Dear Editor and Public:
Letters have been appearing addressing the levy issues on the November ballot. I will specifically address a local levy issue in a subsequent letter. In this letter I want to discuss briefly the root cause for schools and other taxing entities seeking additional millage.
I have been a student of state school funding for three decades. I became immersed in the school funding issue before the time the DeRolf school funding case was filed in 1991. This case was filed in the Court of Common Pleas in Perry County in 1991 and ended up at a fourth supreme court ruling in 2002. This 2002 decision continued the declaration that the state school funding system was unconstitutional. The Court admonished the state. Paraphrasing the court, the state did not complete a systematic overhaul as ordered and directed the state to enact a school funding formula that is thorough and efficient. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court also gave up jurisdiction. This is tantamount to setting a speed limit, but not patrolling the highways.
Since this 2002 date, most legislatures and governors have ignored the Supreme Court. Why? Because they could and can. The court giving up jurisdiction gives them the freedom to do what they want, without consequences. The complete systematic overhaul is still waiting. Just because the court gave up jurisdiction does not give the legislature and the governor a license to ignore it. I continue to believe that this act or non-action is criminal or at least civilly negligent.
Now, let me go to present day and why we see so many levies on the ballot. First, in review, the state has ignored the directive to fix school funding. Thus, the dependence on the local tax base continues instead of the state responsibility. This can get somewhat complicated, so for the purpose of this letter, the need for local school levies has become the outcome of the state school funding formula. In addition to this, the state, through laws passed, has provided a huge amount of tax reforms since 2005 income tax has been reduced along with other reductions. On the local end, local taxes for tangible personal property (equipment, inventory, etc.) public utility personal property, etc. have been reduced and will in the very near future will be eliminated from local school revenue and not replaced by the state. This starts to get complicated, but simply, if one would do the math on the local tax revenue, one would discover that most local tax entities have less revenue today than they had in previous years. Continuing the math, couple this with less state revenue, and thus less state funding and what you are left with is the sum of less money on the local end. As a planned result, funding is being pushed down to the local level. The consequences leaves few options for local schools and other taxing entities reduce the educational opportunities, raise local funding via levies or a hybrid of both.
As a close friend, educator and coach said many times, "You get what you tolerate." As such, local schools and communities continue to be stressed to offer education and services to the people and children in a high quality fashion, because we tolerate what the legislature and Governor do in terms of school funding. Let me say though that Representative Cera and Senator Gentile do support fair, adequate and equitable school funding. The sad truth is that they are outnumbered. The other sad truth is that prisons are funded in a better way than schools. I am not saying we do not need a good prison system, but am saying we need to solve the school-funding morass.
Based upon my knowledge and experience, I believe all local levies are sorely needed. These levies, by my analysis, are not for "extras and luxuries," but for the basic essentials. You may argue about the state verses the local responsibility all you want, but if we are going to take care of our own (especially the children) in Eastern Ohio, we will need to support the local levy issues.