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TWINSBURG -- With the May 2 election a couple weeks away, Twinsburg City School District officials are hoping residents will approve Issue 15, a new 6.9-mill continuing property tax levy on the spring ballot.
Superintendent Kathryn Powers said the levy is needed to make up for the loss in state revenue due to the phase-out of the Tangible Personal Property and Commercial Activities taxes. The levy, if passed, would generate $5.65 million for the district and cost the owner of a $100,000 home $241.50 per year.
"The Twinsburg City School District has for many years enjoyed a strong reputation among residents, taxpayers and educators throughout northeast Ohio, not only for its exceptional academic programming and extra-curricular programs, but in addition for its strong financial management," Powers said. "I continue to advocate extensively at the state level for changes to the manner in which public school districts are funded in Ohio. Most recently, I provided testimony before the house finance subcommittee regarding the negative impact the governor's proposed biennial budget will have upon the Twinsburg City School District."
Estimated at about $9.8 million by 2020, the loss in revenue from the taxes would (by 2020) represent about 23 percent of the district's current $42.68 million budget, said school district Treasurer Martin Aho. Right now the tax revenue makes up about $4.6 million of the district's budget.
According to the district's 5-year financial forecast, without new money, the district will be deficit-spending by 2020 by about $4 million.
"It is important to note, district revenue has been flat since 2007, even with the passage of the levy in November 2012," Powers said. "Even with all of the operational changes, the district will not be financially sound due to the elimination of the business tax."
If a school district runs a deficit, Aho said, state officials can decide to manage that district's finances until such district is in the black again.
In 2012, the district made about $3.2 million in cuts, including $2.4 million through the reduction of 57 employees. The district also cut programming and classes at that time, and instituted pay-to-play fees.
"As the plan was developed, a series of community meetings were held to help residents, families, taxpayers, and key business leaders understand the financial challenges the school district was facing," Powers said. "The guidelines established in the operational change plan remain in effect today."
As do the public meetings, with the final of three financial forums before the May 2 election set for April 20 at 6 p.m. at Twinsburg High School.
Board President Mark Curtis said that the district has been committed to maintaining a conservative budget, at about $45 million.
"Contrary to what some may think, the Board and administration have remained prudent in maintaining a lean staffing model since then and have been very deliberate in living within our means while still managing to maintain the delivery of high quality education and programs to all of our students," Curtis said. "Failure to pass this levy will make it increasingly difficult to sustain the high level of services that our staff and students currently enjoy.
" I would remind our residents that Twinsburg spends less per pupil than the state average as well as our surrounding school districts. In spite of spending less per pupil, we had a school nationally recognized blue ribbon school, and our high school ranks in the top 5 percent throughout the nation. This does not happen by accident."
The $5.65 million generated by the levy would be used for wages and salaries, utilities, bus transportation, insurance, instructional materials, supplies and purchased services, Powers said.
Powers says that while the Twinsburg Board of Education has not yet identified reductions in staffing, services and programming which "will occur" with a levy failure, "it is essential for all to understand the devastating impact this would have on the Twinsburg City School District and its students, as well as the negative impact it will have upon the value of homes in our school community."
"By law, school districts in Ohio are not permitted to operate in the red, meaning either a significant reduction in expenditures must occur or an increase in revenue must be gained through the passage of a levy," she said. "The passage of this levy is critically important to maintaining the high quality academic programming and extra-curricular opportunities we offer our students."
Curtis said districts in Ohio face other financial challenges as well.
"The current way in which we are funded has been ruled unconstitutional multiple times by the state supreme court, yet the general assembly has failed to adequately address this issue," Curtis said. "Charter schools continue to drain desperately needed foundation dollars from our district. Rather than complain, I along with our superintendent have been very active at the state level in trying to impact changes in state funding."
Powers said the district conducted more than 13 community focus groups this past fall, inviting residents, parents, business leaders, elected officials and school staff to discuss "the impending financial challenges and to understand perceptions of the schools."
This was followed up with a telephone survey in December.
Renewal levies on the horizon
Aho also said the district also has three renewal levies --- levies bound by an expiration date --- that will hit ballots between 2017 and 2020, levies that are just as crucial to staying out of fiscal emergency by 2020.
The district's revenue, about $42.9 million in 2007 and in 2016, has changed little in 10 years, Aho said.
"People keep saying we have to live within our means," Aho said. "Well, we have been, but revenue has been flat for the past 10 years."
With the passage of the new levy and the renewals, school officials say the district would have a positive balance of $12 million in 2020.
School officials have said a general renewal levy, which yields about $4.6 million for the district, could come before voters during the 2017-18 school year. Two emergency levy renewals, which generate $4 million and $5 million for the district, could be presented in the 2018-19 and 2020-21 school years, according to school officials.