March 15 Ballot to Renew Oberlin City School Budget

Adam Gittin, News Editor

Voters will find several levies up for renewal on the ballot as they take to the polls Tuesday. Among these levies are Issues 25 and 26, which would renew the Oberlin City School District’s operating levy and permanent improvement levy, respectively. Together they account for about 10 percent of the district’s budget.

If passed, Issues 25 and 26 would re-up existing property taxes that pay for many of the schools’ critical functions. As renewal levies, they would not create any new taxes.

“Issues 25 and 26 are just renewal levies to keep our roofs up to date, to keep programs that we have running, to keep our athletics going, to keep our phenomenal arts program going and keep staffing going,” said David Hall, superintendent of Oberlin City Schools.

Some voters might confuse these issues with new construction projects for the schools, Hall said. As renewal levies, they have nothing to do with building a new school. Construction plans have been tabled for now as the district focuses on pushing the renewal levies through.

The operating levy generates $940,000 annually for the district. The cost of the operating levy for homeowners with property valued at $100,000 is $14.73 per month.

The operating levy, also known as the “emergency levy” because it specifies a certain dollar amount, has been in effect since 2012. It pays for many basic needs, such as educational resources, athletic programs, and art and music supplies. The levy was first approved by the community to compensate for cutbacks in state funding for schools.

“There was a sharp decline in the state funding,” said School Board President Ken Stanley. “During the recession, the state had less revenue, and they cut back in a lot of places but certainly cut back hard on the schools. Since then, the state’s revenue has bounced back up, but they have not seen fit to restore state funding to the schools at the level it was before.”

According to School Board member Barry Richard, state funding for the Oberlin School District has been reduced by $1,115,000 since 2010.

The permanent improvement levy provides just over $370,000 annually to the schools’ budget and costs $5.83 per month for homeowners with property valued at $100,000.

“The definition of ‘permanent improvement’ is anything that has a useful life of five years or more,” Stanley said.

This levy finances building maintenance, such as roof repairs and electrical system upgrades, and allows the school to replace old buses.

If Issues 25 and 26 were to not pass on March 15, the school district would not be able to function as is.

“If you cut 10 percent out of a budget, you know, that’s a pretty deep cut,” Stanley said. “There’s a number of things we could potentially cut, but in the end we would simply not be able to maintain the number of teachers we have.”

Salaries take up between 75 and 80 percent of the district’s budget, Stanley said. In addition, the schools rely on the money from the operating levy to maintain many of their most popular programs.

“We’re generous in some areas that other schools in the local area are not,” Stanley said. “Most places have ‘pay to play’ for sports — in many of our neighboring districts, if your child wants to play a sport, you may have to pay $400 or $500 in fees. We’ve never done that and hope to never have to do that.”

The district also buses children beyond the minimum distances required by the state. Stanley acknowledged that while some people might disagree with how the district’s funds are allocated, the funds generated through the property tax levies allow the schools to function sustainably.

“There are always going to be some people who feel that you spend too much, but I think on the other hand most people feel that education is very important,” Stanley said.

“We encourage everyone to get out and vote,” Hall said. “Issues 25 and 26 are critical for our students and community.”