Worthington News

Worthington

Decision day draws near on Issues 53, 54

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The voters of the Worthington school district will decide two school tax issues Nov. 6.

Issue 53 is an incremental, permanent property-tax levy that educators say is needed to continue current programs. If approved, it will be levied at 4.9 mills in 2013, 5.9 mills in 2014 and 6.9 mills in 2015 and in following years.

Issue 54 is a no-new-taxes bond issue that would raise $40 million to pay for new buses, technology improvements and repairs to district property over the next five years.

Issue 53 would cost property owners approximately $150 a year per $100,000 of assessed property value in 2013, $180 in 2014 and $211 in 2015 and beyond.

The average home value in Worthington is $209,000. That means the average homeowner would pay an additional $314 in 2013, an additional $63 a year in 2014 and another $63 in 2015.

The bond issue would not increase taxes, but bonds that are scheduled to be retired would not be. When bonds are retired, property taxes decrease.

The most recent five-year financial forecast, which the district released a week ago, shows the district ending the 2012 fiscal year with approximately $2.6 million more than was projected in May 2012. Board members said the improved financial outlook does not negate the need for the levy.

The most recent forecast shows that without a levy, the district will run out of money in 2016, when the fiscal year will end with a $13 million deficit. In May, that deficit was projected to be $17 million.

Both show the district ending 2015 with a surplus, without the income from a levy. The October forecast showed that surplus at $7.5 million. In May, it was projected at$3.3 million.

Since 2008, overall revenues increased from $112 million to $115.2 million at the end of fiscal year 2012.

Tangible personal property tax revenues to the district decreased from $10.9 million to $3 million over that time period, and other state revenues decreased from $16 million to $14.3 million.

That accounts for the $10 million in state funding that the district has lost in the past four years.

On the plus side for the forecast, real estate taxes yielded $66.8 million in 2008 and increased to $74.6 million in 2012.

Spending has increased from $106.5 million in 2008 to $115.7 million in 2012. Expenses are projected to increase by $4 million to $5 million a year through 2017, with $134.6 million projected to be spent that year.

Educators say they have reduced spending by $3 million since 2009, in part by eliminating 40 staff positions.

Levy proponents also point out that teachers have agreed to salary freezes for two years beginning in August 2011. Last year and this year, the base pay didn't increase. The increase next year will be 0.5 percent.

Administrators have not announced a "cut list" of positions and services that would follow levy failure.

Superintendent Thomas Tucker has said that if the levy isn't approved, $10 million would have to be cut over the next several years to remain fiscally stable.

An additional 40 staff positions would be cut, programs eliminated, and class sizes increased, he said.

Officially, the levy has had no organized opposition, though an organization called Educate Worthington held a meeting and posted on its website information bringing into question the need for the levy.

Members pointed to the projected surplus through 2015 and that school board members have said another levy would be needed in 2015 or 2016.

The organization maintains that current spending practices, particularly teacher salaries and benefits, cannot be sustained at their current rates.

District leaders need to pursue permanent changes to union contracts, and that is not likely to occur because other leaders across the state have shown little interest in such changes, according to the Educate Worthington website.

Until such changes are made, the district has no choice but to pass more levies or cut student programs, extracurricular activities and younger teachers, who are the first to be cut if positions are reduced, according to Educate Worthington.

The polls will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. statewide, though early and absentee voting already has begun.

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