District votes to place 2015 operating levy on May ballot

[Editor’s note: The Heights Observer received the following news release from the CH-UH City School District on Jan. 22, describing the district’s plans to place an operating levy on the May ballot.]

Citing the need to protect academic progress and avoid additional, significant cuts, the CH-UH Board of Education (BOE) has approved the second and final reading necessary to place a 5.9-mill operating levy on the May 2015 ballot. The reading took place at the Jan. 20 board work session, where Scott Gainer, district CFO, and Jane Geneva, Lay Finance Committee (LFC) chair, provided a recap of a report that was presented in December, and responded to additional questions from the board.

Geneva stated, “After a lengthy, thorough review of district finances and projections, two things are very clear. First, the district has made careful use of our community’s funds, has reduced costs, and continues to find ways to economize while protecting classroom education from budget cuts. Second, because of the way that Ohio funds its schools, the district must pursue additional operating funds this year, or we will face major cuts that will impact the classroom, and we would face a much larger need for operating funds next year.”    

In light of current economic conditions and the need to keep the costs as low as possible for residents, the board directed the superintendent after the December meeting to come back with reductions to get the millage amount under 6 mills. The superintendent reviewed the budget line-by-line and successfully lowered the needed operating levy to 5.9 mills. This would cost the owner of a home valued at $100,000 about $17 a month more in taxes.

“Due to the financial need and recognizing the possibility of a crowded November ballot, we determined that a May 2015 special election provides the best opportunity for success,” stated Nancy Peppler, BOE president. “With cuts and belt-tightening, the district managed to stretch the 2011 operating levy an additional year. We asked Mr. Gainer and the LFC to determine what would happen if we delayed putting it on another year, but it proved to be harsh: we’d need to make deeper cuts that would inevitably impact our educational programming and we’d be forced to ask for a double-digit millage levy in 2016. This would be bad for our students and community.”

“Thanks to the support of this community, we are making great strides in terms of academic gains and renovating our old school buildings so they will provide up-to-date learning opportunities for our students and will be less costly to maintain,” said Talisa Dixon, CH-UH superintendent. “The needed operating support is completely separate from the funding residents approved for facilities improvements, none of which can be used to pay for operations.” 

Like every school district in Ohio, the CH-UH City School District is unfortunately forced to periodically ask residents for increased operating support to pay for educational necessities such as teachers and educational programming. While the district is always finding ways to economize, cut costs, and accomplish its mission with less, the funding it receives from residents is prohibited by state law from rising with inflation and the usual increases in costs that we all face.  Many school districts are forced to ask for an operating levy every three years, but the CH-UH district has stretched finances and made careful cuts to make the last operating levy last for four years—a year longer than anticipated.

By Ohio law, school districts cannot campaign for issues or expend funds for their passage, so the BOE recognized and welcomed once again the efforts of Citizens for Our Heights Schools (CfOHS), an independent group of resident volunteers who will campaign to support this operating levy as they have for previous levies and issues. The BOE asked for a public briefing from CfOHS on its efforts at an upcoming BOE meeting. CfOHS co-chairs for this campaign will be district residents and parents Patti Carlyle, Krissy Dietrich Gallagher and Alvin Saafir. 

Angee Shaker

Angee Shaker is director of communications for Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District.

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Volume 8, Issue 2, Posted 4:38 PM, 01.22.2015