Education Levy Renewals Put to Voters

Robin Wasserman, News Editor

Three educational levy renewals will be on the ballot for Oberlin residents this November. If passed, Oberlin City Issues 44 and 45 would continue to provide significant funds for Oberlin City Schools, while Issue 41, a county-wide ballot measure, would continue to help fund the Lorain County Joint Vocation School.

Issue 44 currently provides almost 10 percent of the Oberlin City Schools’ operating budget.

“It goes to support all operations of the school district,” said John Schroth, superintendent for Oberlin City Schools. “Without it, we would have to make drastic cuts to programs.”

Issue 44 is the renewal of a .75 percent income tax that was originally approved in 2007. Before, schools were partially funded through a property tax, but the levy was converted to an income tax in an effort to make Oberlin’s tax system more equitable. Approving the renewal would continue the tax for another five years.

Issue 45 would renew a $1.3 million technology levy initially passed in 1997. The tax has allowed the schools to buy computers and interactive whiteboards for their classrooms.

“That is our entire technology budget,” Schroth said. “This isn’t just a supplement. It really makes our educational experience one of the most technology-rich in the county as far as the level of technology integration that we have across the board.”

The JVS uses funds made available by Issue 41, a $0.75 million levy of five years, for everyday operating expenses.

The school currently provides technical and vocational training to 11th and 12th graders as well as adults. Out of all of the municipalities in Lorain County, the city of Oberlin sends one of the highest percentages of its juniors and seniors to JVS.

Although none of these levies will increase taxes, there is still uncertainty regarding the likelihood of their passage. After the beginning of the 2008 recession, renewals that were routinely approved before began to be rejected across the country.

In response, Schroth and the Board of Education have been hosting information booths at public events and running ads in the local newspaper, and Schroth will give presentations to community organizations over the coming weeks.

“We’re not taking this lightly,” said Schroth.

Oberlin has, historically, provided strong support for education.

“Speaking as a citizen of Oberlin,” said Beth Blissman, director of the Bonner Center for Service and Learning, “one thing that I love is our strong support for education. Every renewal levy except one has passed since I’ve been here.”

Last year, Oberlin City Schools put up an emergency levy to alleviate pressure created from state cuts to school funding.

“We were faced with having to reduce programs, and the community came out and almost two to one passed that issue,” Schroth said. “Historically, Oberlin has been very supportive of our schools.”

Both Schroth and Blissman cited close relationships between Oberlin College and city schools as one reason support is so strong.

“In Oberlin, the success of the public schools is so connected to the College,” Schroth said. “We have so many volunteers in our buildings every day.”

Bonner Center programs such as SITES, America Counts, America Reads and the Ninde Scholars Program encourage College students to help get involved in the local schools.

Whether students should actually vote on the levies, however, is a contentious issue.

College sophomore and former Oberlin High School student Evan Hilton doesn’t think that students should vote on taxes that they don’t pay.

“My mom’s a Democrat and my dad’s a Republican, and the one thing they agree on is that students shouldn’t be allowed to vote on taxes,” he said.

College junior and graduate of Oberlin High School Sarah Andrews disagreed.

“Even though they don’t pay the taxes for which they’re voting, I think our student body realizes the need and importance of at least maintaining, if not improving, our schools,” Andrews said. “Since they can’t make that difference in their hometown, because they’re not voting there, they can make that difference here.”

Schroth emphasized that deciding whether to vote on the levies is a personal decision.

“I think it’s up to each student to make that decision for themselves,” he said.