economics

February 3, 2010

Ailing Schools Turn to Voters for Help

Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 6:30 am
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Three times in the past 15 months, voters have rejected levies that would have kept the Little Miami School District in the black. Each time, the district fell further behind and had to ask for more. On Tuesday, voters will face the biggest request yet—a new real-estate tax that amounts to $519 per $100,000 of assessed value, nearly twice the rate rejected in November.

Backers say the levy, combined with already deep cuts, is the only way to prevent a fiscal emergency that would force a state takeover of the schools. “It’s the downturn of an entire community. People are going to start looking at moving and your property value is going to go through the floor,” said Julie Salmons Perelman, a 44-year-old part-time veterinary technician with three children in the schools, who sat stuffing bags filled with campaign literature one morning last week.

In May 2009, the board tried a different tack, with a three-year real-estate levy of about $305 per $100,000 of assessed value. High-school students lined up at a main intersection in the district to remind people to vote. Opponents paid for a billboard urging a “no” vote.

After that measure failed by the same margin, the district closed two elementary schools; cut 82 positions, bringing staff levels down to 385; and slashed art, music and physical-education classes for kindergarten through fourth grade.

Math teacher Roger Levo’s algebra class, with 38 students, is more crowded than ever. “I didn’t think it was going to work,” he said of the biggest class he has taught in his 27 years in the district. He pointed to five chairs he brought in to supplement the 33 desks. “They rotate,” he said.

The latest levy request is higher because collections wouldn’t begin until next January. This school year, the district expects a deficit of $1.7 million. Without a levy, the deficit next year would grow to $5 million to $6 million.

Students, who decorated cars and paraded around the district Sunday, fear that a state takeover could reduce class choices further and spell an end to sports, which already carry heavy participation fees.

Opponents like Bill Brausch, a 65-year-old landscaper, have put up hand-painted signs throughout the community. He advocates a combination of salary cuts, private fund raising and a return to the idea of the 1% tax on earned income defeated 15 months ago.

“What they want is this pot of gold,” Mr. Brausch said of the school board. “They’re beating a dead horse.”

Write to Joe Barrett at joseph.barrett@wsj.com

Meanwhile, district officials braced for the triennial property tax assessment, which had been growing by 22% to 28%. The 2009 reassessment showed a 9% drop

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