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Published: Tuesday, 8/7/2012

Smaller, shorter tax

BLADE STAFF

Toledo Public Schools officials deserve credit for scaling back the property tax increase they plan to seek this fall, and for making the ballot issue a renewable rather than permanent levy. Now they should reduce the duration of the new tax from the currently contemplated 10 years and allow Toledoans to have their say sooner on how the district is spending their tax money -- assuming voters approve the millage in November.

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The Toledo Board of Education voted last week to ask city voters for a 4.9-mill tax hike, down from the 6.9 mills that board members approved in May. The increase would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $150 a year, compared with the $211 annual boost for a house of that value that the district initially proposed.

School executives say the district's fiscal picture has brightened in recent months. The district is realizing unexpectedly large savings from pay and benefit concessions its employee unions granted last year. Fewer students are fleeing TPS for charter and private schools, taking state aid with them. The district's transformation plan is cutting costs even as it expands academic offerings.

But without the new tax, district executives warn, the school system's budget could be badly out of balance within two years, making further big budget cuts inevitable. TPS still must cope with declining local property values on which taxes are based, as well as slashes in state aid. The district also must negotiate new labor contracts next year.

The TPS levy will be a hard sell in any event. Amid an economy that remains sluggish, Toledo voters are likely to face seven tax increases or renewals on the November ballot. Toledoans who are not disposed to support the school levy are seizing on the recent controversy over the district's deletion of chronic truants' test scores from data it submits to the state as a reason -- or excuse -- to challenge the proposal.

Most of the other local tax requests this year are smaller than the school district seeks and for shorter periods than the decade that TPS now anticipates before it would return to voters for renewal of the levy. That's a long time for voters and taxpayers to have to wait to express themselves about how they feel the school system is meeting its educational mission and fiscal responsibilities. If the district is as confident as it claims that its transformation efforts are on the right track, shaving a few years off the levy would affirm that sentiment.

TPS submitted its revised tax plan on Monday to the Lucas County Board of Elections. But a board spokesman said the district has until Wednesday to get its levy finally certified for the November ballot.

So TPS still has time, barely, to improve the millage proposal further by enabling voters to decide sooner whether they would choose to renew it.



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