Five residents of the Willow Brook development in Brimfield Township talked with Field schools Superintendent Beth Coleman Wednesday evening about the district's tax issue on Tuesday's special ballot.
The gathering outside the Lewis home was one of several Coleman has attended to talk about the need to pass a 1.25 percent earned income tax for district residents, one of five area school issues on the special election ballot Tuesday.
If it passes, the district would then let a property tax now on the books expire at the end of 2013. The tax swap would allow Field to stay in the black for five years.
Debra Thompson, a former school teacher, told Coleman she thinks the district is doing a good job and that its teachers deserve their salaries. But she said the proposed tax increase is just too much, especially for two-income families getting by on one income because of a job loss.
The owner of a $150,000 Brimfield Township home who makes $70,000 a year would pay $875 more per year for the district earned income tax, an initial 36 percent increase on their total property taxes.
''We are astounded by that figure, just astounded,'' said Thompson, a member of the Portage County Tea Party, which is opposing the levy.
''I'm certain that you are and this couldn't have come at a worse time,'' Coleman said.
Field, which enrolls about 2,185 students mostly in Brimfield and Suffield townships, is joined by Rootstown, Nordonia Hills, Stow-Munroe Falls and Wadsworth in seeking new property tax levies next week.
The levies in Nordonia Hills and Stow-Munroe Falls would increase school taxes by 23 and 20 percent respectively for the owner of a $100,000 home. The ones in Wadsworth and Rootstown would boost school taxes by 16 and 20 percent respectively.
Coleman's host for the neighborhood talk in Brimfield, Michaelann Lewis, said she doesn't want to pay more taxes, but she's worried about the quality of her children's education.
''We still have young ones and I can't take from their college fund to put them into a private school,'' Lewis said. ''I am so fearful for my kids, the education, so I guess I have to pay a little bit more.''
Coleman and Field school board Vice President Allyson Westover told Lewis and her neighbors that the district hasn't passed a levy for new money for operations since 1991.
The district is projected to finish the upcoming school year almost $1 million in the red, which is about 5 percent of the operating budget.
The board has considered several options for new revenue, but settled on the earned income tax. The tax would apply to salaries, but not retirement or unemployment benefits, which favors seniors and the unemployed. It also spares farmers and other owners of large tracts of land from increased property taxes.
The earned income tax, which would expire in five years, is estimated to bring in about $3.5 million a year when it's fully implemented in the 2013-14 school year, said Field Treasurer James Vokac.
The district would then be able to allow a property tax levy to expire at the end of 2013 that brings in about $2.6 million a year and costs the owner of a $150,000 home almost $300 a year.
By the 2015-16 school year, the tax swap would be complete and Field would find itself barely breaking even, Vokac said.
If the district fails next week, it would try again in November, but the cuts would be immediate and include reducing busing to the state minimum, which excludes high school students and all children living within two miles of their school. Pay-to-participate fees for sports also would go up and eight retiring teachers will not be replaced, which will increase class sizes. Layoffs of teachers are possible. Music, art and gym would all be reduced in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Tea party weighs in
Tom Zawistowski, executive director of the Portage County Tea Party, said the group would be deciding this week whether to support Rootstown's request for a 5.96-mill levy, which the group opposed in May. The levy failed by four votes.
However, he said the Brimfield and Suffield tea party members voted to oppose the Field issue.
He said they might have been more sympathetic if the district had asked for money to improve the district's infrastructure.
''We have some serious infrastructure issues,'' Zawistowski said. ''Our stadium is literally unusable. Our parking lot looks like Beirut.''
He said tea party members suggested going for a permanent improvement levy to fix those problems, possibly combined with an operating levy last spring.
He said members also didn't like the fact that unlike a municipal income tax, a school district income tax applies to everyone who lives in the district, even if they pay municipal income tax in the cities where they work.
Zawistowski doesn't live in the district, but his communications business, TRZ Communications, is there. He has the Field district contract for notifying parents of a snow day and other emergency. He said the campaign opposing the levy uses a different list of registered voters for calls. He co-chaired one of Field's successful campaigns to renew a levy, but he doesn't support the request for new money.
The district has complained that Zawistowski, whose organization represents almost 2,200 members throughout Portage County, is not telling people about the property tax that would come off the rolls in 2013.
Zawistowski said he is not impressed by the promise that the district won't put it back on the ballot.
Zawistowski thinks they should do something else in November if the earned income tax fails next week.
Coleman told the Willow Brook neighbors she thinks the board will try something else in November.
''If this goes down in flames, obviously they won't try for this again,'' Coleman said.
John Higgins can be reached at 330-996-3792 or email@example.com. Read the education blog at http://education.ohio.com/.