Ohio Levies Seek More

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Two-thirds of school levies on the ballot next month are asking voters to approve additional local dollars for education, the highest percentage of new tax issues in a general election in at least 10 years.

If recent history of school issues’ success with voters repeats itself, most of those issues will fail.

In Bellaire, school leaders are making a fifth attempt to persuade voters to approve additional tax dollars for education. The Bellaire Local School District is seeking approval of an 8.7-mill levy for general operations, expected to generate an additional $940,000 a year for five years.

The levy attempt comes on the heels of numerous staff cuts, and in the wake of four failed attempts to raise revenue for the district via the ballot.

In Jefferson County, Buckeye Local hopes voters will support a continuing 2-mill levy for additional permanent improvements to building, textbooks and buses. Edison Local has placed a continuing 9.45-mill levy on the ballot for operating costs. And Indian Creek Local is seeking approval of a 37-year 3.5-mill levy expected to generate $22 million for facilities construction and an additional 1.45-mill levy for five years to cover current expenses.

There are 194 school levies up for a vote next month. Of those, 123 – or 63 percent – are for extra funding. The remaining issues are asking voters to continue existing taxes.

In general elections since 2003, voters have approved fewer than one-third of school districts’ requests for new money on average.

Damon Asbury, legislative director of the Ohio School Boards Association, said asking for new money on the ballot is a hard sell because taxpayers are feeling strapped.

Many of the districts seeking new money say they’ve already cut spending and need the increase just to maintain current programs.

David Varda, executive director of the Ohio Association of School Business Officials, said the additional funds are being sought at the local level to replace lost state aid and revenue lost through tax changes, such as the phase-out of the tangible personal property tax.

“We’ve been (on the ballot) every four years, now it’s every three because of the cuts we’ve seen and the acceleration of the tangible personal property tax (phase-out),” said Dublin City Schools Treasurer Steve Osborne. The district seeks a 6.94-mill operating levy and a $15.8 million bond issue.

This number of new-money questions on ballots this fall is about average – lower than in 2010 and 2008 but more than voters saw in 2011, 2009 and 2007.

Overall, there have been 211 total requests for new money by districts this year, state data show. That’s fewer than in all but one year since 2007.

Gov. John Kasich’s administration questions districts’ assertions that state budget cuts and tax changes are forcing them back to the ballot.

Spokesman Rob Nichols said the loss of personal property tax revenue in two districts seeking new money – the Columbus suburbs of Dublin and Worthington – amounts of 1.5 percent of their combined total budgets from 2011 to 2016.

Worthington Treasurer Jeff McCuen said the district’s fall levy request will make up only $36 million of a projected $41 million budget loss over the next three years. The district seeks an initial 4.9 mills that would grow to 6.9 mills by 2015. It is earmarking the money for existing offerings and no new programs. Worthington also seeks a $40 million bond issue.