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Published: Wednesday, 10/22/2008

Oregon levy not a new tax, school officials say

BY CLAUDIA BOYD-BARRETT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Officials for Oregon Schools are hoping voters next month will renew a 2-mill permanent improvement levy for the district as they have done ever since it was introduced in 1968.

But with the economy putting pressure on people's wallets, the school district is not taking anything for granted.

"We're absolutely worried," said Eric Heintschel, a school board member. "Any time that there's discussion on taxes and there's a vote, especially in these economic times, we're concerned."

Nevertheless, Mr. Heintschel and superintendent Mike Zalar said they were optimistic voters would look beyond their immediate financial concerns and continue to fund the levy, which pays for maintenance, supplies, and improvements at the district's seven schools.

"We do want the community to know that the money is needed," Mr. Zalar said. "We certainly hope people will understand and see the need to maintain the current level of service in the district."

Because the tax is not new, it will not increase property taxes. The levy would generate $1.25 million annually for five years. As well as funding basic building maintenance and repairs, the levy goes toward buying new computers, band instruments and uniforms, and textbooks.

If the levy continues, the district plans to use some of the money for roof repair and replacement on several school buildings, new windows and blinds, and repairs to the school bus fleet. The district is also considering installing global positioning software on school buses that would allow officials to keep track of students traveling to and from school.

"We think it would be an important safety feature for our students and staff members to be able to [identify] the location of our buses at all times," the superintendent said.

The levy costs the owner of a $100,000 home $49 a year

The district has been forced to cut the budget over the last three years because of shrinking revenue, including a $1.2 million budget cut for this school year.

If the permanent improvement levy fails, the school would not have enough money in its general fund to pay for any major repairs, treasurer Jane Fruth said.

"Resources are already scarce," Mr. Zalar said. "If the levy fails, it's going to create a real problem for the district."

But board members are determined not to let that happen, and have been taking out newspaper ads and putting up signs urging voters to renew the levy, Mr. Heintschel said.

"We want to provide the highest quality education to children in the district," he said.


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