CW schools seek revenue

The third time was not a charm for Canal Winchester Local Schools in asking the public for more funds for education, but organizers and administrators are hoping round four turns the tide in generating more revenue.

The district is asking voters to approve an 8.9 mill operating levy on Nov. 4 that would generate $3.7 million in additional funds for the cash strapped district. It would cost an additional $272 per $100,000 of property valuation and collection would not begin until January 2009.

"There is no denying the need for money to get us back to offering the quality type of education our community expects," said Canal Winchester school board member Stan Smith. "We can argue about all kinds of things, but these are the cards we’ve been dealt. In order to get back to where we’ve been in the past, we need additional revenue."

Seven years have passed since voters last approved new operating money, although, on average, 211 students are added to district rolls every year. District revenue, according to levy campaign organizers, remained relatively constant while enrollment increased by 24 percent over the last five years.

Despite a mandate by the Ohio Supreme Court to fix public school funding, districts across the state are finding themselves becoming more reliant on local funding as state funding continues to erode.
The state’s new Homestead Exemption Act provided an opportunity for senior and disabled Ohioans to shield up to $25,000 of the market value of their homestead from property valuation and, despite public perception, the Ohio lottery has not infused school districts with extra cash.

"The issue that passed allowing lottery money to go to the schools did not increase money coming to the schools," reported Canal Winchester’s Parents for Progress. "The ballot issue that was passed simply allowed lottery money to replace State of Ohio General Fund money which was previously coming to the districts. No school district in Ohio receives one penny more because of the lottery. The funding formula remains the same, even if the lottery goes away tomorrow. The recent ads on TV, which suggest people are ‘funding schools’ better when they play the lottery provide misleading information that our legislators allow to go unchallenged."

A 4.9 mill operating levy was turned down by voters in 2006, followed by the defeat of a 7.9 mill levy in November 2007 and an 8.9 mill levy in March of this year. Sweeping cuts-such as eliminating high school busing, doubling pay-to-participate fees to $140, slashing supply and equipment accounts by 20 percent, cutting field trips, eliminating professional development training for teachers except for opportunities funded by grants, and reducing projected certified and classified positions-were instituted in an effort to reduce costs and balance the budget.

The reductions represented approximately $1.8 million in additional cuts above the $1.7 million in budget adjustments made since August 2007. The list also included cutbacks in gifted services, extended service days, and textbook purchases and the Canal Winchester Joint Recreational District is now billed for the use of district fields and facilities.

If the levy is approved by voters, the school board is considering a list of programs and services that could be reinstated during the present school year including: high school busing with central bus stops followed by a restoration of full high school busing for the following school year, text book purchases, select field trips, middle school alternative education placement, an increase in building supply accounts, and a reduction in pay-to-play fees.

For the 2009-10 school year, additional reinstatements would add more instructors to decrease growing student-teacher ratios, add courses at the high and middle school levels, and compensate for maintenance and custodial staff reductions.

The gap between passage and failure continues to narrow with each ballot attempt. Following the March election, unofficial Franklin County results showed the levy passing with 2,089 for and 1,963 against.
However, it was a much different picture in Fairfield County with unofficial results tallying 612 for and 884 against, bringing the overall count to 2,847 against and 2,701 for the March operating levy.

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