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Increased school district enrollment increases opportunities

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This is the seventh in a series of articles looking at various aspects of affordable housing in Yellow Springs.

The Yellow Springs Exempted Village School District is one of the smallest districts in the state, and one which is sustained by the children of residents who live in the village. Over the past 40 years the district has shrunk to approximately half the student population of the 1970s, and while the district has managed to maintain a viable financial model, both school and community leaders advocate for returning the school population closer to its former level. Increasing local students means increasing local families, and while the village appears to provide a home for families at a variety of income levels, more housing in general could help to generate a school district population that is more sustainable.

Given the desire for more local kids in the schools, the declining population trend in Yellow Springs has been as concerning as the drop in the school population, which went from about 1,200 in the 1970s, according to longtime resident Wally Sikes, to 727 this year, including 124 open enrollment students. Just this year, the local student body rose by 38 students, but it’s unclear whether the trend will continue.

A low student population is one that the school can manage financially if it has the tax revenues to fund it.

Taxes and school finances

Yellow Springs schools are located in a small and relatively wealthy district, which solves some financial problems but creates others. Because the student population has been flat or declined over the past several decades, each year the district is guaranteed the same state funding as the year before and is forced to make up the inevitable increase in costs by passing local levies, according to School District Treasurer Dawn Weller. The village has always passed its school levies, which has stabilized the schools but put almost 60 percent of the total revenue pressure on local taxes, mostly property.

But property tax revenue has been limited due to the relatively small amount of housing growth in the village. Since the 1970s the village has grown just slightly from about 1,400 homes to about 1,500 homes, according to the 2003 Yellow Springs Cost of Living Report, with very little land being annexed. The property tax revenue has increased largely due to tax rate increases, which currently brings in $1,000 for every $100,000 of property valuation, according to Greene County Auditor Elect David Graham.

Currently the schools receive about $1,500 of revenue from a home valued at $150,000, while a home valued at $250,000 generates $2,400 for the schools and a home valued at $380,000 generates $3,500 of school tax revenue. The Antioch Company, which sits on about nine acres in the village and is appraised by the county at $2,250,000, generates $27,000 a year in tax revenue for the schools. The total property tax revenue coupled with a 1 percent income tax, generates about $4 million of the school’s annual $7 million budget, according to the 2010 budget. Clearly the higher the property values, the more property tax income the schools receive to balance a growing budget deficit.

But from a philosophical and cultural perspective, the school district is not only interested in serving those with high property values. Currently, 24 percent of in-district Yellow Springs students come from families who make $40,000 or less, according to Basora. That income level is 185 percent of the poverty limit for a family of four, under which that family is eligible for free or reduced lunch and other fees. According to Weller, 24 percent is similar to the 28 percent of moderate- to low-income families served by the Greenon School District, where Weller worked before joining Yellow Springs this year.

Distributing the tax burden across a wider net of residents and properties allows the school to be more equitable and still maintain a solvent system, School Board President Sean Creighton said this week.

“Schools don’t think in terms of growth, but are here to provide the best education for those who come to the schools,” Creighton said. “Our focus is to sustain the public schools and provide the best education to all students, regardless of the money they have as a family.”

Locals provide stability

While the schools also get some funding from the state, local revenues are ultimately more stable than government funds, which also vary between in-district and out-of-district students, according to Superintendent Mario Basora. For out-of-district students who open enroll in Yellow Springs schools, the local district receives a standard $5,700 per-pupil stipend from the state. This year alone, 124 open enrollment students will bring in a critical $850,000 to the district.

For local students, however, because the Yellow Springs district has a flat population, the state “guarantees” that the district will receive the same funding as the previous year, which for 2010 means $1,700 per student. Yellow Springs schools currently spend about $11,300 per student, and looking at these numbers alone, open enrollment students appear to generate more money for the district than local ones.

But both Basora and Creighton said that they would like to see the district’s local student numbers grow. For one thing, Basora said, the school needs to increase its overall population, particularly for the high school, where students need options to explore and develop both their academic and extra-curricular interests. Research data he has gathered recommends that the ideal high school would have about 600 to 800 students, which compared to the current high school population of 225, would be quite a stretch. But growing to even half that, to about 300 students in the high school would help provide students to fill a wider variety of classes and participate in music groups, sports teams, and student organizations, he said.

There are other reasons local students make up a critical component of the Yellow Springs school district. The district needs local students to get support for local tax levies. The families of local students are more invested in what happens in the schools, which contributes to the long-term viability of the school-community culture, Basora said. And strong schools attract families from outside the community, which keeps property values strong and can be considered an asset for many residents. A school also needs kids from the local district in order to maintain the local culture within the schools, according to Sikes, who ran an organizational development consulting business for public schools.

In the long-run, Basora said, local tax revenue for local students is much more stable than state funds, which this year have threatened to dry up considerably. That puts Yellow Springs, which receives about 25 percent from the state (including open enrollment), on more stable footing than other districts, some of which get over 50 percent of their funding from the state.

“We definitely want more students…and if we want to sustain ourselves, we need kids who live in our community,” he said. “We’ll always get more revenue from kids who live in the district.”

Local should be diverse

Ultimately, the system is designed to serve a local population, and one that allows the people who work in the village, teachers, artists, small business owners, to live here and send their children to school here, School Board member Richard Lapedes said last week. That means more affordable housing than we currently have in the village, he said. That also means keeping tax rates low, which for Weller, indicates that from a purely financial perspective, the best way to increase revenue for the schools without raising tax rates is to increase the number of homes and businesses in the village.

“The only way to see funding increases for our district is to: build new homes, build new businesses/industry, have growth in property values and have a large number of residents who have good income amounts that keep our income tax revenue steady/growing,” Weller wrote in an e-mail this week.

While strong schools can attract people from out of town who will be willing to pay a premium to live in the village, Basora said, to be a sustainable and culturally diverse district, a wide variety of young families need to be able to live here and send their kids to school here. Lapedes agreed.

“Revenues for both the Village and the schools will decline somewhat if we support low- to moderate-income housing because of the lower property and income taxes,” he said. “But the village needs to understand that there is this trade-off, and it’s worth it.”


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One Response to “Increased school district enrollment increases opportunities”

  1. Gary Lawson says:

    This issue intersects with the articles on affordable housing and the housing needs study. Young families in Yellow Springs are often forced to move elsewhere just to get an apartment. Locally, the apartments that are available are not well suited for young families. Many are too small, lack any play area, and/or are poorly maintained. This is a first step housing for many young families. Also, it would be a good investment for the village to develop a program (possibly in cooperation with local realtors) to encourage families to locate here.

    Also, as enrollment has declined, some extra-curricular offerings have been compromised (i.e. girls tennis and softball, boys baseball and football). As a result, some families tend to chose school systems where these opportunities are available. While remaining an independent school system academically, perhaps we should look into pooling with a neighboring school system for extra-curricular opportunities.

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