Bellaire Schools Request Shrinks

BELLAIRE – Bellaire Local Schools hopes voters will support a smaller levy request this fall that still should generate enough dollars to get the district out of fiscal emergency status, Superintendent Tony Scott said.

The school district has submitted to the Belmont County Board of Elections a 5.9-mill levy for the emergency requirements of the school district to be collected over the next five years. Scott said the levy, if approved, would generate about $687,000 annually.

This levy is Bellaire Local Schools’ seventh attempt since the 2010 primary to pass an issue to generate revenue for the financially strapped district. The district last asked voters in the May 7 primary to pass a larger 8.25-mill levy.

It was rejected by a vote of 1,039-842.

Also rejected were an 8.7-mill levy request in November 2012; 1-percent income tax issues in May and November 2011; and 12.9-mill levy requests in May and November 2010.

“The levy committee and the board have heard from community members that they would support a smaller levy,” Scott said. “Our concern is this amount might not be enough to sustain the district – but we believe it will be enough to get us out of fiscal emergency with state control.”

The Bellaire Local School District has been listed under fiscal emergency by the Ohio Department of Education since Dec. 31, 2009. This distinction means the state agency has final say over spending by the school district.

To exit state control of the budget, the district must show it has more more money remaining at the end of fiscal year than it has debt, Scott said. Also, the five-year financial forecast for the district must indicate it won’t fall back into debt, he added.

The next step for Bellaire Local Schools is to move from fiscal emergency status to fiscal caution, then “work through the process until you are considered to be on your own and have no state intervention,” Scott said.

The levy dollars would be used to re-institute art, music and physical education classes that had been eliminated for kindergarten through eighth grade, he said.

“And we currently have no advanced placement classes at the high school,” Scott said. “These are key reasons to get the levy passed as fast as we can.”

District officials also want to address technology needs, aging buses and school safety, he said.

“We don’t have the resource officer in our school district,” Scott said. “When the car sits in the parking lot, it is a deterrent and it gives people some peace of mind.”

The district has 22 buses, he said.

“Do we have to replace all of them at once? No,” Scott said. “But we need a plan to upgrade. We have some very old buses with a lot of miles. The State Highway Patrol wouldn’t allow them on the road if they were not safe. But we’re spending money and manpower to repair them, and it becomes ineffective cost-wise to pour money into buses that are not in good shape.”

In addition, standardized testing in the future will be done by computer, and the school district needs to make certain its computer network can accommodate the needed programming.

“We thought if we reduced the millage of this levy, people would get behind their schools,” Scott said. “We would like to get out from under state control. There are a lot of positives taking place in the school district. I hope the people get behind us and support us in the November election.”