The fate of Big Walnut Local Schools’ operating levy will be up in the air indefinitely as Ohio and the country push through the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Postponement of Ohio’s March 17 primary election – one of many efforts enacted to slow the spread of the virus – meant in-person voters didn’t have a chance to consider the 5.45-mill operating levy, designed to replace a levy first passed in 2010.
If approved, the levy would cost homeowners $167 annually per $100,000 of property valuation – the same rate currently collected by the expiring levy, said Superintendent Angie Hamberg.
District treasurer Jeremy Buskirk said the continuing substitute levy would allow the district to gain additional revenue from newly constructed property each year.
That’s important, Hamberg said, because the district’s enrollment has grown 32% in the past decade.
But while Hamberg agreed elections are important she said she and other district leaders understand “tough decisions” are being made and support the state’s leaders.
“The need still exists for our schools, but the more people who can vote – and who can do so safely – the better,” she said. “We will wait to see what decision is made on how the election will proceed, then will continue to educate our community on our need for this operating levy, which is 12% of our current budget.
“At this time,” Hamberg said, “our main focus is on inspiring and guiding our students, families and community members during these unprecedented events.”
The decision to cancel the election – made late March 16 by Ohio Department of Health director Dr. Amy Acton and allowed early March 17 by the Ohio Supreme Court – was backed by the Ohio School Boards Association, Buckeye Association of School Administrators and Ohio Association of School Business Officials.
“Since day one, the governor has been more concerned with saving lives,” said Rick Lewis, chief executive officer of the school boards association. “Our association wants to support the governor as much as possible. He has displayed courageous leadership from the beginning.”
Closing schools and canceling the election are disruptive to Ohio public schools, Lewis said, but, “there is so much uncertainty. ... Certainly, these are unprecedented times that call for some flexibility and sacrifices.”
An overall goal, he said, is to return Ohio’s education system to normal as soon as can be managed.
Across the state, he said, school boards and local district officials are at work developing contingency and implementation plans for their districts.
It is too soon to say, Lewis said, how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect annual standardized tests mandated by the state.
“We need as much flexibility as the governor, the legislature and the Ohio Department of Education can give us,” he said – adding his association is likely to lobby for that help.
Buskirk said the Delaware County auditor has certified Big Walnut’s levy at an effective millage rate of 5.45 mills, the same as the expiring levy.
He said the 2010 issue was a 7.5-mill emergency levy calculated to provide $4.9 million annually.
When it expired, he said, it was replaced by a 2015 emergency levy at 6.9 mills that also provided $4.9 million annually. The March issue is calculated to collect $5.3 million a year, he said.
Hamberg said the district appreciates the voters’ approval of the two levies that preceded the upcoming ballot issue, which the district needs.
“We are fortunate to live in a community that supports its schools,” she said.