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School Board— Improvement levy discussed

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The Yellow Springs Schools Permanent Improvement levy that supports buildings and other fixed assets will expire at the end of the year, and the district is discussing whether to renew the levy at the same level or replace it at a higher one. Yellow Springs School board members discussed the options at their meeting on Thursday, April 11.

The permanent improvement levy is a five-year 1.2-mill levy that currently generates about $145,000 annually to pay for the construction and repair of buildings and other fixed assets and the purchase of items considered to last more than five years. Over the past five years Yellow Springs schools have used the revenue for roof repairs, bus maintenance, cafeteria improvements, a new track and the purchase of technology equipment for both Mills Lawn and Yellow Springs High School, according to district Treasurer Dawn Weller.

The district has an immediate need to replace the roof over the Mills Lawn annex and will in the next five years need to replace the handicapped bus and repair the roof over the high school gym. The district also plans to increase its technology spending by about $30,000 per year for its two buildings to about $80,000 per year, in order to approach the ideal ratio of providing each student access to one computer, according to District Superintendent Mario Basora.

The district has the option of renewing the levy at the current millage rate, or replacing it at either the current millage rate or a higher one. Replacing it even at the current millage rate would increase revenue by about $7,000, using newly assessed property values.

Yellow Springs schools received a new five-year 7.35-mill emergency levy last year that generates $915,000 per year. The district also receives a second 8.3-mill emergency levy that generates $1.06 million a year, and an additional 51.8 mills that generate about $2.5 million in revenue each year for the general fund. These levies are all for operating expenses.

The board requested that Basora make a recommendation on how to proceed with the permanent improvement levy at the next board meeting on Thursday, May 9, at 7 p.m. in the John Graham conference room at Mills Lawn.

In other school board business:
• The board discussed plans to advertise for two part-time district positions, one for an advancement director and the other an administrative assistant to the director. Both positions will be privately funded for one year, after which they will be paid for through revenue raised by YSCAPE, the Yellow Springs Schools Capital and Endowment Fund.

YSCAPE was created last fall to raise private donations to help fund the district’s 10-year strategic plan, and especially professional development for teachers. The fund started with a $150,000 seed by an anonymous donor. While the district has been receiving funds from YSCAPE since the fall to support professional development events, the board has not followed its own official process of approving receipt of grant funds over $1,000. Board President Benji Maruyama and board member Angela Wright both expressed discomfort with the lack of process.

YSCAPE board of directors includes a school board representative, currently filled by board member Sean Creighton, who provides one avenue for board oversight of the receipt of funds. And according to board member Sylvia Ellison, receipt of YSCAPE funds is different from other grant funding in that the district established its needs through the strategic plan process first, and then YSCAPE was created for the sole purpose of funding those board- and district-directed goals. District Superintendent Mario Basora also pointed out that one of YSCAPE’s key goals was to facilitate a streamlined funding process to support the hugely challenging transition of a small public school district to a new project-based and interdisciplinary curriculum.

To date the district has billed YSCAPE for $9,156 for four teacher visits to model schools around the country, according to treasurer Dawn Weller. The school also received an anonymous donation of $5,000 in the fall to use as start-up funds to begin the school visits. (Teachers have also received some project-based learning training from the Dayton STEM school, supported by grant money from the STEM school.)

The board passed a motion approving the immediate spending of not more than $10,000 for professional development events already planned for May, to be billed to YSCAPE. And the board also tasked a committee of Creighton, Wright, Basora and Weller to recommend a process by which the board would approve future receipt of YSCAPE funds. The committee will present its recommendation at the board’s next meeting, Thursday, May 9, at 7:30 p.m. at Mills Lawn School.

• The board discussed ways to invite the public to run for three of the five seats that will be open to election in November. Board President Benji Maruyama, who has served four years, announced that he will not run for reelection. The two seats currently occupied by Angela Wright and Aïda Merhemic will also be up for election in the fall. Board members invited the public to attend meeings and ask questions about the responsibilities of serving on school board. The filing deadline for the November election is Aug. 8.

• Treasurer Dawn Weller used the excess income from the recent levy to invest $750,000 in 6-month to two-year accounts at return rates between .3 and .55 percent.

• Mary Ann Christopher announced that she will retire at the end of the year after 25 years with the district, teaching high school math and English and serving as the high school and then district librarian.

• The board will hold a work session on April 25 to discuss the new Ohio teacher evaluation policy, which must be adopted before June. The board also plans to go into executive session to discuss negotiations with the teachers and staff unions. Board work sessions are public meetings, but the board requests that they be closed. The board will not vote on any of the matters discussed.

• The board approved a resolution opposing the portions of Ohio Governor Kasich’s budget bill that siphon state funds from public schools to support private education. In particular, the resolution opposes a program that provides private school vouchers to families making less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level and another program that provides private school vouchers for students in schools that fail to meet the state’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee for two consecutive years.

• The district will host its third annual K–12 art show on Thursday, April 25, 6–8 p.m. at the high school.

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