerville has had their struggles, we had our struggles with a single issue in 2009 that failed before we came back in November 2009.”

Dublin schools nearby has a nearly 7-mill combination issue on the ballot. That means voters will say “yes” or “no” to both a levy and a bond issue with a single vote. It’ll come out to $213 for every $100,000 of home value.

Ida Lieszkovszky / StateImpact Ohio

Dublin's superintendent Dave Axner speaks at the Worthington-Dublin Rotary Club to pitch his district's combination levy.

Dublin Superintendent Dave Axner says the district has been combining tax issues for years — a decision that goes back to the 90’s, when they tried to pass two separate issues.

“Operating is funding people, the bond issue bricks and mortar, those two kind of go together,” he says. “And that was an issue where a bond issue was passed, Carr Middle School was built, but the problem was the operating went down and the school couldn’t be staffed.”

Dublin and Worthington are good schools in suburban middle class neighborhoods. Both say they need these issues to pass because they’ve already cut to the bone. In fact, on the Dublin schools website, you can see a full list of teaching positions, classes, and extracurriculars that could be cut if their levies fail.

But schools have had a rough time passing levies in the last couple years — even in areas that used to be almost a given when it came to new funding.

“Worthington has generally passed their levies, but there is opposition almost all the time,” says Damon Asbury with the Ohio School Boards Association. “That used to never by the case, you know there were people that opposed it but they didn’t organize themselves. Now there are more communities with anti-levy groups.”

Still, Asbury says schools may have a better chance in this November election than they did this past August, for example, when nearly 70 percent of school levy issues tanked.

“Typically in presidential elections, school levies do better,” Asbury says.

But that’s a double-edged sword.

“Some people see so many campaign ads and they get tired of it and I think a lot of people don’t tune in to the school levies that are out there, or the other issues,” he says. “It’s just kind of like get this behind me, you know?”

Don’t worry; Election Day is almost here.

Then next Wednesday we can start talking about the next round of school levy requests.

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