Upper Arlington News

Pro-levy campaign

District has taken steps to curtail spending

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Citizens for Upper Arlington Schools, the group campaigning for the school district's 5.8-mill levy request on the Nov. 6 ballot, soon will distribute signs that say "Vote Yes Issue 51 UA Schools."

If approved by voters, the levy would cost homeowners an additional $178 in annual taxes per $100,000 in property value and generate about $9.2 million per year for the school district, said district Treasurer Andy Geistfeld.

Campaign coordinator David Wright said volunteers will distribute about 800 yard signs and will canvass neighborhoods on a "walk and talk" campaign to drop off campaign literature.

"We have also been attending school events and talking to various groups, such as at the farmers market, Rotary Club meetings and PTO meetings to talk about the levy," he said.

The campaign website, which includes information about district finances and the levy request, is ualevy.org. The group also maintains a Facebook page called "Citizens for UA Schools."

Wright said Nov. 6 is an opportunity for school district voters to say "yes" to continue a record of academic excellence in the school district.

The group's campaign literature includes this statement: "If we wait, the school district must go back to the voters in 2013 with an operating levy that will be larger just to balance the budget."

Wright said people who point out that Olentangy schools achieve the same result on the state report card -- "excellent with distinction" -- as Upper Arlington schools while spending less per student have to consider the differences between the two districts.

"Olentangy is a growing district where they have a lot of new teacher hires," he said. "Upper Arlington is a more mature district, with teachers who have been in the school system for a number of years.

"Since Upper Arlington is now going through a period where a number of teachers are retiring, we will begin to see a difference in our financial forecast and cost per student, when there is a larger number of new teacher hires at lower salaries."

He said as Olentangy looks forward, its pay scale will probably rise.

Wright said it is "critical" for people to understand school districts have to go to taxpayers for more operating money because of the way the state funds school districts.

"There seems to be a lot of focus on teacher salaries and benefits, but those are not necessarily controllable right now, since some factors are determined by the state and by negotiations that are not on the same time table as the levy request," he said.

The pro-levy campaign literature points out Upper Arlington's 2012 school taxes on each $100,000 of appraised property value, at $1,462, are not as high as those in Bexley, at $1,941 (which includes Bexley's 0.75-percent income tax converted to 11.54 mills); or Hilliard, at $1,755; New Albany at $1,710; Westerville at $1,595; or Worthington at $1,525.

Wright said his group believes school leaders have been good financial stewards by stretching a typical three-year levy cycle to five years. This was accomplished, he said, by negotiating base salary freezes for teachers in 2012 and 2013; freezing administrative salaries for 2012; increasing employees' share of medical premiums to 15 percent by 2014 and freezing budgets for buildings and most departments.

He said the school district also has joined gas and electric consortiums to keep utility costs lower; reduced workers' compensation costs by becoming self-insured; and began using in-house staff rather than contracting for technology and maintenance.

Wright said the levy is needed to cover an estimated $3.6 million in loss in state funding, which includes $2.6 million in actual loss to date and a projected $1 million loss in the near future. He said the district also expects an increase in new student enrollment.

"This is the lowest levy request by the district since 1984," he said.

School district residents approved a 7.5-mill operating levy in 2004 and a 6.2-mill combined operating and permanent-improvement levy in 2007, with 4.2 mills of that amount approved for operating funds.

Operating levies approved before 2004 were for 6.2 mills in 2001 and 6.2 mills in 1998.

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