Niles board of education seeks 9.25-mill levy

NILES — The Niles Board of Education is asking voters to shell out a significant increase — more than $300 annually — in their property taxes to support the school system with a 10-year, 9.25-mill operating levy on the Nov. 7 ballot.

If approved, the levy will generate $2 million annually for the general fund to cover daily operations, according to information from Niles City Schools. According to Superintendent Ann Marie Thigpen, the district has seen a decrease in funding from both the state and federal government, and the last time the district passed an operating levy was in 2005.

“The last time any new money was passed was 12 years ago, which is substantial,” she said. “Our current seniors were in kindergarten.”

Residents passed a bond issue in 2008 that led to the construction of three new schools, Thigpen said, and it is important to differentiate that issue from the current one.

“Operating money is for day-to-day operations, while the bond issue money is solely for the purpose of paying for the building,” Thigpen said. “You can’t mix those two funds. The treasurer cannot say ‘we are running out of money over here so let’s take it out of the bond issue money’.”

Thigpen said the operating money would be used to maintain busing fleets and also to get e-book devices like Chromebooks into the hands of every student. The district now has Chromebooks for students to share.

“We feel it is our responsibility to give our students the availability to work on technology,” Thigpen said.

Thigpen said the district also wants to continue allowing students to participate in sports for free, which approval of an operating levy would ensure, and maintain current class sizes and staffing levels. Thigpen said during a previous school board meeting that the district has made cuts where possible, including eliminating two assistant elementary school principal positions and eliminating busing for charter school students.

Board President Susan Longacre said she hopes the public supports the levy.

“We’ve got three brand new schools in the community and we have not asked for any money from the voters since 2005,” she said. “We’ve been good stewards of our money, but with the state and charter schools taking money away, it’s time to go to the voters.”