Schools go back to ballots
The South-Western City Schools District will be back on the ballot Nov. 3, but with a reduced millage operating levy.
The board of education held one special meeting Aug. 12 to make a resolution to place an issue on the fall ballot, then they held another special meeting the following night to finalize that measure.
The board unanimously agreed to go back to the voters with a 7.4-mill permanent levy. Treasurer Hugh Garside said this would generate approximately $18 million for the district. It would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $227 each year or $18 per month. Previously the board had asked voters for a four-year 8.3-mill tax levy, which would have cost the owner of a $100,000 home $254 per year.
District leaders said the reduced millage is a compromise with the community, but it would come with additional reductions.
“The reduced millage does cause some deficits in the years out,” said Garside.
The board directed the administration to work with district staff and the community advisory group on ideas to make up for the reduced revenue. They will also examine the results of the voluntary performance audit.
Superintendent Bill Wise said, “It is clear the community wants us to reduce the millage. We cannot cut ourselves out of this deficit. We need the community to come together for the best interest of all.”
If voters reject this levy, the district will not collect new tax dollars in 2010. The district would then need to make about $15 million in cuts to balance the budget.
Wise explained that the governor’s education plan would have given the district an additional $21 million in state funds over the next two years, but as the bill worked its way through the system the funding was cut. Now, Wise said the district expects a decrease in state funding.
Board Vice President Greg McCarty said, “We are in a position where we can’t win.”
The district receives 55 percent of its funding from the state.
Wise explained in the past few years the district has cut $22 million from its budget, including over 300 positions. The district also eliminated athletics, extracurricular activities and high school busing. Harrisburg Elementary and the Kingston School closed. The rest of the buildings will close shortly after the school day.
“Look for immediate reductions if the levy fails,” said Wise.
If voters approve the tax levy in November, the board will implement pay-to-participate for winter activities.
“The board of education philosophically disagrees that pay-to-participate is the answer,” said board President Cathy Johnson. “We believe that a participation fee will ultimately further reduce opportunities and quality experiences for our students, but based on the August election and the feedback from so many community members, this appears to be what the community wants.”
Wise explained the district loses $2.5 million in its general revenue fund for sports and extracurricular activities.
“People think that because sports bring in money, the district can break even,” said Wise.
According to the superintendent, this is not so. He said athletics are not self supporting or self sustaining. Wise noted even with a participation fee, districts lose money on sports and extracurricular activities.
The board directed the administration to review what other districts in the county have done with pay-to-participate.
Board member Randy Reisling said over 40 percent of students in the district are on a reduced lunch program.
“We need to take that into consideration when determining the price of pay-to-participate.”
The tax levy is an emotional issue for many residents. Johnson said during the recent campaigns there has been negativity on both sides.
“We ask that you be respectful and civil,” said Johnson. “We need to show people, we can disagree with one another, but still come together as a community.”
On Aug. 4, voters defeated the 8.3-mill tax levy narrowly 51 percent to 49 percent. If voters approve the November levy, high school busing and pay-to-participate would be instituted immediately.
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