Levy needs raise some questions
Local school districts asking for tax increases in the May primary election still have much that can be accomplished with their budgets.
Drops in state funding and increased expenses, especially in terms of employee health care, have been handled by eliminating teachers and freezing their salaries. The results have been fewer electives for students, more study halls and larger teacher-pupil ratios. None of that is conducive to learning.
The boards of education have done little to reduce administrative costs. No districts in Trumbull or Mahoning counties are sharing superintendents, treasurers or any other management.
Voters in Niles, Brookfield, Champion and Newton Falls should keep that in mind when deciding whether to approve tax increases. In addition, here are some other factors.
Just weeks before early voting is to begin, interim Superintendent Frank Danso spoke for the district during a Tribune Chronicle Editorial Board endorsement interview. Danso did not know if employees had received raises in the last contract, did not know how much the system pays in health care or what health care benefits the employees receive, and did not know how much levy approval would cost individual property owners. Niles had not yet formed a levy committee and had not produced any levy literature for voters.
Earlier this month a state performance audit showed Niles schools are operating so inefficiently that the district could easily reduce a projected $2.5 million deficit to $112,000 without a levy.
According to the Ohio Legislative Services Commission, the proposed state budget would result in a $1.3 million-plus increase for Niles schools next year.
Niles school leaders could afford quite a spending spree if voters approve the two levies – a 4.65-mill, 10-year levy that would generate $1.4 million per year and a 1-mill, 5-year levy – on the May ballot.
Brookfield schools entered state fiscal watch in 2006. The district made substantial cuts that year and anther $500,000 in cuts this year. The result is lower graduation requirements from 22 credits to 20 and increasing the number of study halls.
Another $700,000 in cuts and state fiscal emergency could be in store if taxpayers don’t approve a 4.85-mill levy on the May primary ballot. Passage could result in restoring some of the classes cut – industrial arts, fine arts, public speaking and more.
While employees have taken ”wage freezes” in five of the last seven years, the school board has avoided exploring opportunities to consolidate services or administrations with neighboring districts or the township.
Voters turned down Champion’s 4.95-mill, 10-year levy in November. Now the school board is back, this time asking for a 5.95-mill, 10-year levy.
In response to November’s defeat, the district closed libraries, increased class sizes and cut programs and services for students, but did not commence any cost sharing with other districts or the township. Prior to November’s defeat, the district cut staff, froze salaries, froze pay step increases and added a cost to employees for health care. It also engaged in unique shared services, such as kindergarten enrichment with Champion Christian Church and family assistance with Community Solutions.
The levy would cost about $182 per year for every $100,000 of property value.