11 school districts in Valley deserve renewal of levies


Voters in the Mahoning Valley may be surprised by what they do not see this fall on their general-election ballots: appeals from public school districts for operating revenue. In fact, only 13 school systems of some four dozen in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties have school-tax issues on the Nov. 6 ballot, and the vast majority of those – 11 – seek no new additional taxation.

The relative scarcity of school levies this election cycle continues a pleasing trend in our region and state of fewer and fewer public school boards seeking ballot access to ask their benefactors to open their wallets a little wider for additional property or income-tax dollars.

It also comes at a time when more and more tax levies do not gain automatic, no-questions-asked approval. Many have been deep-sixed by skeptical voters. In the May 2018 primary elections in Ohio, one-third of school tax issues fell to defeat, according to the Ohio School Boards Association.

It appears then as if many school districts have gotten the message that taxpayers are holding public school systems increasingly accountable to run a tight financial ship, and school leaders are responding by working more carefully to live within their means before launching campaigns for more local revenue.

NILES, POLAND RENEWALS

Nowhere is that scenario more obvious this fall than in the Niles City School District, which is under state-mandated fiscal watch. Voters in the past two elections there resoundingly rejected appeals for additional operating revenue for the district. This time, however, city school board members wisely avoided a third try, opting instead to place an 11.7-mill substitute levy, which simply consolidated two renewal issues into one tax levy.

As Niles Superintendent Ann Marie Thigpen said, “This is money we are already collecting from our taxpayers, and we’re not asking for anything additional.”

In Mahoning County, Poland Local School District leaders have been working diligently in recent years to avoid a projected $4.8 million budget deficit by 2022. Through staff reductions, school consolidations and other measures, the district is now on target toward fiscal stability.

The 2.65-mill, 5-year renewal levy for emergency requirements to raise $1,068,055 annually on this fall’s ballot, however, is critical for the district to stay on course.

Superintendent David Janofa thinks the board’s actions in response to a performance audit completed in February should inspire confidence in voters. “We’ve demonstrated our abilities to reduce costs and improve services,” he said.

We also hope the threat of a teachers strike in Poland does not dissuade voters from supporting the no-new-taxes levy renewal. We’re fairly confident the dispute between teachers and the board can be resolved within weeks; the harm of levy defeat would haunt the school system’s bottom line for years.

In general, our support for school levy renewals stems from the fact that property owners are already paying the tax and districts would be hard pressed to find revenue to fill the sudden and drastic reductions without forfeiting academic quality. Strong schools, after all, equal strong communities.

On the other hand, we do not take a position on tax-levy increases for schools, such as those in the West Branch and Crestview local districts this fall. We leave it up to voters to decide if they can afford the additional burden and if they believe school leaders have made a sufficiently compelling case for additional taxation.

Here, then, are the renewal levies for school districts in the Mahoning Valley this election cycle that The Vindicator urges voters to approve:

Boardman Schools: A 2.4-mill, 10-year renewal levy for emergency requirements to raise $1,999,547 annually.

Poland Schools: A 2.65-mill, 5-year renewal levy for emergency requirements to raise $1,068,055 annually.

South Range Schools: An 8.8-mill, 10-year renewal levy for 10 years to avoid an operating deficit to raise $1,781,555 annually.

Labrae Schools: A 3-mill renewal levy for five years for renovating and equipping school sites to raise $225,430 annually.

Lakeview Schools: A 3.2-mill renewal levy for five years for emergency requirements to raise $890,000 annually.

Liberty Schools: A 3.7-mill renewal levy for five years for emergency requirements to raise $839,531 annually.

Maplewood Schools: A 5-mill renewal for five years for renovating and remodeling to raise $180,230 annually.

Niles Schools: An 11.7-mill substitute levy for a continuing period of time for necessary requirements to raise $2.6 million annually.

Southington Schools: A 3.85-renewal levy for four years to raise $250,000 annually.

United Local Schools: Renewal of 3-mill permanent improvement levy

Wellsville School District: Renewal of 2-mill permanent improvement levy.

Editor’s Note: Details on ballot issues and candidates’ positions can be found in Vindicator news stories, videos of Editorial Board interviews posted on vindy.com and by accessing candidate surveys on the website.

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