BELLBROOK — Bellbrook-Sugarcreek School District voters will see a 7.5 mill replacement levy on the ballot May 7.
The levy replaces a 1.67 mill levy that passed in 1981. If it passes Tuesday, the levy would cost voters $262.50 annually per $100,000 property valuation, or $21.87 per month. Currently, residents pay $51.37 annually per $100,000 property valuation, or $4.28 per month.
According to the Greene County Auditor’s Office, funds from the replacement levy would generate approximately $4.1 million per year for the district. The levy currently brings in just over $1 million per year. These monies would continue every day operations of the school, according to Superintendent Doug Cozad.
“It’s bringing up a levy that originally passed in 1981 to today’s dollars to continue the great things we are already doing,” he said.
Cozad said a look at the 5-year forecast showed a $3.2 million deficit for 2021-2022.
“We are making sure we are in a good financial situation going forward,” he said. “We aren’t necessarily adding anything. We have a really good thing going — a really well-rounded experience for our students — great academics, STEM K through 12, great arts and music programs. We want to continue those positive things that are already going.”
Bellbrook-Sugarcreek School District was one of 28 schools in the state — out of 610 districts — to receive an A on the state report card in 2018.
“We’re academically in the top 5 percent of the state,” Cozad said. “But that’s just one piece of it. Kids feel safe coming here, it’s a welcoming environment. It’s not just academic — it’s social, emotional. Kids love coming to school here and get a great education.”
The superintendent explained other reasons why the levy was placed on the ballot.
“With the state funding model, we get 27 percent of our funds from the state. The state averages 44 percent,” he said. “We also have a lot of unfunded or under-funded mandates — special education, College Credit Plus … Last year we had $3 million in unfunded or under-funded mandates.”
He also cited rising costs every year as a need for the funding.
John Stafford, head of the “Vote No on Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Schools Levy” campaign, argues that voters in the Bellbrook-Sugarcreek area can simply no longer afford rising property taxes.
“Seniors who have their homes paid for — they’re having to refinance their homes to pay property taxes. New home owners cannot afford this. Regular families that are struggling to make ends meet cannot afford this property tax,” Stafford said. “It’s going to raise $15 million every 5 years. The property tax that it is going to create is going to start affecting the values of our homes in the Bellbrook-Sugarcreek area. According to national studies, Bellbrook-Sugarcreek is in the top 13 percent in the country for highest property taxes.”
County Auditor David Graham explained that out of all of the current tax levies for Bellbrook-Sugarcreek School District, excluding the bond retirement, the renewal levy is a 14.3 percent increase in school district revenue. It would increase voters’ taxes about $211 annually per $100,000 property valuation.
Stafford, who has had children in the school district, also argued that it is unfair for tax payers to continue paying for “exorbitant and huge teacher salaries, pensions and insurance packages.” He said that more than 90 percent of money taken in goes toward these teachers and administration salaries and benefits.
“In a school district, we are a people-intensive business. That is obviously going to be our biggest expense,” Cozad said in reference to this claim. “We hire people to work with kids. It’s not like another business where they have a lot of money in inventory — we don’t have all of that. That’s just not how schools are run.”
Cozad said 79 percent of funds go toward salaries and benefits, and that adding in purchase services would total the 90 percent.
“The idea that we are way overspending on personnel is just a false narrative,” Cozad said. “We also have the highest average years of experience for teachers — 18 years. We have very experienced teachers working with our kids.”
Stafford added, “Part of our contention is that new teachers are coming in with the latest teaching techniques, they’re enthusiastic, and scores remain the same or increase. The idea that we have to keep on paying huge amount of money for good teachers is just not true. We have to look at it like a business — we can only pay so much and we have to live within a budget just like other families in Bellbrook-Sugarcreek.”
Cozad said if the levy doesn’t pass, he’d recommend the board to put the levy back on the ballot in November, at the same or similar amount.