From the Print

Support for YS schools unique

Tuesday, Nov. 6, was a good day for progressive voters. Barack Obama was re-elected by a solid margin, and Democrats picked up additional seats in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

But throughout the Miami Valley, it was a bad night for one of the biggest progressive issues of our time: public education. Of the 12 districts that placed new school levies on the ballot, 11 failed. The only one that passed was here in Yellow Springs — Issue 19, which was approved by 67 percent of the voters, a two-to-one margin.

The eleven districts that saw their new levies fail included Xenia, Beavercreek, Fairborn, Huber Heights, Vandalia-Butler, West Carrollton, Valley View, Centerville, Jefferson Township, Tecumseh and Miamisburg.

Because of significant cutbacks in state funding and reduced revenues, most of those districts said they had no choice but to turn to their local communities for additional funding.

In Xenia, voters rejected a 6.5-mill tax levy that would have raised more than $4 million annually for the next five years for that school district. But the fact that it would have cost the average homeowner approximately $200 a year convinced more than 65 percent of those casting ballots to say no.

In letters to the Xenia Daily Gazette, some outspoken readers explained their reasons for rejecting the measure.

“This region has been economically depressed for a long time and the demographics of area residents does not boast sufficient economic status to siphon personal funds in support of anything increasing personal debt,” Chris Redmon wrote. “Bottom line: We haven’t got it to give it!”

And Dean Eberhardt wrote, “Teacher salaries and benefits are way out of line with those of the private sector.”

However, as one of the 35 percent of voters who supported the failed school levy, Lynn Arnett summed up her feelings this way: “What a sad time it is when we won’t support our children!” she wrote. “I have lived in Xenia all of my life, and it is embarrassing to see how low we have sunk as a community.”

In Beavercreek, where a 6.7-mill school levy failed by fewer than 220 votes out of more than 29,000 cast, readers to the Beavercreek News-Current expressed their polarized views on the issue prior to the Nov. 6 election.

Thomas L. Forsyth wrote that, “While private sector employees have seen their salaries and benefits cut to the bone, and their overall wealth cut by huge percentages, the (Beavercreek) school district has continued to spend money and make contractual obligations that are unsustainable. The only way to insure continuing viability of our school system is to defeat the levy and force the board to make across the board cuts to employee salaries and benefits.”

On the other hand, Sue and Andy Pope, who said in a letter that they had chosen to live in Beavercreek because of the district’s highly ranked school system, strongly supported the levy.

“When our children looked at colleges, it was evident that Beavercreek schools had a strong reputation at the university level,” they wrote. “Many classes that were offered at the AP level in Beavercreek were waived for our children at Ohio State based on the rigor and expectations of Beavercreek city schools over the years.”

Arguing that the school districts had already made drastic cuts to its teaching, administrative and support staff, the Popes said that any additional cuts, a consequence of failing to pass the levy, would “erode the quality and pride that many people have in Beavercreek.”

In Fairborn, more than half the voters rejected a 7.4-mill emergency levy for its schools. At a public meeting prior to the election that was reported in the Fairborn Daily Herald on Oct. 18, some residents spoke out against the measure.

Karen Combs, a member of a local citizens group that opposed the levy, complained about the school district’s profligacy.

“The schools need to get this under control,” she said. “Teaching should be a noble profession rooted in a desire to help children succeed. But we see these unions poisoning those ideals with constant money-grabbing,” she said.

Citing a statistic from the Ohio Department of Education, Combs argued that the average Fairborn resident earned approximately $42,000 a year while the average teacher in the district earned more than $56,000.

“We’ve also been told that there is a ‘pay freeze,’” said Combs. “The public should be told the truth. They may be foregoing COLAs (cost of living adjustments), but they are still getting step increases or other pay adjustments somehow. The numbers don’t lie.”

In West Carrollton, a 3.9-mill school levy was defeated by a narrow margin. In letters to the Dayton Daily News, residents of that community expressed polarized views on the levy.

One resident voiced a common complaint.

“I am sick of this school trying to pass a levy every time I turn around. Over 50 percent of my property taxes already go to this school and my taxes are SKY HIGH (sic).”

But there were also strong supporters — ones who expressed frustration about the plight of local school districts.

“Can we get it through our thick skulls that [schools] are trying to pass levies because their budgets were slashed to balance [Governor] Kasich’s budget, not because of financial ineptitude?” wrote a resident who posted a thumbnail photo and identified himself as Historian84.

But as bad as the election was for those eleven Miami Valley school districts, the outcome of the local levy could hardly have been better for Yellow Springs schools.

Mario Basora, Yellow Springs schools superintendent, said that prior to the election he had concerns about proposing an additional school levy.

“I wasn’t sure how the community would receive it,” he said. “But as we went from home to home and talked to a lot of folks, it was interesting to hear the overwhelming support of our schools within the community. It was quite heartening when compared to other school districts.”

The village’s strong support for the levy indicated the resolve of the Yellow Springs community to support public education for kids, Basaro said.

“I think we’re the education village. That’s what we call ourselves in Yellow Springs.”

Basora said that one of the contributing factors for the levy’s success was something he called the “X Factor,” which sets Yellow Springs apart from other communities.

“It’s our population of community members who are the community elders, the ones who don’t have kids in our schools, who don’t have grandkids in our schools, and whose kids and grandkids have graduated and moved on. They are overwhelmingly supportive of our schools. And that is something you don’t see anywhere else in any community I’ve been in. It’s quite amazing.”

Basora said that school superintendents across the country are dealing with the fact that populations across the country are getting older and ultimately school districts are reckoning with the idea of having to ask voters who are increasingly aging — without kids or grandchildren in the schools — to support additional revenue for schools.

“That’s an extremely difficult proposition for most schools,” he said.

Many voters in districts who rejected new school levies argued that the economic downturn had taken a hard toll on their communities.

“I think Yellow Springs is doing pretty well, but I think we have people who are struggling here too,” Basora said. “And I don’t know that we’re struggling any less than people in other communities.”

Basora cited an example of a community member who, despite having to scrimp, was willing to dig a little deeper to spend extra dollars to support the Yellow Springs school levy.

“That’s how strongly people in Yellow Springs trust our schools and educating our kids in a public school setting. There’s just a different set of values here that you don’t get in a lot of other places.”

Those values were clearly expressed by members of the community.

Walter Sikes, a longtime Yellow Springs resident and former dean of students at Antioch College, said that people in Yellow Springs have consistently supported the schools and passed levies because they view education as very important and they view the schools as one of the key elements of a successful community.

“And they don’t feel that Yellow Springs without public schools would be the same kind of community that we enjoy now,” he said. “As long as people feel that schools are doing a good job educationally and that they’re managing the resources effectively, then people will continue to support the schools as they have in the past.”

Janie Brewer, a former high school English teacher and current community college instructor, said that as an educator she wanted to give public education her full support.

“And as a parent I supported the levy because I’m so proud of Yellow Springs schools,” she said. “I have a daughter who is a junior in high school, and she’s getting an extremely good education. One of the main reasons I’m living here is because the community always supports education and the arts. It always puts its money where its mouth is in terms of its children and the importance of their education.”

While Basora understands that voters who rejected new levies in surrounding school districts are struggling, he said that the difference is that the Yellow Springs community is not willing to protest the way schools are funded at the expense of its children.

“Unfortunately, what’s going to happen in a lot of these other schools is they’re going to lose art programs and physical education programs.”

Basora said he learned that in one neighboring school district class sizes for elementary students were 40-to-1—one teacher for 40 students.

“That’s unethical and unacceptable,” he said. “We should never have schools with student teacher ratios of 40-to-1 at the elementary level. It’s a travesty.”

Basora offered a word of advice for those people who voted against the school levies.

“If you’re that convicted and feel that strongly against school levies, then you have an obligation to talk to your state senator and your state congressman and appeal to them to change the system. And that’s because, unfortunately, the losers in all this are our kids.”

 

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