Many voters in the Mahoning Valley may be a bit surprised by what they do not see this fall on their general-election ballots: appeals from school districts for operating revenue. In fact, only eight school systems of some four dozen in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties have school tax issues on the Nov. 8 ballot, and the majority of those seek no new additional taxation.
Statewide, the picture is similar. Voters in Ohio will face 150 tax issues for school operations over the next four weeks. Although that number has increased from 110 on the November 2015 ballot, it still ranks as the second lowest total since at least 2000, according to the Ohio School Boards Association.
The relative paucity of school levies this election cycle continues a pleasing trend of fewer and fewer public school systems seeking ballot access to ask their benefactors to open their wallets a little wider for additional property or income-tax dollars.
It also comes at a time when more and more tax levies do not gain automatic, no-questions-asked approval. Many have been deep-sixed by skeptical voters.
In this year’s March primary in Ohio, for example, only 52 percent of additional levies won passage, compared with 63 percent in the 2015 primary election. Voters approved 89 percent of renewal levies in March, also down from the 95 percent approval rate in the 2015 primary.
It appears then as if many school districts have gotten the message that taxpayers are holding public school systems increasingly accountable to run a tight financial ship, and school leaders are responding by working more carefully to live within their means before launching campaigns for more local revenue.
Nowhere is that scenario more obvious this fall than in the McDonald Local School District. There, school officials are seeking a renewal and reduction levy. The 5-mill, 10-year levy has been cut to result in collecting $260,000, a reduction of $320,000 from the original levy’s take, according to information from the Trumbull County Board of Elections.
URGENT, UNDERSTANDABLE PLEAS
Nonetheless, school districts cannot be expected to maintain quality educational environments if their budgets face marked declines in operating revenue.
That is why the pleas of several school districts in the Valley with levies to renew standing property tax rates are understandable. Oftentimes, they are urgent. In addition to McDonald, those districts include Boardman, Lakeview, Champion and Warren.
The Vindicator therefore encourages voters in those districts to heed the pleas and vote yes, a vote that will result in no new taxes for residents but greater financial and academic stability for cash-strapped districts.
Though we can understand that the lingering effects of the Great Recession continue to give budgetary pause to many Valley taxpayers, maintaining at least a status-quo investment in public schools demonstrates a commitment to the next generation and represents a solid investment in shoring up real-estate values throughout our community.
News that state funding for public education has increased might invite some second thoughts about voting yes. Voters, however, should not be dissuaded from continuing their same amount of local support.
After all, no district will profit from a windfall boost to make up for years of state-aid retrenchment; others are staying flat while some actually are witnessing the decline in state aid continue.
As for this fall’s additional property tax levies in the Hubbard, Lakeview and Mathews districts and a renewal of an income-tax levy for Sebring schools, we urge districts to make their case clearly, concretely and transparently to voters. Voters, in turn, should make judgments fairly and responsibly.
Here, then, are the fall property-tax levy renewals for schools that The Vindicator recommends voters support:
Boardman Local Schools, a 5.5-mill, 10-year renewal levy for emergency requirements.
Champion Local Schools, an 11.3-mill, 10-year renewal and a 1.5-mill five-year renewal for emergency requirements and for improvements.
McDonald, a 5-mill, 10-year renewal and reduction levy.
Lakeview Local Schools, a 1-mill, five year renewal levy.
Warren City Schools, a 5.75-mill, 10-year renewal levy.