Timing of move to TCTC looks suspicious

The Howland Board of Education’s recent decision to separate from Ashtabula Tech and join the Trumbull Career and Technical Center is the right educational move for the district’s students.

But taxpayers are justifiably enraged by how the move was handled, especially the timing.

In fact, taxpayers throughout Trumbull County have a concern since every other district already sends students to TCTC, and its property owners already pay the center’s millage.

We have often sung praises about the value of a TCTC education. It is rated one of the top 25 High Schools That Work in the nation, it has expanded beyond vocational education and into a college prep curriculum, and it offers 35 programs, including about 20 that have agreements with post-secondary institutions so students receive college credits for TCTC classes. The programs include animal management, restaurant services and law and public safety. Some of the TCTC’s programs, such as cosmetology and pre-nursing, are recognized statewide for their superiority.

The problem for Howland taxpayers is that by joining TCTC, the school board would be imposing a 2.4-mill levy, currently being collected at 2.1 mills. That’s worth $1.15 million for the TCTC. The school board would then retain the $400,000 it spends on A-Tech.

Is a TCTC education worth nearly three times an A-tech education? That could be debated endlessly. But no debate would be necessary if Howland reduced its tax collections by the $400,000 it will save when it exits A-Tech. Instead, it appears as though the decision was made only with money, and not education, in mind.

The timing of this move lends credence to that theory. The TCTC levy is up for renewal this year. Howland and TCTC have been talking about this move since 2007. If Howland affiliated with TCTC already, its residents would be voting on the renewal this year. Fearful that irate Howland taxpayers would overwhelmingly reject an increase, delaying affiliation seems natural.

If the rest of the county approves the renewal, Howland voters would not get a say until 2024.

Nobody should take the TCTC renewal for granted. While many districts are struggling, the career center has been flush with cash, technology and capital improvements. Now it would collect an additional $1 million-plus from Howland residents.

That’s one reason why we have often advocated for the TCTC to restructure in such a way that it is not forced to collect the 2.4-mill levy, as required by state law. There are alternatives, such as a per-student collection.

Meanwhile, the finances bandied about in Howland lately are pretty staggering. In addition to the $400,000 from A-Tech, Howland plans a building restructuring that would save $500,000. And in addition to the imposed TCTC tax, Howland has placed a 3.9-mill, 10-year additional levy on the May 6 ballot that would cost taxpayers another $2 million-plus.

That’s a lot less money Howland taxpayers will be spending on small businesses in the community.