For two hours April 19, a six-member panel and an audience of 170 met in a Croton church to discuss a 1-percent school district income tax levy on the May 3 ballot.

For two hours April 19, a six-member panel and an audience of 170 met in a Croton church to discuss a 1-percent school district income tax levy on the May 3 ballot.

The levy failed twice in 2010, causing an existing 1-percent income tax to expire Dec. 31. That means the school district will lose $1.7 million of its approximately $14 million annual operating budget this year.

Except for a few emotional moments and a few rhetorical shots, the presentation was about evenly balanced among pro- and anti-levy positions. Of the six panel members, only Bill Jones, a founder of the anti-tax group WALLET, opposed the levy, while parent Doug VanFossen, teacher Gretel Humes, superintendent John Shepard, treasurer Jim Hudson, and board member Troy Willeke all supported the income tax levy.

Vocal activity from the audience was heavily pro-levy, but questions from the floor were largely anti-levy or neutral, at least during the first half of the evening. Toward the end of two-hour session, many questions were submitted challenging Jones' and his family's educational choices.

Event organizer Jayma Bammerlin, a parent volunteer who has led the levy campaign, said she was pleased with the balance and facts presented.

"There were a lot of great questions answered by the panel, and it was wonderful that Mr. Jones came out and was able to answer some of the questions, but also that a lot of financial facts were presented," Bammerlin said. "I learned something and I think the community learned something - that the school is doing the best they can with the funding they get.

"They can only do so much," she said. "Losing the funding we have, we are not going to be able to keep what we have had the last few years. It will be traumatic next year if the levy does not pass."

As the sole public representative of the anti-tax position, Jones said he felt the pressure of the pro-tax audience.

"I knew there would be some emotions and pointed questions, but I decided to just keep it straight and to the point and not get too pointless on issues," Jones said.

Jones said he did not take issue generally with administrators and teachers at Northridge, but said taxpayers are bruised and cannot simply keep paying more taxes every financial cycle.

"I just feel like somebody has to tell the other side of the story from the taxpayers' perspective," Jones said. "On this panel I might be outnumbered, but in the last couple of elections, I represented a couple thousand voters who voted against the levy."

VanFossen and Humes said they agreed, but said local levies should be passed anyway and any challenge should be to the state.

"Mr. Jones and I are in agreement about the fact that school funding needs fixed," Humes said. "But we can't do that. So we need to pass a levy to give the kids the same advantage we had when we were kids."

VanFossen said understanding the details of school finance requires a large effort, and the forum was a help for taxpayers.

"Getting involved and understanding numbers, this is a great forum to do that," VanFossen said. "As I sit here and listen to the questions coming from the audience, and I hear what Mr. Jones has to say, I'm not sure we are very different.

"We all probably agree the funding system in the state of Ohio is not right. We would probably agree on a lot of things and walk arm and arm to the Statehouse," VanFossen said. "I guess where I am is, if it is broke and it needs fixed, we need to do that at the state level. What I'm saying is, don't take it out on my kid. The board and administration can do only so much."

Jones repeated an offer he had made to pay $5,000 toward the cost of a development director for the school, whose job would be to raise funds for the district. Jones said he had funded a similar position at the private school his children attend. The offer was conditional on administrators bearing more of their retirement costs.

Superintendent John Shepard rejected the proposal, saying the district already had boosters and parent teacher organizations. After the forum, Jones increased his offer to $15,000 toward the position, and said that Bammerlin and board members had expressed interest in the idea.

Hudson said that the teachers and administrators are paid at the low end of the range of comparable school districts, and that if transportation and special education are excluded, along with building costs, the per-student spending of the district is comparable to lower-cost private schools.