Less than a month after the Westerville Board of Education voted to put a tax issue on the November ballot, groups on both sides are organizing to try to see that levy passed or defeated.

Less than a month after the Westerville Board of Education voted to put a tax issue on the November ballot, groups on both sides are organizing to try to see that levy passed or defeated.

Supporters of the combined 0.5-percent earned-income tax and 4.06-mill property tax have come together under Our Community, Our Schools, the same group that has supported the district's last several levies.

In opposition to the levy, a new group comprising several other community groups has formed under the name Taxpayers for Westerville Schools, which has issued calls for spending cuts to the Westerville Board of Education in recent months.

"We're just kind of getting organized right now. The response from the community so far has been very, very encouraging," said Rick Bannister, who has been named chairman of Our Community, Our Schools. "Obviously, we have parents who have stepped forward, families who no longer have kids in our schools who have stepped forward. We have a good cross section of retirees from across the community and business leaders."

Bannister said the campaign is gearing up to share the district's successes with voters, as well as the fact that the Westerville school district has one of the lowest per-pupil costs of all of the districts in central Ohio.

"We want to share with the community the great story that is Westerville schools," he said. "We want to highlight the achievement that has been produced by our school system, certainly, the latest the district receiving the 'excellent with distinction' award again.

"We also want to do that story and present those facts in combination with how well the district has been managed."

Bannister acknowledged that the campaign committee does face a challenge in explaining the levy to voters. The school district is taking advantage of a new state law that allows districts to seek a property tax and an earned-income tax as a combined ballot issue.

"It's new. It's a new approach. I think the challenge to us is to really have a discussion and make sure our community understands what this is all about and answer those questions," Bannister said. "That's what we're all about, is pumping out information. The more information we put out there, the more residents will feel comfortable with the direction our district wants to go."

Taxpayers for Westerville Schools, partnered with the website LevyFacts.com, is looking to educate voters about what it believes is unreasonable deficit spending by the school district, which it attributes to increases in salaries and benefits, said LevyFacts.com founder Robert Edwards, who also worked against the district's November 2009 levy campaign.

"While no one that I've talked to begrudges anyone making an honest living, the increases in salaries and benefits in every budget that I've analyzed since 2006 far exceeds that of the taxpayers' ability to sustain and far exceeds the rate of inflation over those years," Edwards said.

"The need for levies is always blamed on things like inflation and House Bill 920, but the real reason for levies is to fund the increases in the costs of salaries and benefits."

Doug Krinsky, of Taxpayers for Westerville Schools, said the group wants the district to bypass a tax increase by working with its unions on salary and benefit concessions that will decrease spending.

"We're not looking for job cuts; we're looking for concessions back to the taxpayers because we feel we're overburdened with taxes," Krinsky said. "Everyone can come out a winner. No one loses their jobs."

Like Our Community, Our Schools, Krinsky said Taxpayers for Westerville Schools has had a good response from those looking to campaign against the levy and is working to organize volunteers to jumpstart the campaign.

"There are several hundred folks who have shown interest in volunteering, donating, campaigning to try to defeat the levy," he said. "We are going to actively campaign to defeat the levy. The taxpayers can't afford any more."

Both groups said Westerville residents likely will notice the levy campaigns heating up in the coming weeks.

"We want families to be focused on the beginning of the school year," Bannister said. "We think people will really start to get ready to roll after Labor Day."