BELOIT -- At their regular meeting on Thursday, the West Branch Board of Education took the first step in placing an operating issue on the November ballot.
Superintendent Scott Weingart said that according to Ohio law, the first thing that a board of education must do to place an operating issue on the ballot is to adopt a resolution "declaring it necessary to raise an additional amount for school district purposes and requesting the state tax commissioner to estimate the respective rates at which it would be necessary to levy a property tax or an income tax to produce that amount."
The district has operated at the 20-mill floor, the lowest tax level allowed by the state, for nearly a decade. With state reductions in school funding, West Branch has seen a dramatic decrease in its operating revenues. "Because West Branch is a rural district with very little industry, the majority of the funding to operate the schools comes from the state of Ohio," Weingart said.
The district's five-year forecast, which is required to be updated twice a year, shows the district in a deficit at some point in the 2015-2016 school year. Despite a series of reductions in staffing, a pay freeze for all employees and reductions in operating budgets, the loss of significant funding from the state and the expectation of a freeze in state funding for the next two years has left the district in a situation where it needs to request additional funding from local taxpayers.
"We have lived for a decade at the 20-mill floor with no additional voted property or income tax," said Weingart. "We consistently have had a carryover balance, educated our students for over $2,000 per student less than the state average and worked hard to live within our budget. With an operating budget of nearly $20 million, the past losses and projected freeze of state funding are just too much to absorb without cutting into the courses and programs that make West Branch such an outstanding school district."
According to Weingart, West Branch is declaring it necessary to raise an additional $1,954,316 annually, which is estimated to equate to a 0.75 percent school district income tax. The school board has two options for raising additional revenue. One option is a millage levy applicable to property owners. The other method is a school district income tax, applicable to the income of all individuals and estates of those residing in the school district. As an example, a resident of the district with an adjusted gross income of $35,000 per year would pay $262.50 per year.
"Voters in West Branch approved a 1 percent school district income back in the 1990s," said school board president and 20-year board member John Wallace. "The school board believes that a school district income tax spreads the fiscal responsibility to all residents of the district, not just to property owners. As a school board, we have really struggled with asking voters to approve additional funding. We have worked with the administration and staff to be good stewards of the taxpayers' money, and we are not asking for this additional revenue to add programs. The additional funding will enable us to maintain the quality educational and co-curricular programs that we have."
The next step for the school board would be to adopt a second resolution prior to Aug. 7, at which time they would resolve to proceed with the submission of the question for additional funding in the form of a school district income tax to be placed on the Nov. 5 general election ballot.
Courtsey of Alliance Review