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Levies: Tough row to hoe locally

February 28, 2013
By MIKE HUGHES - Times Leader News Editor , Times Leader

BELLAIRE - A school levy is a topic that makes average citizens and school officials cringe for opposite reasons.

Schools need money to function. With dwindling funds coming in from Columbus and expenses rising every year, the money has to be made up somewhere, either in the form of a levy or cuts to the district's budget.

Residents of a district proposing a levy know that their real estate taxes will go up but that it's a necessary sacrifice for a quality education. School officials know how much the money is needed along with how difficult it is just get the citizenry, as a collective, to agree on voting yes.

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BELLAIRE?SUPERINTENDENT?Tony Scott is hoping the sixth time is the charm and his district receives a much needed injection of funding courtesy a levy.

Such a struggle is the focal point of yet another attempt by the Bellaire Village School District, its sixth in the last three years. Two attempts at increasing funding have been income-based. The sixth try, set to hit the ballot booths this May, is the four incarnation of a real estate tax levy.

If passed, it would be the district's first operating levy passed since 1976.

The district hosted a planning meeting earlier this week to form sub-committees to try and drum up support for the levy from as many avenues as possible.

The district is in debt. It's slowly climbing out but in doing so, it's had to make some major sacrifices, both in staffing and programming.

But it has trimmed the fat. The district has certainly done its part.

The last three years, in order to tighten its finances, the district has eliminated four administrative positions, 36 teaching positions, the school resource officer and 16 classified positions for a savings of nearly $4 million.

These moves were necessary because the district hasn't had an operating levy pass since 1976, then a continuous 8 Mill levy.

The next closest in terms of length of time since the last levy was passed is Shadyside in 1992. All other Belmont County school districts, along with Harrison Hills in Cadiz, have had one, some even two, levies pass.

The levy will generate $976,000 in funding that will provide a huge boost to the district's finances.

While still in fiscal emergency as designated by the state, the light at the end of the tunnel is approaching. However, reaching that light is nigh impossible without support from the community.

Scott said it's not just about injecting additional funding into district coffers. It's about providing the level of educational opportunities that the district's students deserve.

The district has been rated excellent two of the last three years after receiving the scores back from its state testing. Technically, the students appear to be doing fine without the money. Why is more money then needed?

To Scott, that's a fair question.

"We want to give our kids more opportunities," Scott said. "Yes, they are performing well on test scores but what's coming down the pike is the new curriculum that will change the entire ball game the common core curriculum which is a nationwide approach for all kids.

"Part of the testing will be dependent on the kids utilizing computers. If we don't have the computers that work or the opportunities for kids to get on them, that will put them at a disadvantage.

But that's just a small part."

The district also wants to return offering full programs in physical education, music and arts, especially in the younger grades. Currently, those are offered, but in diminished capacity with regular classroom teachers instructing the specialized content areas.

"We're doing the best we can, but you wouldn't want an art teacher of a physical education teacher teaching your children reading, writing and math. You'd want certified, highly qualified teachers and those avenues, art, music and physical education, are important for kids," Scott said. "Different kids respond differently to different interests that they have. One may enjoy and excel in social studies. But another may excel and enjoy art. That's where they may shine and where their creativity comes from.

"We want to make sure we can educate the entire student."

There was hope that the new school funding plan proposed by Gov. John Kasich would have a positive impact for the Bellaire district. Such was not the case.

"When we heard about the funding changes, we were hopeful it would have a positive impact for us," Scott said. "But that first simulation, not only did Bellaire not get any money, but no schools in Belmont County received any additional funding.

"That was a real concern.

"That's why we need the local support because we are not getting any help."

But Bellaire isn't the only district facing tough times.

Switzerland of Ohio School in Monroe County had enough issues with changes and delays moving forward with its school building construction and remodeling project that is still ongoing.

But the district is in financial trouble and like Bellaire, is seeking passage of a levy.

The district's board of education members have already approved the implementation of a reduction plan in case the levy fails to pass.

It's not pretty either.

Phases II and III go into effect at the beginning of the 2013-14 school year if necessary. It includes the elimination of a maintenance position, support position and a principal, all at Beallsville Elementary.

All elementary level physical education positions, along with music, home economics/consumer science positions will be eliminated, along with elementary/high school industrial arts positions.

Phase III includes closing the River High School bus garage, eliminating a mechanic and six ESC teaching aide positions.

A total of 23 certified positions will be eliminated and all athletics programs must be able to financially support themselves.

"The state said the district has to live within its budget," said Switzerland of Ohio Superintendent Larry Elliott. "(We) have to plan for the worst."

The Bridgeport Exempted Village School District too is seeking a levy, one that will fully fund the full-time addition of a school resource officer on the building's grounds.

This move is one of safety. The district currently has an SRO officer in its service and this levy would allow that officer to remain working at the school, helping to keep its children safe.

The St. Clairsville board of ed is seeking a levy of similar importance.

With voters set to cast their ballot in May, St.C. is looking at a 2.75 mill levy. A good-sized portion of that funding will go toward repairing the roof at the elementary school. However, it will also go to keeping the district's SRO officer working.

Hughes may be reached online at mhughes@timesleaderonline.com

 
 

 

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