Upper Arlington Schools won't pursue new operating levy until 2022

Nate Ellis
ThisWeek group
Upper Arlington Schools Treasurer Andrew Geistfeld

After preparing local voters for the past two years to expect a new operating levy on the ballot, Upper Arlington Schools has chosen to push back the request by another year. 

In part by making $4.6 million in cuts to the district’s budget – primarily through a hiring freeze – schools officials say they can put off a new operating levy request until next year. 

The decision, unanimously backed by the school board March 9, means that for the second consecutive year, the district has delayed a request for more operating dollars. Last year, the district chose not to pursue a fall levy, in large part due to the ongoing nature of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. 

“Thanks to the proactive measures taken by the board of education in the summer of 2020 and those additional factors that have helped stabilize our budget, we will be able to maintain district operations while continuing to provide the high-quality educational experiences that our students deserve and our community expects,” district Treasurer Andrew Geistfeld said. “As we move forward, we are keeping a close eye on several things that may impact our finances. 

“These include the proposed state budget and state funding for our schools as well as revenue generated by local property valuations. We also continue to monitor our projected enrollment growth and we expect that will likely be a significant factor in the financial future of our district over the next decade.” 

Along with the hiring freeze the board approved last summer, Geistfeld said the state is expected to provide approximately $500,000 to the district this fiscal year; officials originally expected that amount would be cut. 

Geistfeld said the district has reduced planned expenditures for the fiscal year by about $1.9 million. Those savings primarily were due to lower expenses for contract services after the district spent much of the 2020-21 school year with students taking classes remotely. 

“Property valuations, insurance premiums and federal stimulus funds have helped our financial forecast in recent months and the actual state revenue reductions were lower than forecasted,” Geistfeld said. “All of these factors have put us in a position to yet again consider the timing of our next request for operating funds.” 

An operating levy for Upper Arlington Schools last passed in November 2017. 

The 3.75-mill levy generates approximately $6.3 million annually for day-to-day expenses, such as teacher salaries, instructional and pupil support, technology and transportation. 

As recently as mid-December, Superintendent Paul Imhoff identified a November 2021 levy as a priority for the district. 

"Our state funding has remained basically flat for more than two decades, which means we must rely heavily on local funding," Imhoff said. "Local funding means operating levies, which are for a fixed amount. 

"So when property values increase, school tax rates are actually rolled back, and the schools continue to get about the same amount. To cover inflation and, in our case, the costs associated with our quickly growing enrollment, schools like ours must come back to the voters about every three years." 

The 2017 levy doesn’t expire. The district will continue to draw revenue from it going forward, and Geistfeld said the district will be able to provide expected education resources to students for another year with the existing tax stream. 

In choosing to delay a new operating-levy request, he said the district wasn’t influenced by the city of Upper Arlington, which will ask voters in May to support construction of an approximately $54 million community center at Kingsdale Shopping Center. 

The community center ballot issue won’t raise local taxes but will ask voters to support the city issuing about $55 million in bonds to fund the project’s construction. 

“This decision had nothing to do with the city of Upper Arlington,” Geistfeld said. 

During the board meeting, Geistfeld said both he and the district’s finance committee recommended holding off on seeking a new operating levy until 2022 because of the district’s current financial standing as well as the “financial climate throughout the community” as a result of the pandemic. 

“We feel like that’s the right thing to do for the community,” he said. 

Board member Lori Trent said she supports the decision because she feels “really comfortable with where we are, given the changes that have occurred.” 

Carol Mohr, board vice president, said she was excited about pushing back the levy to 2022 “because it’s a very tough thing for our community and our community had been through a lot.” 

Board member Jenny McKenna said the delay will make passage of an operating levy in 2022 imperative for the district because a levy originally intended to last for three years is being stretched to five. 

“It does put a higher level of importance on passing the levy in 2022,” she said. 

Geistfeld agreed. 

“There is no option in 2022 for a failure,” he said. ”We’ve put this off. We are getting closer and closer to that cliff.” 

nellis@thisweeknews.com 

@ThisWeekNate