BELLBROOK — Voters in the Bellbrook-Sugarcreek School District are being asked to pass a property tax in November.
If approved, Issue 21, a 5.7-mill operating levy, will raise $3.3 million per year for the cash-strapped district. It would cost the owner of a $100,000 home approximately $16 per month.
The district has tried twice before to pass a similar levy. The most recent attempt, in March, failed by a 3,334 to 3,028 vote, according to official results of the primary released by the board of elections.
According to the levy page on the district website, the district has cut as much as it realistically can.
“The financial situation of Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Schools continues to be an extremely critical issue facing our school district,” it said. “Without additional funding, we simply cannot continue to make reductions that do not seriously impact the quality of our students’ educational experience, and unfortunately, that is where the district is right now.”
The district has made four phases of cuts totalling $4.8 million since 2018 — including the reduction of more than 11 percent of its staff members and the elimination of 85 supplemental contracts — and lost $659,000 in state funding for the fiscal year that ended in June. It did recoup about half of that in CARES Act funding.
While the district does expect to have funding return to its pre-COVID level in the future, officials don’t anticipate getting an increase.
John Stafford, who is leading a group opposed to the levy, called the steps district officials made an “illusion of cuts” saying that the district budget is still up $1.8 million and they failed to trim the largest chunk of expenditures — wages and benefits, which he said was 81 percent of the operating budget.
“What they refused to do was address the largest line item,” Stafford said. “If they would have done that, there was no need to cut STEM programs.”
Superintendent Dr. Doug Cozad said that was addressed. He said the district allocates 78 percent of its budget to wages and benefits, which is “pretty normal from all the school districts in Ohio.”
Cozad said staff took a pay freeze last year and 33 staff positions have been cut.
“We have addressed that,” he said.
According to the district’s website, if the levy passes the board has agreed to reinstate the Phase IV reductions of K-5 STEM and K-6 art, the 85 supplementals for sports, clubs, and advisors, and two full-time librarians this school year, sixth grade art in 2021-22, and high school busing as soon as there are enough trained drivers.
If the levy fails, all reductions remain in place according to the website.
Cozad said passage of the levy will put the district $4-5 million in the black at the end of the current 5-year forecast, assuming there are no more cuts from the state and if all the other factors remain the same. That means the district would not need to seek more money at that point.
“But we don’t have control of all those other factors,” he said.
If the levy fails, the district is projected to be more than $8 million in the red at the end of fiscal year 2025.