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School board approves May levy

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At its regularly scheduled meeting Thursday, Jan. 11, the Yellow Springs School Board approved a “resolution to proceed” to place a 4.7-mill permanent improvement levy and a 0.25 percent income tax levy on the May 8 ballot. 

The vote follows last month’s “resolution of necessity,” in which the board approved an $18.5 million “addition/renovation” for McKinney Middle/Yellow Springs High School and the proposed combined bond levy and income tax. 

The district’s goal is to raise $381,375 annually for 30 years in direct tax, along with $12,688,963 in principal from the bond levy, which will bear interest at a rate of 4.75 percent per year over a 37-year term. The millage will cost the owner of a $200,000 home an estimated $350 a year, in addition to the increased income tax.

The 4.7-mill request reflects a lower millage than the 4.95-mill amount approved in December, but not a reduction in desired income. After the “vote of necessity” was approved, it was sent to the county auditor’s office to determine the final millage needed based on current property value rates. The auditor set 4.7-mills as the necessary millage to raise the amount wanted. 

The school board’s December vote indicated the board’s approval of the combined income tax/bond levy measure, and the Jan. 11 resolution “officially makes it a ballot issue,” Superintendent Mario Basora said.

“Today’s a big day for the school district,” he said, noting that the local facilities discernment process had lasted more than a year and included five community engagement meetings. 

While the measure carried without dissent or discussion, newly seated board member Steve McQueen abstained, saying he was uncomfortable voting in the second part of a two-part process when he hadn’t been involved in the first. At the same time, he commended board members on their efforts concerning the districts’s aging school buildings. 

“It’s been really good work,” McQueen said.

In other school business:

• The board started the new calendar year with its annual organizational agenda preceding the regular meeting. The proceedings began with the administration of the oath of office to newcomer Steve McQueen and incumbents Steve Conn and Aïda Merhemic, who secured their seats in the November election.

Conn is beginning his second four-year term on the board, while Merhemic is beginning her fourth. Following the swearing-in ceremony, the board voted to return Merhemic to the role of board president, and board member Sean Creighton to that of vice president. The five-member board then agreed to a distribution of board responsibilities and appointments to various school district committees, including the Student Review Board and the Faculty Advisory Committee.

The board also established the official time and place of school board meetings: 7 p.m. the second Thursday of each month in the E. John Graham Conference Room at Mills Lawn School. Board member compensation of $125 per meeting remains the same, with a limit of 24 paid board meetings annually. The Yellow Springs News remains the district’s official newspaper for meeting time and agenda announcements.

• The board unanimously approved  salaries for three teachers  — Debra Mabra, Eli Hurwitz and Kevin Lydy — who this fall attended the ALPHA 3.0 gathering in northeast Ohio as presenters. According to Basora’s written report to the board, the three led a workshop on project-based learning with students and teachers of the Perry, Wycliffe and Fairport Harbor school districts. ALPHA, which stands for Authentic Learning Personalized for High Achievement, is funded by the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation. The foundation also pays for the teachers’ salaries, but because they presented on behalf of Yellow Springs Schools, their salaries must be approved by the local board, according to Basora. Each teacher is to receive $25 an hour for about 12 hours of service.

• Board members unanimously adopted a resolution allowing the district’s administrators to spend discretionary funds on recognition and appreciation of staff, including special lunches and/or gifts, retirement plaques and/or gifts and food for staff-related meetings. The resolution is in response to new state law requiring districts to declare its discretionary fund spending for staff appreciation. “For me, little, small gifts of recognition go a long way,” Basora said. “They send a message to teachers that we value them.”

• The board approved the 2018–19 tax budget that goes to the county auditor each year. The tax budget details the current bond and tax levy incomes and their designated expenditures. Treasurer Dawn Bennett expressed some frustration with the process, calling it “archaic” in her written report. “Our auditor doesn’t like high cash carry-over, in the belief that we’re collecting too much.” She said that such carry-overs are necessary, however, when the district anticipates large one-time expenditures.

• Donna First, head of student services, presented a state special education profile for the district. Local students with disabilities exceeded state standards in all measures. Every local student, 100 percent, took part in state testing in both reading and math (97.5 percent is the marker for each); and 32.2 percent achieved proficiency in reading and 41.5 percent  scored proficiency in math (24.18 percent and 28.57 percent, respectively, is the state standard). All students with disabilities graduated (82.8 percent is the state marker); and none dropped out (21.8 percent is the level set by the state).

• In employment matters, the board approved a one-year limited contract for Lorrie Sparrow-Knapp as a homebound tutor at $25 an hour; David Kowalski as a substitute teacher at $90 a day, $45 a half day; Jerry Upton as a substitute custodian at $11 an hour and a substitute bus driver at $15 an hour.

• The board talked about setting a date to discuss the status of the district’s 2020 plan, and while doing so spoke about the need to start thinking about developing a new 2030 plan. The board agreed to take up the conversation about both  in June.

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