The debate over Springfield Local Schools taxes will come to a head tomorrow when school district voters go to the polls to cast ballots on new and renewal levies.
Advocates and opponents have offered familiar refrains as Springfield Local's 16th tax question in 11 years - all but four of which have failed - reaches its judgment day.
“Our school system's at stake,” said Keiran Menacher, president of the board of education, which has threatened deep staff and program cuts if the levies fail.
“The homeowner cannot continue to bear more and more tax,” countered Jessie Geis, the treasurer for Citizens for Responsible Taxation, a group that organized several years ago to resist school-district levy proposals.
Springfield voters approved a 1.9-mill levy on Nov. 2, 1999. That measure was defeated four times previously. At that time, replacing the aging bus fleet was the district's most pressing need, Superintendent Cynthia Beekley said. Other revenue was to be used to fix a leaky roof and improve computer technology.
Supporters and opponents of the proposed 4.9-mill renewal and 4-mill new tax before voters tomorrow continued to campaign in the district over the weekend, going door-to-door and leaving flyers in mailboxes. Polls will open at 6:30 a.m. tomorrow and close at 7:30 p.m.
The same levy questions failed by fewer than 100 votes during the Nov. 7 election. The special election will cost Lucas County taxpayers an estimated $15,000.
The existing 4.9-mill levy generates $2.92 million a year for the school district and is up for renewal. The 4-mill levy would produce an additional $2.53 million. One mill equals $1 of tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value. For a resident with a home valued at $100,000, the additional cost would be $122 per year.
Citizens for Springfield Schools, a pro-levy group, contends that the district's total tax rate of 24.79 mills is its lowest effective tax rate since 1983 and that the schools need additional funds to cope with rising enrollment. District officials hope as well to increase teacher salaries to compete with other districts and to expand educational programs.
“Obviously, there's never a good time to ask people to open their wallets,” Mrs. Menacher said. “But it's a critical issue and we're in a crisis situation here in Springfield Township and Holland.”
While previous pro-levy literature touted only the benefits, more recent campaign material has warned of deep program cuts if the tax questions fail again.
The district has said that school buildings will no longer be available for evening and weekend activities, field-trip transportation funding would be cut, and one school administrator would be eliminated if the levies are defeated. Likely budget cuts for the 2001-2002 school year would end all sports and student club funding, drastically reduce student transportation, and eliminate at least 18 jobs including 11 teachers. Such cuts would save the district more than $2.3 million a year.
The pro-levy group has won endorsements from Springfield Township Trustees Robert Floyd and Walter Taube, Jr. and from Holland Mayor Mike Yunker.
“No one wants to see the future of the children in our community compromised. Failure to pass the levy will do just that,” they wrote in a signed statement also distributed by Citizens for Springfield Schools.
But Mrs. Geis said the school district's taxes “are getting out of hand.
“I'm not against students, and I'm not against supporting the schools,” she said. “But I do feel there has to be a limit. They seem to know no limit.”
Citizens for Responsible Taxation has distributed flyers quoting average appraisal increases for Springfield Township, Holland, and Toledo property based on the Lucas County revaluation last year.
Scott Smith, chief accountant for Lucas County Auditor Larry Kaczala, said a claim by levy opponents that passage will be compounded by recent revaluations are “a little misleading” because the property revaluations do not translate directly to tax increases.
State law requires taxing agencies to adjust their tax rates after a revaluation so that the revaluation results in no net revenue increase, he said.
Mrs. Menacher disputed as well the anti-levy group's claim that the levies, if passed, would leave Springfield Local with the second-highest school taxes in Lucas County. She said she could not offer an alternative ranking of the district's position.
Mrs. Geis affirmed that Ottawa Hills would be the only county district with higher school taxes if the levies pass. And if the appraisal increase numbers are confusing, that was unintentional, she said.
“I don't think it's any more misleading than some of the stuff the school's putting out,” Mrs. Geis said. She said the school board is putting popular programs on the chopping block to put pressure on parents.