PREBLE COUNTY — Preble Shawnee Superintendent Dr. Matt Bishop once again urged community members to support the school district’s upcoming income tax levy.
The five-year, .75-percent levy, which would cost workers in the district less than a dollar for every $100 of income, has been defeated at the polls repeatedly since 2015, most recently in April and November of 2020. If the current levy passes in May, collections would begin in Jan. 2022, according to Bishop.
“Then it’ll be up to the taxpayers in five years to either keep it or let it roll off,” Bishop said.
Bishop stated that funds from the levy will be used exclusively for general operating costs.
“There’s nothing with renovation, nothing with new buildings. That ship has sailed,” Bishop said. “This is just keeping us moving forward instead of falling back.”
The income tax measure previously ran in concert with a 3.75-mill property tax levy intended to fund construction of a new K-5 school building, according to Bishop. That levy was last defeated in April 2020.
Bishop pointed out that recent renovations will keep Camden Primary and the Junior and Senior High School building in use for decades. The district approved $6.4 million in renovations to the Junior and Senior High building during special meetings held in March and May of last year.
Those funds covered the purchase of boilers, transformers, and air ventilators, as well as upgrades to lighting, electrical, HVAC, hot water, fire suppression, and security systems and new tiles for the building’s ceiling.
“We’re going to have both buildings in a spot where we’re not going to have to invest a whole lot outside of routine maintenance,” Bishop said.
Meanwhile, the district has reduced operating costs by nearly $1 million in the past year, according to Bishop, by closing West Elkton Intermediate School and eliminating positions for three secretaries, two custodians, four food service workers, and one School Resource Officer. In addition, an assistant principal scheduled to retire during the coming year won’t be replaced.
If the May levy fails, however, additional cuts will have to be made. Bussing will be eliminated for grades 9-12, as well as for any student living within two miles of the school, according to Bishop, and 7-12 students will pay $400 per season ($1,600 family cap) to participate in athletics. Both changes would go into effect at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year.
Bishop cited a combination of factors which he feels have prevented the levy from passing so far, including “very strong emotions” stirred up by the failed building project levies, which have been on the ballot at least since Bishop took office in 2016.
“Sometimes you can have a ‘levy fatigue’ that makes it difficult for the district to communicate what the operational need is,” Bishop said. “As a result, some people may tune us out and say, ‘I don’t want to be part of that.’”
Bishop stressed that the district’s financial need is dire, however.
According to a five-year forecast presented to Board of Education members by Treasurer Lori Green in May, revenues for the district have fallen by more than $600,000 since 2019, and are expected to drop an additional $1.3 million in 2021 as a result of cuts to K-12 education ordered by Gov. Mike DeWine in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Board member Nick Duskey, meanwhile, stated the district was on “a steep path to insolvency” in November, with Bishop predicting deficits of $2.2 and $2.5 million in 2024 and ‘25.
“No district puts levies on lightly – a lot of thought was put into deciding that this is needed,” Bishop said. “Ultimately the community is going to have to realize that the delivery of education is going to match the dollars that we have coming in; it’s going to match the resources that the community gives us.”
Reach Anthony Baker at 937-683-4057 or on Facebook @mproperenglish