Village Schools

School district seeks levy to ride out recession deficit

A school tax levy is “a community thing,” according to organizers who are bringing Issue 5, an $8.7 mill renewal emergency levy, to the ballot on May 4. A renewal of the previous fixed dollar amount levy, the levy would not cost villagers anything more than they are currently paying. As property valuations increase, the millage will be reduced.

Established in 2000, the emergency levy — which organizers said is the legal term for a levy that is for a certain amount and for a certain amount of time — has been renewed three times. If renewed on May 4, the new levy would be effective January 1, 2011, and would continue to generate $1,060,000 per year, which is about 13 percent of the total district budget. The current levy expires Dec. 31, 2010.

In addition to a brochure which is circulating in the community, the committee has established a Web site at http://sites.google.com/site/renewthelevy/home/.

While the district has lost significant amounts of revenue due to recession-related decreases in income tax and other property tax collections, according to Interim Superintendent Tony Armocida, going to the community for an increased levy amount did not seem like a good faith option.

“Times are tough,” Armocida said, “It’s a recognition of the economic circumstances we are in.”

However, this year the schools do face a significant shortfall. In a recent board meeting, Armocida said that for the first time in recent years the local schools will operate in deficit spending in 2010, with a deficit of around $600,000. A surplus from a one-time Antioch Company restructuring several years ago has cushioned the district from drastic actions such as layoffs, but the district needs continued financial support to withstand the tough economic times, Armocida has said.

Discussions at past board meetings covered various approaches the district could take and together, Armocida and former Treasurer Joy Kitzmiller recommended that the board seek a replacement levy of the same amount in anticipation that the district, bolstered by the economic health of the community, will make a slow climb out of the dip in revenue.

If the renewal emergency levy passes, and the other revenue streams — especially income tax — pick back up, “then the district can be economically viable again without too many tough decisions,” Armocida said.

If the levy does not pass, there will have to be substantive changes, according to Sam Bachtell, a veteran Yellow Springs levy committee member. While he didn’t want to speculate about what kinds of changes would be in order if the district were to lose the more than $1 million of annual revenue this levy provides, he didn’t hesitate to state, “we couldn’t have the same schools we have now.”

Bachtell said he has watched the schools improve significantly over the years. In the 1970s, he remembered an intense meeting at which parents were angry that all students didn’t have textbooks, which he cited as just one example of how the schools were struggling.

“I’ve watched this thing improve and improve,” he said, “and I don’t want to watch it retrogress to where we were 30 years ago.”

With other recession-related losses of revenue that the schools have endured over the last year, organizers are hoping the community understands that revenues are already down. Part of board members’ responsibility in the months ahead will be to work closely with the new administrative team to consider costs and program offerings, referencing a recent audit from the state that compares the district’s costs to other similar districts.

The better the community understands what a levy is, and what it isn’t, the better prepared villagers are to make informed decisions, according to levy committee co-chair Richard Lapedes.

“Levy committees are political action committees that are not funded by the school system,” he said. Levy committies are not part of the school board, must raise funds and track all of their own expenses, and must follow all of the campaign finance laws governing political action campaigns.

With co-chairs Lapedes and Benji Maruyama, the 2010 levy committee consists of Sam Bachtell, Anne Erickson, Rebecca Potter, Carl Maneri, Walter Sikes, Barbara Krabec, Jalana Lazar, Judy Leighty, Micah Canal, Terry Graham, Theresa Mayer, Anita Brown, Aimee Maruyama and Jenny Montgomery. Former committee member Judy Parker resigned.

“We’re trying to balance old hands and new young talent,” Lapedes said.

For school board vice-president Maruyama, the levy is an absolutely necessary stopgap measure during financially difficult times.

“We have a shortfall already,” Maruyama said. “Without that money, it would be pretty disastrous, I would say. We’re asking people to vote yes on Issue 5.”

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