KENT: After stretching previous funds for an additional three years, the Kent City School District will ask taxpayers to approve a new 8.9-mill operating levy on Tuesday.
The levy would assist the school district in maintaining general operations and would raise $4.25 million per year for four years. A homeowner with a house valued at $100,000 would pay $272.56 per year in additional taxes if the levy is approved.
Kent City Schools Superintendent Joseph Giancola said the district has lost $2.3 million in state funding in the last two years and half of the operating levy dollars will simply be necessary to recover from these cuts.
Giancola said an approval of the four-year levy would allow the Kent City Schools to maintain the state’s highest possible rating from the Ohio Department of Education, fill a multimedia specialist position that was not filled because of retirement, continue extracurricular activities, maintain the school’s transportation system and increase safety with more digital cameras in all entrances to every building.
As the school district prepares for the Election Day, Giancola has stressed to voters at levy meetings how important local property taxes are to local schools.
“At all of the levy meetings that we have gone to talk to the community, we try and explain how we are partially funded by local property taxes and partially funded by state foundation dollars per student,” Giancola said. “If those state dollars and commitments are withdrawn, whether by legislative or executive orders, then we have to make up for that at the local level. Our community is listening.”
The district was last on the ballot in 2006 when voters approved a 6.9-mill continuing levy, but according to Kent City Schools officials, the funding has been stretched for an additional three years. Giancola said the district has saved 4.5 million dollars annually with the help of the faculty and staff focusing on energy saving and limiting equipment used.
“We are very thankful to our employees,” Giancola said. “We could not have had the last three years of raise freezes or salary freezes if we did not have the help of the staff. Plus, it takes staff cooperation when staffing is reduced to attrition and supplies have been reduced.”
Deborah Krutz, the district’s treasurer, said that despite the cost-saving initiative, the operating levy is “extremely critical.”
“We are facing a cash deficit in the very near future,” Krutz said. “Our five-year forecast shows that. In order to address that cash deficit, we have to be on the ballot this year.”
Downtown Kent has $110 million in development, but that will not mean more money for the school district.
Acorn Alley I and II, as well as the restored Kent Hotel, have been granted 10-year tax abatements on improvements at the sites by the city and the school district. This will limit the property taxes the city’s schools receive from those developments.
Mike Walton, a science teacher at Stanton Middle School and President of the Kent Education Association said the staff’s cooperation with administration is common within the district. The KEA, an independent professional organization that represents employees of the Kent City School District, agreed to back-to-back base pay freezes to assist the school’s cost savings.
“We’re able to handle things on a local level and the bottom line is what is good for the district is usually good for the teachers,” Walton said. “Nobody likes to go back and ask for money. We are all property owners too. No one likes to have their taxes increase. We have always worked well with the administration that whatever levy dollars we get will be stretched as long as possible.”
The district is looking to continue the historic mark it achieved in October when the Ohio Board of Education gave the school system the highest possible rating on its latest state report card.
The Kent City Schools earned an “Excellent with Distinction” rating – the highest of six possible ratings issued by the state. Regardless of the necessity of the funds, Walton understands the challenges of having to ask the taxpayers for an approval.
“Putting a levy up is tough,” Walton said. “It’s tough to ask people for money. Nobody likes to do it. Unfortunately, in education, it’s the only way we can raise any funds. We have been really hit hard by the state budget and had a lot of money taken out. We have just stretched it to the point where we can’t stretch it anymore.”