It's back: School-tax repeal makes ballot
For the third consecutive election, Westerville City School District voters face a school levy on the ballot Nov. 6 -- and a heated public debate over its merits heading up to Election Day.
This time, voters will see a proposal to rollback property taxes, reducing an 11.4-mill operating levy passed in 2009 by 6.71 mills.
The rollback seeks to negate the 6.71-mill, five-year operating levy passed by district voters in March that has yet to begin collection. The exact issue narrowly passed in the spring could not be placed back on the ballot because state law does not allow the repeal of temporary taxes.
The rollback issue, submitted by Taxpayers for Westerville Schools via a citizens initiative petition earlier this month, was certified for the November ballot Aug. 20 by the Franklin County Board of Elections.
Taxpayers for Westerville Schools, which submitted 4,726 valid signatures, said the rollback would save taxpayers money -- about $205 per year for each $100,000 in property tax valuation -- while holding district leaders fiscally accountable.
"We've shown, year after year, that none of this (the district's recent budget cuts) had to happen if the Board of Education had done their job and managed the money that they had. They had plenty of revenue to keep the jobs and the programs without the cuts," said Taxpayers for Westerville Schools spokesman Jim Burgess. "Everything can stay the same of be better."
Our Community, Our Schools, the group that campaigns for Westerville school levies and is organizing to fight the repeal effort, said a rollback would be devastating to the school district.
District officials have said that if the repeal is successful, the district would lose that funding beginning in January and would have a $7.4-million deficit at the end of the current school year, in June 2013.
"Passage of this repeal would be devastating to our community," board President Kevin Hoffman said during the last school board meeting Aug. 13. "The seismic reduction in revenue that would come with a repeal is akin to the straw that broke the camel's back. It would drive down our cost per pupil because we cannot spend money we don't have, but I believe that our school district would not be able to protect the quality of our outcomes at that lower rate of expenditure."
Our Community, Our Schools co-chairwoman Jennifer Aultman said with the issue certified for the ballot, volunteers are ready to spring to the district's defense.
"People are motivated, and we're hearing from tons of people -- 'How can I help?' " Aultman said. "Now, we hit the go button, and all of the people who have been asking, we have lots for them to do, and we need everybody."
Likewise, volunteers with Taxpayers for Westerville Schools are ready to mobilize, Burgess said.
"We'll start working through that real soon," he said.
Both campaigns said it's a matter of educating voters on their side of the issue.
Burgess said Taxpayers for Westerville Schools will take the same message to voters that they have in March and November 2011, when the district had levies on the ballot: That the district can spend less while providing the same services.
"It's still educational; it's still a lot of the same information that we had," Burgess said. "The message is still there that we can do this with what we have. We don't have to cut a thing. It takes the will of the people running things to do it."
Of the 5,136 signatures submitted on petitions by Taxpayers for Westerville Schools to put the rollback on the ballot, 92 percent, or 4,726, were ruled valid. Only 3,585 valid signatures were needed for the issue to make the Nov. 6 ballot.
Aultman said Our Community, Our Schools will be working to inform voters of the cuts the district already has made to create a balanced five-year financial forecast.
"(Taxpayers for Westerville Schools has) been asking for more sacrifice, more sacrifice, and a lot of that has been done," Aultman said. "We just have to jump back and let people know that information. We have to let them know the sacrifices that have been made and the restructuring that's been done. ... We have to let them know that the district has a balanced five-year forecast."