Cloverleaf is bracing to offer an education that few would ever consider: the state minimum.
That’s the promise of administrators and a state-appointed oversight commission should a combined 0.75-percent income and 3.5-mill property tax measure fail in May.
No other Ohio school district faces deeper cuts.
And with Cloverleaf in fiscal distress for a decade, a defeat will result in a state takeover.
“You can have minimum or you can have excellence,” Superintendent Daryl Kubilus said, referring to Cloverleaf’s consistently high academic rating despite persistent cuts. “I’m convinced after studying all of this that you cannot have both.”
The district has been forced by state law and the oversight commission to trim expenses.
Cloverleaf is larger in land size than 83 percent of Ohio schools, a factor that inflates transportation costs. An early austerity effort consolidated many buildings to a central campus.
More recent cuts, imposed after Kubilus took over five years ago, have eliminated 76.5 staff positions, resulting in swollen class sizes.
According to a performance audit prepared by the Auditor of State, Cloverleaf has 14 percent fewer certified teachers per student than similar schools, and 230 percent more non-certified teaching aides and paraprofessionals. Qualified teachers have been replaced with less costly, and less educated support staff.
Sports programs have been curtailed. Pay-to-play fees have risen. Wages are frozen. And teachers pay more for health care.
All-day kindergarten disappeared this year. The disruption clouded enrollment projections as more kindergarten parents elected to open-enroll children in other districts. As students leave, district money goes with them, and administrators must pare staff and programs to match declining revenue.
Kay Rickard, a first-grade teacher and 22-year resident, is more concerned about another round of cuts than how much longer her salary remains stagnant.
“The teachers are very concerned about [the length of] the students’ day if this fails,” she said, standing in a group of campaign supporters in downtown Seville on Saturday. “To tell you the truth, I don’t pay attention to [labor negotiations and salary] because I feel it’s out of my control. I know I could make more in another district, but that’s not where I chose to work.”
In Rickard’s time at Cloverleaf, she’s watched her two daughters — now a freelance artist and a musician — graduate and follow their passions from a school that now threatens to cut arts courses.
Administrators promise a levy-fatigued community that no additional tax requests will be made until after 2020 should a combined 0.75 percent income tax measure and 3.5-mill property tax levy pass on May 6. Each tax would be collected for 10 years.
It’s not the first time Cloverleaf has asked for help from taxpayers, who have rejected four previous requests for additional tax revenue while approving three renewals in the past five years.
Last November, only three areas in the sprawling district voted in favor of a tax increase, which did not include an income tax component. Those were Westfield Center, northern Seville and eastern Lodi. There are 16 polling locations spread across Cloverleaf, which covers five sprawling rural townships and five villages in south and central Medina County.
The measure faced steep opposition in Chatham Township, northern and central Lafayette Township, and Harrisville, which surrounds the village of Lodi.
Optimists suspect it was easy for voters to say no in November when simultaneously asked to approve a renewal, which passed.
In May a year ago, the measure, then a 7.9-mill additional property tax, failed by only 44 votes. Because of falling property values, the levy jumped to 8.3 mills in November, when residents rejected the measure by 638 votes.
Opposition at the polls in each attempt came largely from the district’s sprawling rural areas, with many farms and few homes.
“If you do have a levy based on property values then a farmer is going to have a problem,” said Richard Javorek, a retired teacher who said he is willing to divert more of his fixed income to the schools.
Javorek is a Democrat running for the Ohio house seat in the 69th district, to be vacated when Republican House Speaker William Batchelder retires this year.
Javorek, who graduated from Cloverleaf, said retooling the levy as a mix of property and income taxes is an example of how local schools, pressed by declining support from Columbus, can evenly spread the burden of funding education among homeowners and workers.
State shifts burden
The state three years ago enacted steep reductions in aid to public education. In addition, the state is phasing out taxes on business equipment, which shifts more burden onto real estate.
Also, in the most recent state budget, Gov. John Kasich and the legislature eliminated a 40-year-old practice known as the “rollback,” in which the state pays 12.5 percent of a homeowner’s property taxes. While the rollback remains in place for existing taxes, it does not apply to new property taxes. The rollback for the owner of a $100,000 home would have been $38 annually on last year’s 8.9-mill, 10-year property tax, but now must be paid by the homeowner.
The 3.5-mill levy on the May ballot will cost $122.50 for every $100,000 in property value.
“What we have to do is stop walking away from public education,” said Javorek, who characterized a proposal in Columbus to remove the “thorough and efficient” clause from the Ohio Constitution as “a crime”.
“I’m very frustrated with the current representation that we have,” said Cindy McQuown, a 51-year Seville resident and levy supporter. “I feel that our state has let us down. I’m not going to wait until they get their act together.”
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or email@example.com.