Voters in five school districts in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties sent a clear message to school boards last week -- they don't see higher taxes as an option.
It's a message that school administrators -- all school employees -- cannot afford to ignore. Voters are saying, make do with what you have.
That's not a particularly healthy demand. At a time when other nations and some other parts of this nation seem to be placing a higher value on education, it may well be a message that is penny wise and pound foolish. But the fact remains -- at least in the special elections held last week -- that taxpayers are not inclined to support higher taxes.
Perhaps the most disconcerting element of the vote for those who believe better school systems are a sound investment is that the only thing the five issues placed before voters had in common was the strong negative votes they inspired.
UIn Girard, a 28-year bond issue would have provided about $5.4 million needed to get $17 million from the state for construction of a new high school and other improvements. Even though supporters pointed out that the district might lose a chance to get 75 percent funding of a new school from the state, it was rejected 2-to-1, with only 1,182 votes for and 2,422 against.
UOnly Sebring, where a 0.75 percent income tax was on the ballot to raise $390,000 annually for five years, rejected a tax by a larger margin than Girard. Only 31.7 percent of those voting gave their approval; the issue lost 562 to 262.
UJackson-Milton also rejected a bond issue, despite a campaign that pointed out that passage would allow the district to capture millions of dollars in state aid for construction of new schools and the possibility that rejection would bring dissolution of the district. The 28-year bond issue to raise $12.4 million received just 39 percent of the vote. It was defeated 1,221 to 780.
ULakeview Local School District in Trumbull County saw its bid for additional income defeated by only two votes in May. But a 3.5-mill, 5-year additional levy was rejected in the special election by 405 votes.
UThe closest vote came in the financially strapped East Liverpool schools in Columbiana County, where a 12.4-mill, five-year additional levy to raise $2,024,000 was defeated by 188 votes out of 3,504 cast. The levy came far closer to passing in the special election, with 47.3 percent of the vote, than it did in May, when only 40 percent of the voters approved.
Two bond issues, two property tax issues and an income tax issue in school districts ranging from Lakeview -- a comfortable, growing suburban district -- to East Liverpool -- a struggling small urban district -- all failed, most by convincing margins.
The challenges facing local educators are getting tougher.