Worthington school district voters will see an incremental operating levy and a $40 million no-new-taxes bond issue on the November ballot.

Worthington school district voters will see an incremental operating levy and a $40 million no-new-taxes bond issue on the November ballot.

After months of debating the size of the levy -- and whether it should run separately from the bond issue -- the Worthington Board of Education voted unanimously July 23 to ask voters to approve separate issues.

If approved, the operating levy would be collected at 4.9 mills in 2013, 5.9 mills in 2014 and 6.9 mills in 2015.

The bond issue would run as a separate question, allowing voters to approve one and not the other. It would raise $40 million for buses, technology, and repairs and improvements to district facilities.

In recent discussions, the board had considered levies ranging from 5.9 mills to 7.4 mills. Also under discussion was whether to place the operating levy and bond issue as a separate question or as one combined ballot question.

During a July 18 work session, all but board member David Bressman agreed to support the incremental levy and separate bond issue following the recommendation of Superintendent Thomas Tucker and treasurer Jeff McCuen.

During the July 23 meeting, Bressman announced he would vote with the rest of the board, even though he had favored a 6.9-mill levy and separate bond issue.

He said he ran for the board in 2001 after he saw hostility on the board and in the community. The incremental levy would guarantee the continuation of current programs and would be best for the students, he said.

If approved, the levy will increase property taxes by $150 per $100,000 of assessed property value in 2013, by $180 in 2014 and $211 in 2015 and beyond.

Worthington voters approved an incremental levy four years ago, and it seems to be a popular option among local voters, board president Jennifer Best said. It is fair to taxpayers and would allow the district to maintain its programs for the next three years, she said.

The bond issue would allow the district to spend $40 million on capital upkeep and improvements over the next five years.

Voters approved a similar issue in 2006. Taxes did not increase, and the promised projects were completed, board member Marc Schare said.

"We did exactly what we said we we're going to do -- no more, no less," he said.

This time, five or six new buses a year would be purchased annually; technology would be replaced and a technology plan developed; and an extensive list of repairs would be made to facilities.

With the incremental levy, the ending balance would be $19.1 million at the end of 2015, according to McCuen's projections.

With the incremental levy, the bond issue must run separately, according to state law.

Board member Charlie Wilson on July 18 said he fears voters might approve the bond issue and vote down the operating levy.

"I think we are setting ourselves up for going through this again in May," he said.

Having two issues on the ballot will not be a problem, Schare said. "I think we should treat the voters of Worthington as if they're adults who are capable of finding two ballot questions," he said.

During the July 23 meeting, Bob Cunningham, president of the Worthington Alliance of African-American Parents and Educators; resident Sam Shim; and Mark Hill, president of the Worthington Education Association, all offered support for the levy.

Cunningham said his organization would conduct forums to inform residents about the ballot issues.

Shim said a group of committed volunteers already is being formed to campaign for the levy and bond issue. He commended the board for seeking public input and for publicly working out a compromise.

"For all five of our diverse board members to work collaboratively and to be willing to agree on one levy option is truly remarkable," he said.

Like the board, teachers do not want to see a reduction in programs, Hill said.

Last year, the teachers' union agreed to a contract that contains salary and base freezes and an increase in their share of insurance costs, he said.

"We agreed to it in an effort to be part of the solution for our district's fiscal difficulties, which arose from state funding cuts," Hill said.