IN AN ORDINARY year, Toledo Public Schools would have little trouble gaining renewal of the 6.5-mill tax levy on the March 4 election ballot.
But this isn't an ordinary year. Angry voices in the community, not all of them grounded in reality, are calling for voters to revolt and defeat the school levy, along with renewal of the City of Toledo's 0.75 percent income tax surcharge.
This is a misguided effort. Defeat of the TPS levy would be a disaster, which is why we urge a vote FOR ISSUE 7.
Because the TPS levy is a renewal and not a replacement or additional tax, school tax bills won't go up - repeat: WON'T GO UP - if it is passed. And the $15.8 million it raises annually for operating expenses is desperately needed by a struggling urban district that operates in perpetual financial peril not principally of its own making.
Moreover, TPS has been unfairly associated with the tempest-in-a-teapot controversy that stemmed from claims of racial discrimination in Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's administration. The school levy has become a handy target for a very small gadfly group with narrow interests merely because it is on the ballot at the same time as the income tax renewal.
The fact is that there is no good reason for voters to defeat Issue 7, and there are several solid reasons to vote yes.
Because the issue is a renewal, the ballot says 6.5 mills but it will - by law - be collected at an effective rate of only 3.81 mills. The levy was originally approved by voters in 2000, and renewed in 2003. The measure expires next January.
The owner of a $100,000 home in the TPS district now pays about $117 a year - about 31 cents a day - on this levy. That cost won't go up if it is renewed, even with the higher property reappraisals that many taxpayers have experienced in recent years.
The levy is among a package of tax measures that together keep the public school system afloat. The district expects to have another renewal on the ballot in November, 2009, and renewal of a capital improvements levy comes up in 2010.
While it is true that TPS could return to the ballot this coming November if the renewal is defeated on March 4, that is not a good excuse for unhappy voters to vote it down out of spite.
Win or lose in March, the district's basic money situation won't change by the fall. The renewal is absolutely crucial to financial stability, inasmuch as TPS projects a budget deficit of $105 million five years out.
While TPS officials have not always exercised exceptional fiscal responsibility, the district operates at the mercy of a statewide school funding system that still depends greatly on local property taxes. And there are no signs from the Statehouse that the system will be changed anytime soon, much less this year.
In short, TPS cannot expect a bailout from Columbus.
The group urging defeat of the levy is as vociferous as it is limited in membership. Members of the Urban Coalition have demonstrated time and again that their complaints about TPS are fueled mainly by personal grievances that have festered. Now they are trying to hold hostage the entire district and the welfare of its 30,000 students to these narrow concerns.
Do we believe that TPS is run perfectly, or that it responds effectively to every parent or citizen complaint? No, but that doesn't mean its financial resources should be stripped away in a petulant attempt to send school officials a message.
The argument that the levy should be defeated on March 4, then approved at the Nov. 4 election, presumably after the school board and administration satisfy Urban Coalition demands, is, at the least, poorly thought through.
The district's financial needs are not going to change between now and November and experience indicates that this tiny group's demands are unlikely to be satisfied anytime soon, if ever.
Approval of the levy will allow TPS to continue to work through its pressing financial issues, and we believe the administration is serious about doing so.
The Toledo community will best be served by a vote FOR ISSUE 7, the TPS levy, on the March 4 ballot.
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