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Schools ask for levy renewal

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The roof of the annex at Mills Lawn School is in need of replacement, students in all grade levels need new texbook resources, and the district needs a new school bus (so that it can stop borrowing ones from other neighboring districts.) Though the district received new money from an emergency levy last year, none of those funds can be used for the aforementioned needs. That’s why the schools are asking voters this November to approve a renewal of the permanent improvement levy that will not raise taxes but will maintain the current level of funding for the district’s physical plant and tangible needs.

Permanent improvement levies can only be spent on items lasting a minimum of five years. In Yellow Springs permanent improvement funds have been spent on buildings, roof and grounds repairs, school buses and maintenance trucks, books, technology and cafeteria tables. The funds may not be used for salaries or personnel costs.

The current PI levy, Issue 20 on the Nov. 5 ballot, is a five-year 1.085-mill levy that generates about $145,000 annually for the schools. The levy expires at the end of the year, and the district is asking for a renewal at the same millage and dollar amount. For every $100,000 of appraised property valuation local residents own, the levy currently costs and would continue to cost local taxpayers about $35, according to the Greene County Auditor’s property records.

A homeowner with a property appraised at $205,000, for instance, currently pays a total of $4,300 in property taxes, of which about $2,457 goes to the schools. Of the total committed to the school, the property owner would continue to pay about $68 for the school’s PI levy.

By contrast, last year villagers approved new money for the schools in the form of a 7.35-mill emergency levy that brought an annual $915,000 to the schools. But an emergency levy goes to the district general fund, which is used to pay for operational needs, including employee salaries — not buildings or buses. That levy raised the taxes for the owner of a property appraised at $205,000 by about $462 a year.

In addition to the immediate need for a roof over the Mills Lawn annex, the district 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.
In May the district chose to renew the PI levy at the current millage, instead of replacing it at a higher rate.

Schools running on full
Contrary to the past half decade, over the next five years, the school district projects to be spending a little less than or just about as much as it brings in. According to the projections District Treasurer Dawn Weller made in the five-year forecast the board approved at its meeting on Oct. 10, the district’s cash reseserves are expected to build up to about $3.3 million by 2017.

“This is great news,” Board President Benji Maruyama said last week. “We’ve weathered a financial storm and created a stable budget.”

Due to a deep decline in state funding during a time of economic recession, Yellow Springs schools has spent the past five years in deficit spending. After major budget cutbacks and passing an emergency levy in 2012, the district is now able to show that for the foreseeable future, the schools are expected to be on even financial footing.

On the revenue side, the forecast assumes a 1 percent annual property tax increase, 3.5 percent annual income tax increase, and a 1 percent annual increase in open enrollment income based on the current 129 students from other districts currently enrolled in Yellow Springs schools. The forecast also unofficially assumes the passage of the permanent improvement levy the district is putting on the November ballot.

Regarding projected expenditures over the next five years, the forecast assumes the negotiated 3.5 percent increase in salaries for the next three years, then dropping back to 2 percent increases for the next two years. (The district currently maintains a salaries/benefits cost to revenue ratio of 76 percent and building to 82 percent over five years. The standard aim is a ratio of below 85 percent.) The forecast builds in 6.5 percent health insurance increase each year for two years, then climbing to 8 percent annual increases over the following three years, with flexibility for the unknown effects of the federal healthcare reform law.

Maruyama pointed out that the current budget forecast does not commit funds to support the district’s current 2020 strategic plan, which the board acknowledged should be discussed in the near term. Costs for services such as professional development, materials, technology and transportation that arise in pursuit of the 2020 plan are currently being covered by the private YSCAPE fund. Board members agreed to discuss the possible commitment of general fund monies toward the fulfillment of its strategic plan.

In other school board business:
• Mills Lawn Principal Matt Housh and YSHS Principal Tim Krier reported that the district is spending a significant amount of time on the new state-required Ohio Teacher Evaluation System. The new system, which involves significantly more narrative and depends heavily on student achievement, is also adding stress to teachers and taking three to four times longer for principals to complete staff evaluations, the principals reported to the board. OTES is “rigorous” and “high-stakes,” said Housh, who added that he hoped that the new system wouldn’t take too much time away from the district’s internal goal of reframing the educational process through project-based learning. Superintendent Mario Basora echoed those concerns.

“OTES has been extremely frustrating for us because it’s not what we want to focus on,” he said. “It’s the biggest morale buster in school so far this year. It’s taking us off our track.”

• The board approved the district’s participation in a grant proposal with seven other districts to use area teachers to create online text resources in lieu of buying standardized textbooks. The estimated amount of $68,000 for Yellow Springs would allow 14 local teachers to spend part of the summer 2014 creating texts for math, science, language arts and history for grades 6–12. The textbooks would be created and used by all the participating districts, including Bellbrook, Fairborn, Greene County Career Center, Greenview and Greene County Educational Service Center, and could present a small savings to the district’s budget (a requirement of the grant). Of the total for Yellow Springs, $30,000 would be used to pay teachers, and $30,000 would be used to purchase mobile digital tools for students (such as 100 Chromebooks for online applications).

Though the idea came from Yellow Springs, Fairborn would be the lead grant writer and administrator, with a collective proposal to use “Straight A Funds” coming from the Ohio Lottery.

Board members favored the grant, noting that local schools are not required to commit local dollars to participate and that no time commitment by local personnel is required to administer the grant.

• The board approved this year’s Class of 2014 senior trip to Disney World from Feb. 27–March 3. The five-day trip, led by parent advisors Naomi Ewald-Orme and Leslie Welsh, includes transportation and hotel at a cost of about $400 per student. The class’s fundraising activities have reduced the cost per student to about $200, and any student who needs to can work at class-sponsored events to further defray costs. Organizers expect 30–40 students to attend.

• The board approved the hiring of Yellow Springs seventh and eighth grade math and science teachers Jack Hatert and Jeff Collins as the coach and assistant coach of the YSHS girls basketball team. Head coach Hatert will be compensated at $4,065. The board also approved Sterling Wiggins as a volunteer boys basketball coach, and the following as substitute teachers compensated at $80 a day: Isabelle Dierauer, George Fenimore, Ben Lightner and Jason Randolph. As substitute aides and secretaries, the board approved Stacey Knemeyer, Jessica Pollock, Amy Achor and Paula Smith.


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