Upper Arlington News

School levy campaign

Volunteers out in force as election draws near


Pro-levy and anti-levy campaign representatives were out in force this past weekend, knocking on doors and talking to Upper Arlington school district residents about Issue 51, the 5.8-mill operating levy request on the Nov. 6 ballot.

David Wright, from Citizens for Upper Arlington Schools, the group campaigning for the levy, said his volunteers have been covering 55 "walk and talk" routes and expect to cover 4,989 Upper Arlington homes by the end of this week.

"The community has been very positive," he said.

Joyce Blake, for the anti-levy group Educate UA, said volunteers for its "walk and drop" literature campaigns have also been out in full force, not usually knocking on doors, but dropping off a levy brochure.

"Our goal was to cover all the homes in Upper Arlington," she said. "We've probably covered about half of those so far."

Both groups are maintaining websites about the levy. Educate UA's website is at educateua.org and the school campaign website is at ualevy.org. Citizens for UA Schools also has a Facebook page.

Blake is a former Upper Arlington teacher.

"Most people want to talk about the district's price per student and how that can be pulled down," she said. "Next they start looking at how much they will have to pay extra in taxes."

If approved by voters, the 5.8-mill levy would cost homeowners an additional $178 in annual taxes per each $100,000 in property value. It would generate about $9.2 million annually for the school district, said district Treasurer Andy Geistfeld.

Blake said many homes in Upper Arlington are worth more than $100,000 and some people don't realize how much they will be paying in taxes if the levy passes until they look at a table of taxes and values, which the group has posted on its website.

Upper Arlington schools' cost per student, $15,172, is compared to other districts' costs per student, such as at Olentangy schools, listed at $9,465 per student on the Educate UA website. Both districts earned "excellent with distinction" ratings on last year's state report card.

District leaders say comparing Upper Arlington schools with Olentangy schools is "apples to oranges."

Superintendent Jeff Weaver said people move to Upper Arlington for the schools and that district leaders have practiced fiscal responsibility to stretch resources.

"We are on the ballot to continue the quality of our schools," he said. "When we passed a combination levy in 2007, which passed by 60 percent, we were able to use 4.2 mills of that levy for operating expenses.

"We thought we would have to ask taxpayers for another levy in 2010, but decided not to after the downturn in the economy," he said. "We managed to stretch our finances that year and again in 2011 when we negotiated with our teachers on wages and benefits. We were able to extend that levy to five years."

Residents approved a 6.2-mill operating levy in 2007, with 4.2 mills for operating expenses and the rest for capital improvement needs.

Earlier levies approved were a 7.5-mill operating levy in 2004; 6.2 mills in 2001 and 6.2 mills in 1998.

Blake said district taxpayers are getting hit by too many increases.

"I think taxpayers are becoming more and more aware that things are coming to a bubbling point," she said. "It might be different if staff and administrators were not being well compensated in Upper Arlington, but they are well compensated."