CAMDEN — Preble Shawnee Local School District will not be putting an operating levy on the ballot in November, although the argument was made for one at a recent board meeting.
During the board of education meeting on Thursday, July 19, Board President Jeff Wood brought up previous discussion on an operating levy and pleaded his case for putting a levy on for November.
“I’d like to talk about the possibility of putting an operating levy on the ballot this November. I know it is a little late in the game, and I apologize, but this is something that I have talked about individually and maybe even here in board meetings. We’ve been without the .75 for operations going on two years now and, from what I understand, you’re losing almost a million dollars a year,” Wood said.
“That is coming out of our reserve fund, and so quickly that in five years that $12 million or whatever we have could be dried up. Especially considering our costs are going to go up with these School Resource Officers (SROs) and all the safety upgrades. Also, I think it is important to point out, there was some push back and feedback asking us to wait for the community engagement process to be complete, but I don’t think this will effect that.
“The engagement process is about our facilities — when, how, where, whatever,” Wood continued. “This is about finances. We were elected as a board to make these decisions, I don’t think we can go to the people about what is in our books and on our budget. I don’t think we need input from the community to tell us that our budget is getting tighter.”
“This is not a weird thing. We are at the lowest possible income tax coming in, we’re at the lowest possible millage — everybody in the State has an operating levy of some sort,” he said. “We don’t have one. I think it would be unwise to keep hemorrhaging money. I think this is something even those who voted no will agree on. Regardless of what we come up with, we need to pay for salaries, books, and [all our expenses].
“I know we’re only a week out from having to get this on the ballot, but we can do it. This is an operating levy, this is not like what we’re proposing with the State. This is what we’ve been used to, this is not above and beyond. I just think we should heavily consider doing this now.”
“I agree with you, that operating levy, it was a shame we let it roll off when we did, but it happened,” board member Charlie Biggs said. “We’ve implemented quite a few new programs over the past year, year and a half. I don’t know what to say. It is hard pressed to ask the voters to pass that levy again, with the money we have in the bank today.”
Biggs added, at its five year forecast, the district still has roughly $6.4 million in its reserve fund. Wood pointed out, this means they are losing roughly $1 million a year.
“The way I see it, since we’re sitting on the surplus, if someone asked me I couldn’t tell them what we are doing with that surplus or the operation levy, because we don’t have any building plans [at this point],” board member Bill Crawford said.
“Generally, what I heard from a lot of folks who voted no, they told us to take that $12 million and fix the buildings up. We can’t do that if we use those funds to operate,” Wood said. “If we pass a levy, we have to have an operating levy. That is from the State. They are not going to let us build unless they know we can maintain it. This gets one thing out of the way.”
“If you laid out what .75 would cost a tax payer, I think it would go a long way,” board member Gary Rader said.
“We talked about this when we talked about SROs,” board member Julie Singleton said. “I’m there, Jeff, I’m there, but I still go back to the point Mr. Biggs made, where we have all this money and will we be able to pass it? I’m willing to try, but I don’t know if I feel confident it will pass.”
“If we could see a plan where we were spending [the money], I would support the operating levy,” Biggs said.
“If it fails, it fails,” Wood said.
Superintendent Matt Bishop added, a voter might be uncomfortable approving an operation levy with $6.4 million in the fund after five years, plus the amount they will be willing to approve for operations might be different depending on what the community engagement piece says.
Singleton pointed out, they could choose to put an operation levy on next year or the year after — they don’t have to wait for five years before passing a levy. Most of the board members agreed, they want to see what the community says before moving forward, so they have a plan they can present to the public.
“You’re right, we do need an operational levy, but today I cannot go to the voters and convince them why, with that amount of money in the bank,” Biggs said.
“I just think we have plenty of time and we need to wait until after the community engagement piece to make this decision,” Crawford said.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH