Howland school levy sought to avoid deficit

HOWLAND — The Howland Local School District is asking voters to approve a tax increase on the May 8 primary in hopes of securing additional operating money to prevent the district from falling into deficit spending, which would place it on the state’s fiscal caution list.

The 5.9-mill, 10-year emergency operating levy would raise about $3.3 million annually and cost the owner of a $100,000 home $206 per year.

Matt Darrin, chairman of the levy committee, said beginning next fiscal year, Howland is set to lose $1.9 million in tax money annually with the elimination of the state tangible personal property tax. It has been 15 years since the district has received new state operating funds.

Superintendent Kevin Spicher said to maintain the educational standards the community has grown accustomed to, it is necessary to seek additional operating funds.

Darrin said since the elimination of the tangible personal property tax, the district has lost $2.9 million in the past five years.

“The school district has made more than $800,000 in cuts in the past two years with many more still planned, but the district can’t cut its way out of this kind of loss without it affecting children and education,” he said.

If the levy passes, Darrin said the district will keep what it has in place.

“The district wants to add an additional resource officer for safety, but won’t be able to do this if the levy fails,” Darrin said, noting there is one resource officer in place.

Also, with a levy failure, school buses will no longer go door-to-door for pickup and dropoff, but will have children meet at designated group locations.

Officials said if the levy fails, a contingency plan is in place to begin the 2019-20 school year with cuts in extracurricular activities, reductions in teacher positions in art, music / band, and physical education at the elementary level, and electives at the high school.

The district also would increase “pay-to-participate” fees and continue to make reductions in building supplies and budgets.

Darrin said the problem with losing extracurriculars is students would leave the district and open enroll in another school district where what they want is offered. He said this means a loss of students and revenue.

“When you lose kids and lose revenue, things fall apart. When schools fall apart, communities fall apart,” Darrin said.

Howland Schools Treasurer Rhonda Amorganos has said the tangible personal property tax once was paid by business owners for inventory and fixtures, but was repealed as a way to give local businesses a tax break.

District strategic planning has included increasing employee contributions to health care costs. Employee attrition cuts have been initiated over the past several years.

Spicher said Howland was the last district in Trumbull County to implement all-day kindergarten, which was requested by families, and worked to transition teachers already employed in the district to new kindergarten positions.

The district saw an additional $326,000 in savings by implementing all-day kindergarten without hiring additional teachers.

Additional long-term savings were realized by consolidating instructional resources and materials with the reconfiguration of the four elementary buildings.

The last unsuccessful request for emergency operating funds was in May 2014 and three other unsuccessful attempts in 2011, 2012 and 2013.