District promises 'no new taxes' from Aug. 7 levy
Officials in the Groveport Madison Local School District are hoping the "no new taxes" tag on a $7.7-million levy request will be enough to convince voters to approve the measure in a special election Aug. 7.
"We saw at our February meeting what our district would like if the financial floor fell in," school board member Nathan Slonaker said. "With this option, our voters can - even during this tough economy - vote to permanently reinforce that floor without raising taxes."
The current property tax, which expires Dec. 31, is collected at 9.31 mills and costs $287 a year per $100,000 of property value. It has to be renewed every three years.
If the tax issue is approved on Aug. 7, it would be made permanent.
So far, the district has cut $3.8 million from its budget for the 2012-13 school year. Life-skills classes have been eliminated at the high school. In addition, all high school French classes, plus some higher-level Chinese and Spanish courses, will be taught online and fees to participate in extracurricular activities have increased to $150 per high-school sport, $100 for band and $25 per club.
Approval of the ballot request could restore some of that $3.8 million worth of cuts and avoid $4.2 million in reductions slated for 2013-14, including 110 jobs.
But a loss at the August polls would mean higher athletics fees for winter and spring programs and none of the teaching jobs up for elimination in 2012-13 could be reinstated, Deputy Superintendent Bruce Hoover said.
"We're at a point where this is serious for our district," said Hoover, who will become superintendent on Aug. 1 after H. Scott McKenzie retires.
"We are hopeful the Aug. 7 substitute levy will be approved by voters," McKenzie said. "Approval of the August issue means residents' taxes will not increase and we can prevent the loss of $8 million in educational programs, student services, staff, and classroom materials."
The substitute levy - as it will be called on the ballot - would allow the district to receive additional income from new homes and businesses because they would be taxed at the same rate as current taxpayers.
The expiring levy was approved as an emergency measure in 2009 and was supposed to bring in $3.2 million, but cuts in state support for schools combined with an increased number of property tax delinquencies to offset the additional revenue.
Since 2009, the district has trimmed $5 million in expenses to balance its budget at $63 million last school year. Teachers and administrators agreed to pay freezes, including step increases for experience and education, and agreed to contribute more for health care.
Administrators kept labor costs down by cutting positions as needed. Hoover said the district is using fewer physical-therapy and occupational-therapy services because the number of students with special needs has dropped over the past three years.
Retiring teachers, whose pay is at the top of the salary schedule, have been replaced with younger teachers who are not paid as much.
"We're at a pivotal point right now," Hoover said. "We've tried to reduce as much as we could without impacting programs."
Voter approval of the August levy would keep the district budget in the black only through the 2012-13 school year, according to Hoover.
And the school board is already taking steps to return to the ballot in November if voters reject the measure next month.
In order to meet the Aug. 8 deadline for filing requests for the November ballot with the Franklin County Board of Elections, the school board approved a resolution of necessity on July 12 that asked the Franklin County Auditor's Office to set the millage for a fall levy. Another vote to move forward with a November levy was scheduled at the school board's July 26 meeting, after ThisWeek's press time.
"While our hope is that voters approve the issue before them on Aug. 7, the filing deadline for a November ballot issue is Aug. 8 and that does not leave the board with enough time to wait for the results of the August election before taking steps to file for the November ballot," McKenzie said.
If the substitute levy does pass on Aug. 7, district officials have indicated they will ask the Franklin County Board of Elections to remove the levy request from the November ballot.
Charlie Boss of The Columbus Dispatch contributed to this story.