Levy Vote Down to the Wire

The levy will be decided tomorrow, Tuesday May 4 during the Ohio primaries and it”s down to the final push for parents and students who are in struggling Ohio school districts. It”s less than 24 hours from election day and Middletown residents are urging each other to vote while Middletown City Schools officials cite their fiscal responsibilities in tough economic times. The most important issue about this vote is whether school officials and levy supporters are correct in their claim that rejecting this issue will have a devastating impact on the district and the city as a whole by essentially eliminating 26 percent of the district’s approximately $70 million operating budget.

“If this levy doesn’t pass, it will be a death knell to a city trying to turn itself around,” said Marcia Andrew, school board president. “Schools make the community what it is. Without this levy, we are looking at some big changes.”

Since the fiscal year 2007, Middletown has cut nearly $4.8 million in costs for the district but is currently at risk of losing more than 20 percent of its total revenue. Middletown currently has two emergency levies totalling $18.3 million but they expire at the end of this year. That is why Middletown is asking district voters to approve a $18.3 million substiute levy that would cost individual taxpayers approximately $575 every year per $100,000 in property value. The substitute levy will be a continuing levy, which means the district will no longer have to return to the ballot every three to five years for what voters could perceive as more money.

There have been many warnings across Ohio from School districts saying the levy is an absolute necessity. Franklin school district is considering cutting the amount school days to state minimums, reducing bus transportation, increasing class sizes and increasing sports, music and other extracurricular fees should the levy fail.

“When you take away more than $4 million — nearly 20 percent of our operating budget — then you’re going to have to make some significant cuts in personnel and programming. Our first priority, of course, is to not impact the quality of education in our classrooms. We try to hold off on those cuts as long as possible but there really won’t be an area that will be untouched should this fail.” — Superintendent Arnold Elam

Areas like Reynoldsburg Ohio, where the schools have lost nearly $20 million in the last five years, are the most likely to have the strongest advocates for the levy. Karen Wilson, who”s son and daughter face school days without proper physical education, art, or music, desperately wants this levy to pass.

“The day for our kids is pretty much sitting in the classroom. No extra activities — nothing to stimulate them as far as physically and creatively,” Wilson said.

If the levy were to pass, several programs and services would be phased back into the school day in Reynoldsburg. Busing for all students would return in the fall and students in grades K-6 would be able to expect art, music and physical education. The district also said they would not be returning all programs and services immediately, instead choosing to be a bit more judicious with taxpayer funds.

In our own hometown of Middletown, which saw an operational levy voted on three times in 2007, the consequences may be more apparent. After the levy failed in May and August 2007 the district cut nearly $6 million in staff and services, including transportation, athletics and academic programs and even shortening the school day to lessen operational costs. In the case of tomorrows vote however, over $18 million will be decided by a democratic vote.


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