Cuts loom if Pickerington levy fails

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 Messenger photo by Rachel Scofield
 Austin Hence (left) and Rodney Banta (right) read a suspense story composed by Jason Whiteis after completing a unit on mystery novels in Jeff Strausbaugh’s fourth grade class at Violet Elementary.  Funding for operating costs, including teachers and computers will be cut before next school year unless voters approve the Pickerington operating levy on March 4.

The Pickerington Local Schools need residents to vote "yes" on Issue 9 otherwise many teachers will lose their jobs.

Issue 9 is a 7.9 mill levy passed in 2003 that will expire at the end of 2008 unless voters renew it. As opposed to the 5 mill replacement levy that voters approved in November; the 7.9 mill levy will not raise property taxes.

"(Taxes) will stay the same and not go up as it relates to school expenses," said board member Lisa Reade. "Other levies (such as) fire and ‘Protect Children and Elderly’ will affect your tax bill but the school taxes will stay the same."

Currently, the owner of a $100,000 home pays $242 per year for the levy, however as more people move into the district, the tax burden for each homeowner lightens. If approved, the levy will not return to the ballot for renewal.

The levy provides the district with $7.15 million, which equates to 8 percent of the district’s operating expenses.

"The funds generated by Issue 9 will expire at the end of this calendar year meaning we will lose $3.6 million the second half of this school year and a full $7.2 million next school year," Reade said.  "Spending will need to be reduced to offset the loss of funds."

At a school board meeting earlier this year, Superintendent Dr. Karen Mantia said that, if voters do not renew the levy, the district "will look carefully at deep cuts" before classes resume in the autumn.

"If the levy does not pass the board will have to look at options to save and these could involve a variety of areas including, but not limited to busing, athletics, teachers, etc.," said board member Gail Oakes.

Staff pay comprises 80 percent of the district’s operating expenses.

"Our service is to deliver a product of education," Reade said. "The delivery is done by qualified teaching professionals; so teaching staff makes up the bulk of our budget. You will find the same among similar schools whether public or private or at universities and colleges."

"The district is right in line with other school districts for teacher pay," Oakes said.

If Issue 9 passes, the district will honor a "Contract with the Community" by promising to remain off the ballot "for as long as possible."

"The schools appear to be on the ballot a lot because our expenses continue to rise such as fuel costs, increased student costs and the state has no provision for our levies to collect any more money than the original levy amount voted on," Oakes said. "So as expenses go up the levy money stays the same."

"Schools in Ohio are funded through the collection of property taxes and by monies from the State of Ohio based on enrollment and other factors," Reade said. "There is no adjustment for inflation so as prices go up yearly, school funds do not unless voted by the public. You can argue that the state portion of our monies do go up yearly but not enough to offset the rate of inflation or cover the number of unfunded public mandates made on the school district on a yearly basis."

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