(Posted Dec. 15, 2022)
By Linda Dillman, Staff Writer
Jefferson Local Schools’ levy history is unlike that of many school districts across the state. Over the span of two decades, Jefferson Local voters have passed 11 levies.
When Superintendent William Mullett first arrived in the district, there was an urgent need to renew an existing 9.5-mill emergency levy.
“On Aug. 7, 2001, we did so successfully,” Mullett said at the Dec. 12 school board meeting. “Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that 21 years later we would have passed 10 additional levies, all successfully on their first attempt.”
The most recent tally in the string of ballot successes was the passage of a substitute levy on Nov. 8 of this year.
“In my time in West Jefferson, the community has never failed a school levy request. This is a remarkable and unprecedented record of community support. I am tremendously grateful to our community for this,” Mullett said.
Despite efforts to change the funding formula by legal action and legislation, districts like Jefferson Local continue to rely heavily on local taxpayers to fund school operations.
Mullett said school funding in Ohio has always been fraught with uncertainties and inequities. Multiple times, the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that the school funding system, which relies heavily on property taxes, is unconstitutional.
“However, the law requires the legislature to provide the remedy, and they have never adequately done so,” he said.
While other school districts struggle to pass levies, Mullett attributes Jefferson Local’s success to a combination of factors.
“Your message has to be very narrow and focused,” he said. “I understand the community and our needs and how to explain the ‘why.’ When I came here, we had opposition to levies. I went out and talked with people. You need to build up goodwill and trust,” he said.
Part of that trust involves establishing relationships with people who live in the township and the village, along with community participation in extracurricular activities and events—all backed by a caring and dedicated staff, students striving for success, and a keen sense of fiscal responsibility, he added.
On Nov. 4, 2003, voters narrowly approved a bond issue to build and renovate facilities. The levy’s passage marked the first time in more than 40 years the public approved new money for facilities.
“We have endeavored to keep those facilities in great shape in the nearly 20 years that have gone by,” Mullett said.
On Nov. 4, 2008, voters passed a 0.5 percent income tax levy.
“This was an attempt to provide some balance in our tax structure and alleviate the pressure on property taxes. We renewed the existing emergency levy before asking the community to increase our income tax to 1 percent,” Mullett said.
Three more renewal levies were passed prior to the district’s passage of the substitute levy last month.
“Nobody has a record like this,” Mullett stated, “and you can’t take that for granted. The most important thing is conveying the right message and saying it over and over again.”
Mullett said Jefferson Local’s success on ballot issues provides not only funding for programming but also stability and reliability to properly plan and budget.
“New needs and requirements from the state require districts to continually look ahead to ensure future needs are met,” he said. “In the end, this tremendous community support has given our students the quality education that our community has come to expect and appreciate. Jefferson Local Schools are proud of our history.”