Levy Request More Realistic

Saying no to higher taxes for public schools has become something of a knee-jerk reaction among Bellaire voters. It is easy to see why: During the past three and one-half years, school officials have had tax issues on election ballots six times.

On every occasion voters have rejected tax increases. Sometimes, the defeats have been crushing; in May 2010, a 12.9-mill property tax levy was voted against by nearly three-fourths of those who cast ballots.

School officials plan to try again in November. But this time, voters may want to think about the issue before allowing their knees to jerk again.

Much has changed since Bellaire Local Schools officials began asking for new taxes, in May 2010. For one thing, the district’s financial situation has improved. Then, it was catastrophic, so bad state officials took control over finances.

Final say over the district’s budget still remains with state officials, but the situation has improved dramatically. Substantial reductions in payroll have been made, including both teaching staff and administrators. School Superintendent Tony Scott has said finances may have improved enough to move the district out of the “fiscal emergency” category in which the state has listed it. That could mean more local control over spending.

Again, however, that has come at a cost to Bellaire students. Bellaire High School no longer offers advanced placement classes. Elementary school programs in art, music and physical education have been slashed.

Approval of the levy being sought this fall could allow the school system to reverse a few of those cuts.

Another major difference this time around is the amount of money being requested. The November election ballot will include a property tax levy of 5.9 mills – less than half what officials sought back in May 2010.

If voters approve this fall, Bellaire schools would receive about $687,000 a year more than under the current tax structure.

That still is a lot of money – but, again, it is much more realistic than in the past. Scott believes that may convince voters to say yes this time.

He may be right. Voters now have evidence of a serious, sustained campaign to control spending in Bellaire schools. They also are aware of reductions in educational quality resulting from budget cuts.

This time around, the levy request should not be dismissed out of hand. It merits serious, objective consideration by voters.