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Published: Sunday, 8/3/2014 - Updated: 2 months ago

Springfield school officials admit levy request is unwelcome

Opposition says district didn’t say levy permanent

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Springfield Local Schools will take its first crack Tuesday at passing a new money levy that district officials say is a necessary evil.

Springfield school district residents will vote on a 7.9-mill operating levy. It’s a permanent levy, would raise about $5.4 million a year, and would cost a homeowner of a $100,000 house $276.50 a year.

At public meetings large and small, critics of the levy request have told school leaders that they simply can’t afford another levy. Interim Superintendent Mike O’Shea said he respects their argument.

“Nobody wants additional taxes. I understand that,” Mr. O’Shea said.

The problem, he said, is that Springfield had to add significant expenses that it can’t afford. Health-care costs rose sharply and unexpectedly this year. The district added a multidisability unit and an autism unit because of more special-needs students. And technology upgrades needed to comply with new computer-based standardized assessments — called PARCC, for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers — were more expensive than thought.

The district’s issues are not unique, Mr. O’Shea said. Toledo Public Schools, Washington Local, and Oregon have all either placed levies on the ballot this year or plan to do so.

“This is not a Springfield issue. It’s a funding issue,” he said.

Mr. O’Shea cited four specific cuts worth $400,000 the district would make if the levy fails: Eliminating high school bus service; closing elementary schools an hour after the school day ends; laying off a maintenance staff member, and consolidating custodial staff.

Those cuts would be on top of about $1.1 million in cuts the district made earlier this year. A district fact sheet says that Springfield laid off 3.5 teaching positions and cut fifth grade band and middle school teachers, reduced library clerks, eliminated positions including a secretarial position, an administrator, and elementary dean of students, mental health counselor, and a school resource officer.

Two employee unions have agreed to keep wage rates the same for the next year.

Organized opposition has formed: A group called “School Levies All Bad” placed lawn signs in Springfield, handed out flyers, and attended community events.

Rex Fulk, the group’s treasurer, said he feels the district has been less than forthcoming about its finances and said supporters aren’t mentioning that the new tax would be permanent.

“My biggest opposition to the levy is it’s a permanent levy,” he said.

He also criticized the district for not conducting a performance audit before asking voters for more funds. It’s a similar rallying cry used by a group of Toledoans who opposed Toledo Public Schools’ last new money levy request.

Mr. Fulk said he realizes that state support of schools had fluctuated, and, despite the group’s name, he’s not against all levies. But he said a new tax would be a hardship for older residents on a fixed income and a deterrent for people to move into the district.

The levy comes as the Springfield district has experienced turmoil at its top ranks, including the departure of longtime superintendent Kathryn Hott in May.

Mr. O’Shea has focused on mending fences with community members and district staff.

And while the proposed cuts hit areas that Mr. O’Shea argues are important, he acknowledges that they aren’t directly related to academic achievement. It’ll be a community decision on whether, say, transportation is worth paying for, and not his.

“I don’t think that’s a decision that school administration should make,” he said. “I think that’s something the community should decide.”

If Tuesday’s levy fails, it will appear on the ballot again in November, part of a backup plan the Springfield Board of Education decided last month to create. The board also voted to place 1.35-mill renewal levy on the November ballot. That five-year levy is for permanent improvements — essentially capital funds.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.



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